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1 Feb 2011   ·   118
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: How do you save money on groceries in rural areas?

I’m writing to you to see if you have any suggestions for people who live in rural areas, far from Walmarts, Targets and Walgreens. My husband and I live and work at a Baptist camp in the Panhandle of Texas with our sweet baby girl. We try to use cash for everything, and have tried to narrow our budget down as much as possible in order to eliminate. The nearest of any of the stores I mentioned above are at least two hours away. I can use coupons and things like that at the local grocery stores, but things are so much more expensive here (for example, sometimes $6 or $7 for a box of cereal).

I am also trying to be healthy for my family: whole grains, lots of fruits/vegetables and little processed foods. That, however, also adds up. Healthier foods are often more expensive, and the produce sections can be really shabby. Do you have any suggestions or advice?
-Lacey

Lacey, it sounds like you are doing a great job already, so be encouraged!

I’ve never lived far, far away from big box stores before, but my advice would be to “think outside the box”. You’re not going to be able to score some of the amazing deals other readers here do, but you can still keep your grocery bill rather low. Here are a few ideas I had (many which you’re probably already doing!):

Stick with simple meals. It sounds like you are not using a lot of processed foods, which is likely helping you keep your grocery budget low. If your husband is okay with it, you could plan a weekly meatless night where you have burritos or beans and rice. A weekly breakfast for dinner, a weekly soup night and a weekly homemade pizza night are a few other simple ways to keep dinners inexpensive. If you serve meat as a condiment rather than the main thing, you’ll usually greatly reduce your grocery budget. (Mary Ostyn writes more about this in her book, Family Feasts for $75 Per Week. Excellent book, if you’ve not read it yet!)

Examine your expenditures. Where are you spending the bulk of your grocery money? If it’s on household products, consider making your own cleaners, using cloth diapers or and eliminating paper products.

Look for great deals online. Based upon the price of cereal in your area, I’m guessing the sales at Amazon are usually always going to beat your local prices. You could also look into ordering from places like Mountain Rose Herbs or other online sites. Watch for specials, free shipping offers and coupon codes.

Consider growing a garden for as much of your produce as you can. If you don’t have a green thumb, see if you can find a friend who grows a garden who might be willing to sell you produce or barter their extra garden produce for your willingness to bake them bread or babysit.

Buy in bulk. If you’re eating mostly whole foods, I’d suggest making a trip to the nearest town every few months to stock up in large quantities. It would totally be worth a drive of an hour or two both ways to save $500 on your groceries. You’ll want to calculate in the cost of gas as well as the wear and tear on your car, though, when considering how much this will save. And remember that your time is valuable, too, so I’d only recommend a big day trip like this every six to eight weeks.

Keep a positive attitude. Maybe you can’t get great deals on groceries where you are living and you’re probably going to have a higher grocery bill than others, however, I’m almost certain that living where you live is providing you opportunities to bless and minister to others which are worth the extra costs.

What ideas do the rest of you have for saving money on groceries when you live in rural areas?

31 Jan 2011   ·   93
Money Saving Mom

31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: Use Cash to Save Money on Groceries

I tried really hard to talk louder in this video since so many of you said you were having trouble hearing me in the last few videos. The problem is, I think in talking louder, I ended up rambling more. But I guess you get to hear me exactly as I am here — rabbit trails and all! 🙂

Also, forgive my husband’s finger over the side of the video frame for half of the video. He was probably so distracted by all my rabbit trails that he forgot to pay attention to holding the camera to take the video. 😉

31 Jan 2011   ·   17
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

(Three-Bean Chili Chowder — recipe coming next week!)

