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Works For Me Wednesday: Making the Most of an Abundant Tomato Supply

While our container garden crop of tomatoes was less than stellar this year, we were blessed to be the recipients of many tomatoes from our friends' gardens. I never turn down garden-fresh produce–especially when it's free!

After eating lots of fresh tomatoes, using them in salads, and making fresh tomato juice in our juicer, we've been freezing the extra ones to use during the Fall and Winter months.

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To freeze tomatoes, just wash, core, and cut off any bad spots. Then stick them on a baking sheet in the freezer until they are frozen. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and store them in the freezer.

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When you're ready to use them, all you have to do is run the frozen tomatoes under warm water and the skin falls right off. Once they thaw a little, you can easily chop them and then use them in place of canned tomatoes in recipes.

Using frozen tomatoes is much less expensive than buying canned tomatoes, much fresher, and much more nutrient-rich! It works for me.

What are your favorite ways to use up a bountiful tomato supply?

Q&A: Does Couponing Only Work if You Eat Junk Food?

Melissa left the following comment on my Super Savings Saturday post last week. I began to respond to it in the comments section and I wrote so much that I finally decided it would be better to make this a separate post:

I've been using coupons for a while, but I've just newly done research on getting the most bang for each coupon. The thing that I notice though is that much of the food you get at really great prices is not really so healthy… chips, candy, cookies, and lots of processed stuff which could definitely be left out of the grocery budget totally. I have a terrible sweet-tooth and really love all that stuff, but if I got that much I know it would not be so good for my waistline. Are there ways to coupon and get healthy stuff, or does the couponing really only work for the junk food? I don't seem to find a lot of coupons for fresh foods, and healthy meal/baking supplies. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place? Any suggestions? -Melissa

Melissa, what a great question! There is a widely-held myth that using coupons means you only feed your family junk food. From a cursory vantage point, it can seem like us couponers buy a lot of processed food. And yes, it might appear like my family must only eat MSG and high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden foods. However, that is very far from the truth.

I definitely do buy some processed foods and my grocery shopping trips are evidence of this. I know that bothers some people and I often receive hate mail about it. I understand that some people want to avoid every ounce of processed foods–and that's okay with me! But that's not where our family is right now. We strive to eat a balanced diet and do the best we can with the time and money we have.

We don't eat all organic, we do eat processed foods probably at least once or twice a day, and I don't always bake and cook every single thing from scratch. But if you look at examples of our weekly menus here, you'll see that according to most people's standards, we do try to eat fairly healthfully. There are definitely areas we can improve in and I'm always seeking to work on those. It's a learning process!

Balance is key to me; it's not an all or nothing thing. We've chosen to eliminate food coloring from our diet, we also rarely eat pork, we are very particular about the meat we buy, we eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables (many of which have come from friend's gardens this Summer–yum!), we make much of our food from scratch, we eat very little fast food, we use primarily freshly-ground whole-wheat flour in our baking, we use all-natural cleaners for at least 90% of the cleaning we do in our home, we don't drink soda pop, and we avoid artificial flavoring whenever possible.

Those are just the things we've chosen to do in our own home based upon the research we've done and what works for our family. Every family is different so I encourage each family to do their own research and decide what are their own family's goals and priorities and then stick with those.

While we mostly eat foods cooked from scratch, I do buy some processed foods (such as granola bars, ice cream, and cereal–and occasionally even Oreo Cakesters!) when I can get them at rock-bottom prices. We enjoy these for treats, I pack a few in my husband's lunches each day, and we often share some of our extra goodies with others.

That said, there are quite a few coupons for healthful foods. To give you an example, this past week I was able to get All-Natural Dannon Vanilla yogurt and Musselman's All-Natural Applesauce for over 66% off the retail price thanks to coupons. The week before that, I got 12 organic CLIF bars for free and five boxes of Kashi products for free. There have also been some great Target coupons out recently for fruit and vegetables. Coupons for organic foods and produce are becoming more prevalent than they used to be, and I'm excited about this trend!

If you don't want to buy processed foods at all, but you still use traditional household items (such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and the like), you could just use coupons on household items. By watching for sales on these and pairing the sales with coupons, you can significantly slash your grocery bill–without ever even using a coupon on food items!

For example, I never pay more than $0.20 for toothpaste and toothbrushes. Every few months, these go on sale for $1 and there are quite a few $0.40/1 and $0.50/1 coupons available–which our Dillon's store doubles. I save these coupons and use them during the week of the $1 toothbrush and toothpaste sale to stock up!

It's the same for laundry detergent, deodorant, dish detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and so on. By combining coupons with sales, I often get these items for free or for pennies on the dollar thus saving us a significant portion of our grocery bill.

