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16 Mar 2010   ·   107

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop at More Than One Store (Part 1)

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

When I mention how I save a lot of money by shopping at more than one store, I’m often met with resistance:

“But I don’t have time to go to more than one store! I can barely make it into Walmart once a week.”

“That’s not saving money! You’re wasting all sorts of time and gas running around to fifteen different stores in one day. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective and efficient to just do all your shopping at one store each week?”

“I’m glad that works for you, but I don’t have near the patience or organization to even attempt something like that!”

Yes, one can make a lot of excuses for not shopping at more than one store. But I think all of these excuses show a lack of understanding as to what it really means to shop at more than one store.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating going to 15 different stores which are 45 minutes away from your home in order to save $2 at each store.

That’s not saving money, in my definition. Instead, that’s wasting enormous amounts of time and effort and producing little to show for it but wear and tear on your vehicle and an exorbitant gas bill.

What I am advocating is taking a little bit of time to scout at your nearby stores each week and pick a few which have the best sales and deals. Then base your grocery trip planning on shopping only at those stores.

A simple example…

Last week I flew to Baltimore and ended up spending quite a bit of time at the airport between my four different flights and layovers. I only packed one checked bag since I also had Silas, a stroller, a laptop, and a diaper bag. So I had limited space to bring snacks to eat on my flight days.

Because of this, I ended up buying a few items at the airport stores to tide me over for breakfast and lunch. Instead of just going to the first shop I found and plunking down whatever dollar amount they were asking, I took five minutes to survey my options.

I quickly walked over to each of the shops within a minute of where I was and checked out their menu boards and prices. By doing this, I was able to put together a relatively healthy meal for less than $6. While that number might seem high–and it is!–compared to how expensive some of the meals were at the airport, I definitely saved at least $3-$5 by taking five minutes to check out my options.

$3 to $5 in savings for a little walking and five minutes is a pretty good investment, in my opinion. In fact, if I were to save $4 every five minutes, that’s like saving $48 an hour–which isn’t an hourly wage to sneeze at! Plus, did I mention that when you save money, it’s tax-free?

In the same way, by putting forth a little bit of effort and learning what are the best deals for your area and picking a few stores to shop at each week that are running the best sales, you can get rock-bottom prices on your groceries and save significant amounts of money each week.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some step-by-step ideas for getting started shopping at more than one store while keeping it simple and not wasting a lot of time, effort, and mileage to do so.

Do you shop at more than one store for groceries? If not, what’s holding you back from doing so?

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15 Mar 2010   ·   7
Money Saving Mom

I’m back from Baltimore and back to blogging!

Whew! It’s been a whirlwind of a few days! And if you didn’t notice, I wasn’t around much to blog.

I flew out to Baltimore early Thursday morning with Silas (my 10-month-old) to meet up with some wonderful and dynamic bloggers to plan the first-ever Savvy Blogging Summit. If you’re a blogger or want to be a blogger, you’ll want to check out the details of this Summit here. It’s unlike anything that has ever been done before and I am beyond excited about it!

After we’d wrapped up our Summit meetings, I had the opportunity to attend the ApologiaLive Homeschool Mom’s Retreat with Toni from The Happy Housewife and Crystal Collins from The Thrifty Mama. What an encouraging time it was! I’ll be sharing more of this event in a post later this week.

But for now, I’m going to tackle the mountain of emails which have built up in my inbox over the past few days. I’m pretty sure you can expect an avalanche of deal posts to ensue today, as a result. And then I plan to have the next post up in the 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget up tonight.

photo credit: The Thrifty Mama

12 Mar 2010   ·   98
Money Saving Mom

How to Use Up Three Gallons of Milk in One Day

Guest Post by Katie from Kitchen Stewardship

Have you bumped into an incredible markdown on milk that expires tomorrow but you’re out of freezer space because you just completed a fabulous once-a-month cooking adventure with your favorite blogging mamas?

You don’t have to walk by that incredible deal for lack of freezer space!