Breakfasts:
Muffins (from the freezer), Fruit
Raisin Toast, Scrambled Eggs, Fruit
Mango Lassi, Toasted Bagels
Pancakes (from the freezer), Fruit
Smoothies, English Muffins
Toasted Bagels, Fruit
Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls, Fruit, Scrambled Eggs

Lunches:
Chicken hot dogs, frozen veggies
Macaroni & Cheese, carrots
Leftovers
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, oranges
Cheese Quesadillas, frozen veggies
Seapak Frozen Fish (they sent us some free products to try), frozen veggies
Leftovers

Dinners:
Homemade Macaroni & Cheese, Homemade Cinnamon/Sugar Bread, Peas, Fruit
Carrots/Turkey Sausage/Potatoes in the crockpot, Homemade French Bread
Chili Burgers, Seasoned Baked Potato Wedges, Steamed veggies, Grapefruit
Brown Bag Burritos, Green Rice, Tossed Salad
Valentine’s Dinner at Church
Dinner Out
Dinner at Extended Family’s House

31 Jan 2011   ·   67
Money Saving Mom

Time Management Tips for the Single Mom

Guest post by Missy

Mothering in any sense requires serious time management, but when the number of children increase and the father leaves, it becomes an essential life skill.

1. Assess your resources and enlist help

  • Car pool with a neighbor and split the number of trips made to school, along with less time spent in the minivan lineup.
  • Trade chores. This works with meals and babysitting – other single moms are especially good prospects for this.
  • Get your sitter or nanny on the same page. Have the kitchen clean and toys picked up when you get home.
  • Enlist your children’s assistance in meal preparation, writing lists, putting away silverware and other simple tasks.

2. Streamline everything you can

  • Make your mornings simpler and set a better tone for the day by placing all needed things together the night before.
  • A two-week menu plan keeps my grocery list relatively constant. Immediately add used items to the shopping list. I clip coupons (or print online) for the items I know we’ll use and let other deals go. Occasionally, add in something new or seasonal to the repertoire.
  • For me, it works best to have daily, weekly and monthly routines as described in Emilie’s Creative Home Organizer. To save time on laundry, I put a load in the wash each morning and move it to the dryer after dinner. I have to be committed to folding and putting away just as soon as they are dry. If I don’t, it piles up and gets overwhelming.
  • Clean as you go. I’ve also found with two little boys that flushable cleaning wipes are also great for a daily quick bathroom touch-up!
  • Combine tasks. I clean the bathroom while the children are in the tub. My one who bathes in the morning often eats breakfast in the tub. I do the dishes while the children are cleaning up their evening toys and I garden, weed or mow while they are playing outdoors. We all know to combine errands, that stopping by the bank, the dry cleaner or the market on the way home from childcare are standard ways to avoid fragmenting my day. I keep clipboards in the van so that homework and artwork can be done en route. We also practice our memory verses on the go and read our daily Scripture during dinner.

3. Work the Web

  • Make the most of your time by connecting with family and friends online.
  • Upload photos and print from home.
  • Do your Christmas shopping online.
  • Earn extra money through sales on ebay or Craigslist.
  • Donate items to others via Freecycle – they will even come pick up!
  • Look for grocery bargains, make your lists online, send yourself reminder notes.
  • Of course, do your banking, bill paying and rebates online.

The possibilities are endless, just don’t get sucked into spending more time here than is beneficial. I loved Crystal’s computer time budget suggestion.

4. Capitalize on personal time

Not every single mother has a co-parent. But for those who do, I simply cannot express the importance of managing that time when your children are at the other parent’s home.

This is the time to get in as many errands as possible, tackle bigger projects like painting or re-arranging your furniture, steam cleaning the carpet, cleaning the refrigerator and whatever else is impossible to with children underfoot. If you do not co-parent, ask grandparents or a friend to keep the children overnight from time to time.

4. Celebrate!

Make an end-point to your day, then relax in the tub, read or just indulge in extra sleep. Such sweet times for yourself empower you to be all you can for those little ones depending on you.

Missy June is a hard working optimist doing my best to enjoy life with my three little ones in this not-so-perfect world. She blogs at Little House in the Foothills.

Are you a single parent? If so, what tips, tricks and ideas do you have for time management? Share them in the comments.

29 Jan 2011   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Dillon’s shopping trip + free fruit!

I planned to do more grocery shopping this week, but it was just one of those weeks where life trumped the plans and a lot of things went undone. So we revised our menu plan a bit and ate from the freezer and pantry.