Unless you truly cook everything from scratch, don't use shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and use cloth toilet paper, you likely buy at least a few items which you could use coupons on. If you even just use coupons on 5-10 items per shopping trip and pair these coupons with great sales, you could probably save at least $20-$30 off your grocery bill per month–and that's money which is then freed up to be invested elsewhere in your grocery budget or put into savings!

I will be quick to say that while I'm a big advocate of using coupons, there are many more ways to save on your grocery bill without using coupons. In fact, I see coupons as just a part of the reason we're able to have a $40/week grocery budget. I also recommend that you have a budget, plan a menu, plan your menu around your store's sales, learn the sales cycles so you can buy ahead when an item you regularly use is at it's rock bottom price, shop with cash only and a calculator, shop at more than one store (if you're crunched for time, just glance at your local stores' ads when planning your shopping trip and determine which one has the best sales that week and then shop there), and bake and cook from scratch as much as possible.

Not everyone can do every single one of these things (and if you're new to the world of bargain shopping, coupon-clipping, and frugal living, please do not burn yourself out by trying to do it all at once. Take babysteps, okay?), but a little time invested in some of these things can go a long way towards shrinking your grocery budget without requiring you to expand your waistline or consume loads of junk food in the process!

For more information and ideas, be sure to read my article on how to lower your grocery bill without using coupons. Amy is also doing a series on her blog on 20 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store Without Using Coupons. Check out the first installments of her series here and here.

In addition, if you're new to frugal living and want some great ideas to slash your
grocery budget without using coupons, I'd definitely recommend checking
out the book I am currently reading Family Feasts for $75 a Week.

What other suggestions do you have for Michelle? Please share in the comments section. In addition, if you eat primarily unprocessed foods and blog on how you do so on a budget, would you be kind enough to leave your link in the comments section?

Super Savings Saturday: My Double Dollar Coupon Shopping Trip

I planned to go shopping on Monday. But that didn't end up working out and then the whole week sped by at breakneck speed until all of a sudden it was Friday and I still hadn't gone to the store. So we ended up having an unexpected and unplanned-for Eating from the Pantry and Freezer Week.

And honestly? We didn't really seem to notice.

That's truly the beauty of having a good stockpile of food. It's also the blessing of having friends who continue to share their garden bounties with us. I've hardly purchased any vegetables for weeks now, because people just keep sharing with us. Since we had a flopped container garden experiment this year and our current landlords don't allow us to till up part of the yard and put in a garden, we've been so thankful for friends who having shared from their garden surpluses with us.

I hope we can return the favor soon. But I promise I won't leave any sacks of zucchini on anyone's porches. We grew about twenty too many plants of those the first year we moved out to the country growing up and I can hardly stand to look zucchini in the eye again as a result!

At any rate, we managed to survive eight days of not stepping into a store without any issues whatsoever. But when I heard my sister, sister-in-law, and Mom were hitting a local store's Double Dollar Coupon promotion today, I quickly decided it was high time to go shopping again.

I didn't have my coupons all that organized. In fact, I'd neglected them last week because of our trip to Atlanta so they were heaping out of my coupon box–some cut, some inserts whole, and printables strewn about mixed in. (See? For those of you who often write me thinking I have it all put together, here's proof that I'm as normal as it comes. My superwoman cape disappeared in the laundry along with some socks a number of years ago!) My sister came to my rescue and helped me scramble and get some organization in place before we left for the store.

As a result, here's what I came home with:

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2 boxes Oreo Cakesters
2 packages of Reese's
1 can Dole pineapple
4 cans of Pringles
1 bottle of Ken's salad dressing
1 carton of Dannon yogurt
4 4-packs of Musselman's applesauce
2 4-packs of Dannon yogurt
3 bottles of Pert Plus
1 bag of shredded cheese
1 bottle of Dawn dish soap
3 bottles of Tabasco sauce
1 Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
1 2-pack of Olay soap
1 3-lb bag of Jonagold apples
2 other apples (We're studying apples in our homeschool unit next week, so I'm trying to buy as many different kinds of apples as I can.)
5 packages of Schick disposable razors
1 bar Johnson's baby soap
3 cans of shaving gel
1 Reach floss
2 packages of whole-wheat lasagna noodles
2 packages of whole-wheat spaghetti noodles
3 packages of other whole-wheat noodles

Also pictured are 2 dozen farm-fresh eggs we bought from my brother who raises chickens.

Before coupons, my total was almost $85. After coupons, I paid $23.58 for everything pictured! I came home re-energized to organize my coupons again and after doing so, I found quite a few more so I think I'm going to head back to this local grocery store again tomorrow to do another Double Dollar Coupon transaction and I'm also planning to stop by Dillon's for their Buy 10, Get $5 Off Mega Event.