Here are a few ideas for successfully using up a few gallons of milk in a day’s time:

Homemade Yogurt

I cannot say enough about the benefits, both nutritionally and financially, of making homemade yogurt. I make almost a gallon a week for my family of 3-and-a-half (you know how toddlers eat, so I can’t count her as a full serving). I figure I save at least $200/year on just this one make-from-scratch endeavor, plus my family benefits from a readily available snack choice and probiotics to boot.

Many bloggers sing the praises of making yogurt in the slow cooker, but I just can’t bring myself to wash that insert so often. My method creates zero dishes other than the jars used to hold the yogurt. You can do it with no special equipment and just a little courage; you will be growing bacteria, but don’t let that scare you!

It’s this easy:

  1. Heat the milk to 180 degrees.
  2. Let it cool to 110.
  3. Stir in 2 Tbs plain yogurt per quart of milk.
  4. Keep it in a picnic cooler with a pot of hot water for 4-16 hours.
  5. Done. $10 worth of yogurt for $2, and that’s if the milk is regular price.

Want to know my no-dishes secret? Here is my homemade yogurt guide, with pictures and hand-holding advice to make it ultra simple. Not sure how to use plain yogurt? Here are some ideas for yogurt recipes.

Cream of Vegetable Soup

You can use varying amounts of milk and chicken broth to make a cream of vegetable soup, so obviously to use up your clearance milk you will make a heavy-on-the-milk version. It’s one of my favorite soups for both palate and pocketbook.

I keep a bag in the freezer for random unfinished steamed side veggies, and when it gets half full, it’s time to make “leftover” cream of vegetable soup. It’s always a bit different!

You can use just potatoes or any veggie you have sitting in your fridge or freezer. See my cream of vegetable soup recipe for all the details.

Whole Grain Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is a dessert from my childhood that ranks among my very favorite. Now that I’m a mom, I love the recipe even more because it’s short on ingredients and prep time and huge on versatility.

1 cup rice
2 cups boiling water
4 cups milk
1/4-3/4 cup sugar, to taste
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 Tbs butter

Boil rice in water for 15 minutes (brown rice) or 3 minutes (white). Drain off water. Add milk and bring carefully to a boil, medium heat, cover off, stirring often. Turn to low, cover and cook 60-90 minutes (brown) or 15-30 minutes (white) until pudding is thick and milk seems to have all been absorbed. Don’t stir too often during this time, but watch for scorching on the bottom of the pan. The finished product will have the consistency of a thick tapioca pudding, but it will gel up a bit after cooling. Turn off heat, then add sugar, vanilla and butter. Garnish with cinnamon.

You could easily make a double batch to knock out an entire half gallon of milk. Your family will thank you.

Pancakes

Many pancake and waffle recipes call for a cup or two of milk, so this is not rocket science, but it’s definitely a way to use up the last bit of your gallons. Our family’s go-to pancake recipe involves an overnight soak, so you could really get rid of the milk before the next day if you wanted to show off your frugal skills and truly accomplish “three gallons of milk in one day.” A double batch takes 4 more cups of milk, and they last fine in the fridge for easy breakfasts throughout the week.

Cream of {X} Soup

If you have a smidge of room in your freezer, you can make cream of {x} soup and freeze in flat plastic bags to use in casseroles that call for cream of chicken or mushroom soup.

If not, you can make the soup right away, and it should keep for the week as you incorporate it in various meals. I made three casseroles in one hour for last month’s modified once-a-month cooking, which used 6 more cups of milk. You can find the recipe for cream of {x} soup and all three casseroles here.

Katie Kimball blogs at Kitchen Stewardship, where she offers weekly Monday Missions to help you baby step your way to balancing all God’s gifts while working in the kitchen. She wants to be the Flylady of the kitchen for you. Get the scoop on nutrition, environmentalism, budget and time management, as well as family-friendly, real food recipes and a dose of random humor. And yogurt. Lots and lots of yogurt.

What are your favorite ways to use up extra milk? Tell us in the comments!

photo credits: calliope; Longiee; Strausser

10 Mar 2010   ·   124

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: The Buy Ahead Principle

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Last night when I went grocery shopping, I bought 18 sticks of deodorant. Yes, I said 18!