I did end up stopping by Dillon’s yesterday to get a few deals in their Mega Event:

Dillon’s Shopping Trip:

2.5 dozen eggs — on Manager’s Special for $1.99, used $0.55/2 dozen eggs coupon (no longer available — “doubled” to $1), $0.99 after coupon

2 cans of Hormel Chili — $0.89 when you purchase 10 participating items, used $0.55/2 coupon (“doubled” to $1), $0.39 each after coupons

2 Reach toothbrushes — $1 when you purchase 10 participating items, used $2/2 coupon (no longer available), free after coupon

4 bags of Garden of Eatin’ Chips — $1.79 when you purchase 10 participating items, used $1/1 peelies on bags, $0.79 each after coupon

3 bottles of Honest Tea — $1.25 (these were supposed to be part of the Buy 10 Mega Event, but they weren’t marked as such at our store), used 3 $0.50/1 coupons (doubled to $1), $0.25 each after coupons

1 Excedrin used free coupon

2 rolls of Scotch tape — $1 when you purchase 10 participating items, used $0.55/1 coupon (“doubled” to $1), free after coupons!

Total spent: $9.01

Total saved (according to my receipt): $31.29

My mom also gave me some grapefruit and oranges she got this week. And we bought a gallon of milk at Braum’s.

Would you like to know what the best deals and coupon match-ups are for your local stores? Be sure to check out the Store Deals section of our site where we post the best deals and coupon match-ups each week for over 100 different stores across the country. You can sign up to receive the top deals in your email inbox each week as soon as they are posted!

Find

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.

28 Jan 2011   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

Frugal Fun: Lipstick and bread-baking

A sample tube of lipstick + two creative girls = lots of fun and giggles

Plain bread dough mixed in the bread machine rolled out + cinnamon

+ raisins

+ honey

Final product: delicious Cinnamon Raisin Bread and a fun memory of baking with mom in the kitchen (full recipe coming next week. It’s really yummy, let me tell you!)

28 Jan 2011   ·   38
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: HDTV

We paid cash!
In November 2007, our family began our Total Money Makeover journey. The very first thing we learned was to pay for everything in cash.

This was, of course, a new way of thinking. After all, we had our debit card, which was “essentially” cash, right? Well, after much praying and hard work, we have stopped using credit, rarely use our debit card and now believe that Cash is King!

We had the chance to put this mantra to the absolute test. We wondered if paying with cash would help us not end up with a case of buyer’s remorse, as we had felt so many times in years past when making purchases.

One Saturday morning in July, 2008, we awoke to learn our television had been struck by lightning the night before. Now, we could have run out and purchased a new one on a credit card — if we owned a credit card, that is! We didn’t, so we marched down the steps to our basement and carried up a replacement television — a 14-year-old, 25″ tube TV.

We then finished working our way out of debt. Afterwards, we began to save for that new HDTV.

How We Saved

We had budgeted a dollar amount for our groceries each pay period. At the end of that two weeks, we would take the money left over and put into our TV fund. Using coupons and working deals usually meant at least 30% went into savings.

We had a garage sale and added our proceeds to our stash. Imagine our surprise when, in less than six months, we had reached our goal of having enough cash to purchase not only our television, but also a new TV stand!

Then came the fun part — going shopping! We knew exactly which television and stand we wanted. We selected both our TV and stand and were armed and ready ask for a reduced price.

We asked the salesman what they could do since we were paying in cash and he said he’d have to check with his manager. Imagine our surprise when he walked up and offered us what we were hoping for — a 5% discount for paying with cash.

What We Learned

With great pride, we handed over our cash. It felt so good. We felt empowered, like we had done something that few had done before.

Sure, it would have been simple enough to just write a check or put the purchase on a credit card (and pay it off right away) but, I had never in my adult life made a purchase of this magnitude with cold, hard cash.

We now know that it is possible to purchase anything with cash. Dedication, hard work and the desire to remain debt free have kept us on track. And our mantra rings true – CASH IS KING!

Penny Pinchin' MomTracie has helped her family eradicate over $37,000 in debt in 27 months. She shares her money saving tips, coupons and deals daily at Penny Pinchin’ Mom.  She and her husband live in Missouri with their 3 children, ages 22 months – 5 years.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

28 Jan 2011   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: Two College Degrees and a Wedding

We paid cash!