I currently have almost $75 in grocery money left to spend in September on our $40/week grocery budget so I'm excited to see how far I can stretch the rest of that. As I mentioned earlier this month, I've been trying to stay under budget like last month so I'd have some money left over to put towards another bulk purchase. It's looking quite feasible at this point.

But I just have to figure out what I want to stock up on… Oats? Frozen Fruit? Butter? Cheese? Coconut Oil? Oh, the possibilities!

I'm even seriously considering investing in some vanilla since so many of you suggested we really shouldn't live without it!

We'll see what I finally narrow it down to! One thing I do know, it has to be something which we'll use a lot of and which will keep well for at least a few months–if not more.

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Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways?
If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link
below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you
personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order
to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in
their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content
other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to
make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your
link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

Worth Reading Round-Up

Just a few good reads from the last few days:

::Amy is doing an excellent series on How To Save Money on Groceries Without Using Coupons. Check out her first installment here.

::I loved this piece on How to Save Money By Getting Almost Everything Free. I definitely concur. My philosophy is why pay money if you can find a creative way to get it free?

::Megan posted an excellent step-by-step tutorial here on making and canning your own applesauce. I'll admit that canning my own stuff terrifies me. I'm just sure I'll do something which will ruin the whole batch. But Megan's post almost makes think I could pull it off!

This week’s menu plan (and how I learned the hard way that no menu plan = disaster!)

In a very uncharacteristic move, I jumped off the menu-planning bandwagon for the past two weeks. We had plenty of food on hand and I figured it wouldn't be too much trouble to wing it.

Was I ever wrong!

Trying to "fly by the seat of my pants" when it came to menu-planning was disastrous! We not only resorted to take-out a few times (outside of our once-a-week Dinner Out night), but we had little variety in our meals. And, worst of all, I found it took me a great deal of mental energy to try and figure out from day-to-day and meal-to-meal what we'd be eating. Five o'clock would sneak up on me from out of the blue every single night and I had no plan… again.

So, no more skipping the meal-planning around here. Two weeks of that madness was plenty enough for me. I'm committed to make this a priority now that I've seen how much time, effort, and money it saves!

Here's this week's menu plan:

Breakfasts
Fresh carrot/apple juice, Kashi waffles (free at Target last week)
Fresh tomato juice, Blueberry Banana Bran muffins from the freezer
Strawberry/blueberry/banana smoothies, toast
Cereal x 2
Fruit, muffins
Homemade cinnamon rolls, turkey sausage, fruit

Lunches
Healthy choice meals (free with coupons last week)
Quesadillas, fruit salad
Green pepper strips, fruit salad, PB &J sandwiches, stuffed eggs
Fried egg sandwiches with tomatoes
Bean soup, muffins from the freezer, carrots
Leftovers
PB&J, fruit, granola bars (free with coupons last week)

Dinners
Farmhouse Chicken, biscuits, grapes, peas
Chicken Pot Pie, fruit salad, broccoli
Southwest Roll-ups, corn and tomatoes, fruit salad
Homemade Pizza, fruit, ice cream
French Toast, turkey sausage, fruit
Out to Dinner
Homemade Mac and Cheese, grapes, homemade bread

Snacks
Granola bars
Cereal
Fruit
Veggies
Muffins from the freezer
Cheese and crackers
Ice cream

It's only Tuesday and I'm already seeing a huge difference in having a plan. But you think I should know that by now for how often I preach the virtues of having a menu plan. Sometimes, even us frugal zealots need to be reminded of this again, though! 🙂

Super Savings Saturday: This week’s Wal-Mart, Target, and Dillons trip

We were traveling back home today from Atlanta so I didn't get the opportunity to post Super Savings Saturday until now. Here's what we bought at the grocery store this week:

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Wal-Mart (plus a bag of organic carrots some friends gave us): $19.73

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Target trip: $6.72, used gift cards earned last week to pay plus earned a $5 gift card back = $0.00 out of pocket (I was planning to get 10 Kashi items, but they were out of the Honey Sunshine Kashi cereal so I just had to improvise!)

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Dillon's trip: $7.22

So all totaled, we spent $26.95 on groceries this week. It's looking like I'm going to have some extra grocery money at the end of September to invest in a few more bulk purchases, which I'm excited about. Now I'm just figuring out exactly what I'm going to use the money to purchase! I'll let you know when I decide.

Stay tuned for our full menu for next week which I'll post on Monday. We've had so much going on recently that I've not done as great of a job of menu-planning and it's definitely made mealtime run a lot less smoothly and made meals much less interesting and varied. So I've determined that I'm jumping back into the swing of following a meal plan starting Monday morning–and I think my whole family is going to be very grateful!

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Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways?
If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link
below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you
personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order
to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in
their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content
other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to
make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your
link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.