Did I buy all this deodorant because I heard that there was going to be a shortage of deodorant for the next 4 years? Um, no.

I bought 18 sticks of deodorant because I had coupons which made them free or more-than-free.

Never Pay Retail

One of my biggest secrets for grocery saving success is that I practice the Buy Ahead Principle. Which means, basically, other than dairy products and produce, I aim to never pay full price for anything. 

If you’re willing to be patient and observant, you can almost always buy most items at 50% off their retail price or more. Because I’ve been using coupons and bargain-shopping for over 10 years now, I aim to purchase most things when they are 75-100% off of the retail price.

I don’t just buy one of an item when it is at it’s rock-bottom price. Instead, I purchase as many items as I can afford in my grocery budget to tide me over until the next sale.

For many people who are used to buying only what groceries you’ll use in the next week, the concept of buying ahead can be mind-boggling. However, it makes complete sense if you stop and consider it.

Paying Retail vs. Buying Ahead

If your family uses 10 tubes of toothpaste in a year’s time and the retail price of toothpaste is $2.49, if you bought it at retail, you’d be paying $24.90 per year for toothpaste.

If, however, you practiced the Buy Ahead Principle, and you collected your $1/1 toothpaste coupons and waited until toothpaste went on sale for $1 (which it does a few times per year in our area), you could buy 10 tubes of toothpaste for free.

That’s a savings of $24.90 per year!

How to Build a Stockpile of Food and Toiletries

What if you were to practice the Buy Ahead principle on when buying the majority of your groceries? Think about how much you would save! From my best estimates, I would say we routinely save at least $30-$50 each week by practicing the Buy Ahead Principle.

Would you like to see significant savings by Buying Ahead as well? Here are some suggestions:

1) Designate a Small Portion of Your Grocery Budget to Building Your Stockpile

If this is a new concept for you, don’t go out and spend $500 tomorrow trying to build up a stockpile. Instead, designate a small percentage of your grocery budget each week to buying extra of those heavily-discounted items which you know you will use sometime in the next few months.

Even $5 or $10 a week devoted to stocking up on deeply-discounted items can go quite far. If you don’t find any really great deals one week, save your designated “Stockpile Money” for the next week.

2) Designate a Small Area of Your Home to Store Your Stockpile

The argument I often hear when I suggest people practice the Buy Ahead Principle is “But I don’t have any space to stock up.” Well, in very rare cases (say, if your family of 6 is living in a one-bedroom apartment!), I’d agree. But in most cases, there are plenty of creative nooks and crannies in your home you could use to store extra non-perishable food and household supplies.

Maybe you need to clear out some items you’re not using to make room. Or maybe you could install some extra shelving in a closet. Perhaps you could store things under the bed or in a few boxes in a closet. Get creative, think outside the box, and I’m guessing you’ll find someplace you can use!

When we were living in a one-bedroom apartment which only had one small closer, I used a little cabinet in the living room to store extra stuff. When we were living in a two-bedroom apartment, I used the cupboards over the washer and dryer to store extra stuff. I was amazed at how much I could fit in a small space when I set my mind to it!

3) Determine When Enough is Enough

I think it’s extremely cost-effective to Buy Ahead. However, I also think it’s just as important to know when enough is a enough. If you have mountains of unopened tubes of toothpaste falling down on top of you when you open up the bathroom cupboard, you probably don’t need to go out and buy 55 more tubes!

Yes, I bought 18 sticks of deodorant yesterday. That’s more than we’ll use in the next 2 years. But what I didn’t tell you earlier was that I’ll likely donate at least half–if not more–of those. I love being able to share from our surplus of items with those in need. Or just pass on a great deal to a friend, too!

My philosophy is that if there is plenty of an item on the shelf, I have a lot of coupons, the item is free, it’s something we’ll use, and it’s something I can easily donate if we have a surplus, I’ll buy as many as I have coupons for.Your philosophy might be different. So decide when enough is enough for you, and then stick to that.