A testimony from Adie

Throughout our daughter’s high school years, we saved up little bits here and there, knowing that college tuition was soon coming. Some years my husband got a bonus, and we usually put most of it aside into the college fund. Other unexpected cash, such as from garage sales, also went into the fund.

We learned that our home state of Georgia has a wonderful perk for in-state college students: if the student has maintained a B average or better during high school, then they are eligible for the HOPE scholarship. This pays full or almost-full tuition at the state universities as long as the student maintains their B average in college.

Except, that is, for homeschool students. The rules are different for all graduates of “non-accredited” high schools, including homeschools. If homeschool students have a B average in high school, they must pay full tuition the first year of college. Then, if they still have a B average, they become eligible for the HOPE beginning in their second year. But they also get a tuition reimbursement for their first year.

So, in essence, we lent the state the amount of tuition for one year. In our case, the tuition cost was $4,000. After our daughter’s first year was complete, we applied for our tuition reimbursement and soon received it. With our son only two years behind his sister, we banked that money so we could repeat the process when he began college.

At the end of our son’s freshman year we again received the tuition reimbursement, and then we had $4,000 in our bank account, unnamed. Thoughts of travel went through our heads, but only briefly. A certain young man had started visiting our home often, and a mother’s instinct told me that we may be planning a wedding before too many months had passed. $4,000 set aside would be a very good start on a wedding budget.

Last December, during their senior year, Daniel asked for Greta’s hand in marriage. A May wedding, soon after graduation, was planned. My husband told the happy couple that we had $4,000 set aside, and we would save up another $1,000 to add to that. Anything over that amount would be their responsibility.

We Paid Cash for a little college and a wedding

On May 22, they had a beautiful afternoon wedding in a little country church, with about 150 family and friends there to celebrate with them. A lovely hors d’oeuvres reception and country dance followed the ceremony. They had worked hard to make it uniquely their own and asked friends and family to help out in many ways.

I kept careful records of every purchase, every expense. When all was totaled, the wedding had cost us $4,863!

Adie Noren is a wife of 31 years, mother of three grown children, and grandmother of two. She and her husband paid off their mortgage one month before the wedding! She writes about crafting and homemaking on her blog, Make and Do.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

27 Jan 2011   ·   63

Homemade Crock Pot Pear Sauce (or Applesauce)

One thing I love to do when I find great deals on soon-to-be-expiring apples and pears is to make homemade pear sauce or applesauce in the crock pot. You could also do it on the stove, but I’ve found that dumping everything in the crock pot and then leaving it is easier for me right now.

Wash and peel fruit.

Core and chop.

Dump chopped fruit in the crock pot and pour a about one cup of water over and sprinkle generously with cinnamon. Let this simmer for a few hours until the fruit is very soft.

Drain off excess liquid, if any and mash with a potato masher or blend in a blender or food processor.

You can store this in the refrigerator in an airtight container for at least a week. It makes a delicious and healthful addition to any meal!

26 Jan 2011   ·   109
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Fruit Juice Alternative

Fruit juice alternative

Tip from Alyssa:

As a health-conscious mom of four small kids, I really wanted to avoid serving my kids fruit juice on a regular basis. Not only was it expensive, I was concerned about the effect on my kids’ teeth (dental work is a real budget-killer!) and overall health from consuming so much fructose (read: sugar) for relatively little nutrition in return.

However, there are times I really need them to drink more fluids, like when they have fevers, when it’s hot outside or when I notice my oldest son having a hard time focusing. I have tried watering down fruit juice, which works most of the time, but it was hard to keep on hand for just those times when they don’t want to drink a large amount of plain water.

My Affordable Solution?

Tea!

Supermarkets typically run boxes of herbal fruit tea on sale two for $4 in my area. I use two bags per liter of cold herbal fruit tea, putting each liter at $0.10. Pretty cheap to me! Bonus: The dry tea is easy to keep on hand. If there are weeks we don’t need flavored drinks, it’s just fine waiting in our cupboard!

How We Make Our Tea:

  1. Boil two cups of water in a small pan, tea kettle or microwave.
  2. Place two tea bags of your choice, in a heat-safe (preferably glass) container.
  3. Pour boiling water over the tea bags and let steep for 10 minutes. Remove the tea bags.
  4. Pour steeped tea into a one-liter/quart pitcher and fill with cold water.