Twice a year, I go through all of our stockpile of groceries and household items and pare down to the basics which will last me for 4-8 weeks. This way, we never have an over-abundance. In addition, taking the Eat From the Pantry challenge is a great way for us to make sure and use up some of our stockpile.

If you don’t apply any of the other 30 ways to cut your grocery budget that I’ll be sharing in this series, but you adopt the Buy Ahead Principle and stick with a grocery budget, I guarantee you will see a significant savings in your grocery bill. And you’ll likely be shopping less and eating better than ever before!

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10 Mar 2010   ·   93
Money Saving Mom

Coming Next Week: Grocery Store Deals for every store in the USA–and more!

I’m so excited! We’ve been working really hard behind the scenes to make MoneySavingMom.com your go-to source for all things frugal–including the best deals at the grocery stores in your area.

We’re partnering with a number of incredible bloggers around the country and, starting next week, we’ll be bringing you just that: the top deals at every single regional grocery store in the USA, including Hawaii and Alaska!

These will be on a special section of our site dedicated to grocery store deals so the home page won’t be cluttered up with dozens of deal lists from a bunch of different stores you likely don’t have in your area.

Plus, to make it really easy for you keep up-to-date with the deals in your area, not only will you be able to access them by category on our site, you’ll also be able to customize your RSS feed or email subscription based upon what store deals you want to follow. So if you have Walmart, CVS, and Food Lion in your area, you can sign up to just get the deal lists for those stores only. Or if you have Rite Aid, Meijer, and Kroger, you can just get those deals delivered to your inbox.

But that’s not all! We’ll also be offering a LITE subscription to MoneySavingMom.com. This is something many of you have asked for repeatedly and I’m thrilled to finally be able to offer it. The LITE RSS subscription and email subscription will be for those of you who could care less about deals, but who come here to read the practical encouragement posts which are woven between the deal posts and freebies. Now you’ll not have to wade through deals to get to the meaty posts!

As always, all the features on our site are free. We won’t ever charge you a dime for accessing information here because we figure you probably have plenty of other ways you could spend your hard-earned dimes. 🙂

All the details on these new features will be unveiled next week. Stay tuned! And as always, thank you for reading here, for telling your friends about this site, and for sharing input and ideas as to how we can improve the site.

10 Mar 2010   ·   42
Money Saving Mom

Six Tips for Losing Weight on a Budget

Guest Post by Andrea from MommySnacks

Losing weight is inevitably always on someone’s to-do list. I’ll admit, it’s been on mine since our first son was born 9 years ago! Weight loss can be done on the cheap and I’m a case study to prove it since I lost 35 pounds last year.

Here are a few ideas to help you lose the poundage and save your money, too:

Go Outside

Using the hard pavement is one of the best ways to save money! The road is the obvious choice, but a high school stadium can also be a great way to get your exercise in by not spending a dime. Some outdoor exercises I recommend: walking, running, and climbing bleachers (at the school).

Resistance Train

Your body can be the best piece of equipment! Doing resistance training will cost you nothing because you are using the best asset you have to work out with–you. Some great resistance exercises include: squats, lunges, push-ups, and tricep dips.

Browse the Internet

You may think this is the last place you can actually lose weight, but there are so many resources available online to help you be successful! I have found training suggestions, food journals, and supportive communities. Some of my favorite online fitness and weight-loss resources are: Sparkpeople.com, WeFitFamily.com, and RunnersWorld.com.

Borrow Equipment

When you start sharing your goal to lose weight and get healthy with others, you may find that someone has some equipment they can let you borrow. Right now, we are lending our Elliptical Machine to friends. It’s a gym quality one that we purchased several years ago. Our friends mentioned they wanted to try one, so I offered ours to borrow.

Buy Used

Many people use the new year or new season to de-clutter which means equipment that has been collecting dust is going out the door! Check your local Freecycle goup or, if you have a little bit of cash to spare, check out Craigslist or make a visit to your local second hand shop (Goodwill or Salvation Army) or even a second hand sports store (like Play it Again Sports) to see what equipment is available for purchase.