To make a gallon to keep on hand in the refrigerator, I find that six bags are plenty to make adequate tea. This even increases your savings!

About Sweetening

My kids will drink most of the fruit teas unsweetened, but if it’s a hard sell, then you might try sweetening it.

  • Stevia is a natural herb which can be used for sweetening. Stevia extract comes in bottles, powder and packets from brands such as Truvia, Stevia in the Raw or Purevia. Be careful! A little stevia goes a long way so just use a drop or pinch and sweeten to taste. If you add too much, it will be sickening sweet and have a funny aftertaste.
  • Sugar (honey, turbinado, sucanat cane, etc.) To dissolve the sugar in your tea, stir in while it is still hot or take a little of your plain hot water and dissolve your sugar in a separate measuring cup. This will make your own sugar syrup that you can blend in with your tea to taste. (Isn’t this defeating the purpose? Well, in a way, no. You will be in control of how much you put in, and if you’re conscientious, then it will most likely be far less than average fruit juices.)

Alyssa is a happy (if not slightly insane at times) navy wife, and homeschooling mom to four kids, ages 6, 5, 2 and 5 months. She dreams of starting a blog one day, then quickly jerks back to reality where the mountain of laundry beckons, someone needs their shoes tied (again), and someone else begs her to turn the house upside down to find his toy hippo he hasn’t seen in three days.

26 Jan 2011   ·   59
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Selling extra coupons?

Today’s question is from Christy:

I used to coupon heavily, but do much less now since switching to a whole foods/organic approach last spring. I still get my weekly papers, and wondered if anyone had experience selling extras on eBay or through another method? I am the mother of a preschooler and work part-time so I have a little extra time. -Christy

Note: Comments left regarding the ethics of selling coupons will be deleted per our comment guidelines. Please keep your answers to the question asked. Thanks so much!

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Money Saving Mom® readers? Read the submission guidelines and submit it here.

25 Jan 2011   ·   55
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: Interest-bearing accounts for emergency funds?

We are aggressively trying to get our emergency fund to five months’ worth of living expenses right now. However, when I think about all that money sitting around and not making any interest, it bothers me. Have you all found any good accounts that are accessible and still earn a little bit of money? I am just having a hard time thinking $15,000 is just “sitting around”. -Shannon

It can give you heartburn to think of having a substantial amount of your hard-earned money sitting in a non-to-low interest bearing account earmarked as an emergency fund. I know the feeling well; we money “nerds” always try to think of better ways to have our money work better for us!

When it comes to the emergency fund, I’ve found it is helpful for me to think of it more as an insurance policy than a fund that needs to be earning money. With an insurance policy, you are constantly paying premiums for a product that you more than likely will never need. In addition, an insurance policy is a product that is usually for a certain amount in the event of a loss and is not indexed to increase with inflation. So in reality, with an insurance policy, you are losing money due to inflation and constant premium payments, albeit for a specific purpose — risk management.

It is the same with the emergency fund. It is not an investment where your goal is to make a certain rate of return. Rather, it is a “insurance policy” to protect you from a significant loss or set back. When you have an emergency fund, what could be a disaster becomes a mere inconvenience.

Just as with insurance, you do indeed lose money with having an emergency fund in a liquid, easily accessible account due to inflation. That is a price I am willing to pay, however, for the peace of mind that comes from having a cushion to soften the blows when trouble strikes.

We currently have our emergency fund in a local bank’s money market account. I chose this for the easy access and CD-like rates. It may not be keeping up with inflation, but at least its not losing as much as keeping money under a mattress — not that that is a bad place to keep it if you had the discipline not to touch it! I know myself well enough to know if I were to keep the emergency fund in it’s most liquid form (cold hard cash), I would find “emergencies” all over the place.

Some people like CDs; those are a safe place for your fund, but you will have to pay a percentage fee to get the money out in case of an emergency before the maturity date. Another option is a money market fund with check-writing privileges.

In today’s economy, you might as well be resolved to the fact that your emergency fund is going to lose money by sitting there, no matter if you are getting interest or not. In the end, though, the non-tangible benefits of having the emergency fund readily accessible far outweigh any tangible losses.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.