Eat Healthfully

Eating healthfully is one of the most important things when it comes to losing weight. And, despite what some might tell you, you can eat healthy on a budget.

I won’t give you advice on what to eat, but Sparkpeople.com will do just that! You can set up a plan and it will offer you menus based on your daily caloric intake. It’s not complex and it can be simple stuff (frozen meals, deli meats, etc). Oh, and it’s free (that’s the best part). Getting the eating part down and within your budget will make the weight loss you meet each week even sweeter!

Of course, if you are just starting on your weight-loss journey, please consult your physician to ensure that the plan you follow is appropriate for you. I am not a medical expert but I am a mom of 3 who lost 35 pounds last year using these ideas. And, I haven’t spent a dime on anything other than my 5k registration fees and my food (a girl’s gotta eat)!

Andrea Deckard is a stay-at-home mommy with an amazing husband and three energetic boys. Stop by Mommy Snacks to get your fill of zero-calorie “snacks” to help you Save, Earn, Live and Learn!

What are your best frugal weight loss tips? Tell us in the comments.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

9 Mar 2010   ·   92
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Dairy-Free Blogs?

I have a daughter with dairy allergies and am looking for blogs with dairy-free advice and recipes. Do you know of any? -Tiffany

We’re not dairy-free at our house, so I don’t follow dairy-free blogs. Anyone have one or have great recommendations for blogs, websites, or resources for someone who is dairy-free? Let us know in the comments.

8 Mar 2010   ·   164
Money Saving Mom

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop With Cash

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Up until this point, the posts in this series have been pretty non-controversial. But today, that’s all changing, because I’m going to make a bold statement:

You will very likely see significant savings on your grocery bill if you only shop with cash.

I know all of you “But-I’m-So-Responsible-With-My-Credit-Card” people probably aren’t going to be happy with me for saying this, but I really believe that.

You see, when you shop with a credit card (or even a debit card, for that matter!) you can have your budget in your head and you can do the best to stick with it when you check out, but it’s so much easier to go just a little bit over here and there when you’re swiping. You can justify that $2 you went over your budget to buy something which was a “great deal” when paying with your card.

$2 might not seem like much, but if you spend $2 to $3 more on groceries every week, that’s adds up to around $130 in extra spending over a year’s time!

Paying with cash forces you to stick to your budget.

When I know that all I have to use at checkout is the cash in my grocery budget envelope, you better believe I carefully evaluate every impulse purchase or great deal I come across: “Do I really need this?” “Is this in the budget?”

Sometimes, it truly is a great deal and I have the money in my cash envelope to pay for it so it goes in the cart. Other times, I decide it’s a good enough deal that I skip buying something else on my list that we can do without in order to afford it. Or, many times, I put it back on the shelf.

The Cash-Only Challenge

Maybe you’re one of those extremely responsible–and very rare!–people who can stick to your budget while swiping a card. If you are, kuddos to you!

However, if you find yourself struggling financially and wishing you could figure out why your grocery budget is so high, can I challenge you to take a Cash-Only Challenge for 3 months and see if it impacts your grocery spending over the course of a three-month period?

Here’s how the Cash-Only Challenge works:

1) Commit to only spend what is in your grocery envelope for the next 3 months.

2) Go to the bank and withdraw cash in the amount of your pre-determined Grocery Budget. Put this cash in an envelope and keep it in a safe place. For more on cash-only shopping, read The Envelope System Experiment.

3) Leave your credit/debit cards/checkbook at home and only bring your cash envelope and a calculator with you to the grocery store.

4) Calculate your purchases on the calculator as you add them to your cart. This will motivate you to carefully evaluate all purchases, will make you aware of how much items actually cost, encourage you to look for the best deal, and force you to get creative if your list is longer than you have room for in the budget.

5) Pay with cash when you checkout and see significant grocery savings–hopefully!

6) Decide you’ll never go back to paying with your credit/debit card. Well, okay so you might not get quite that drastic, but I can almost guarantee you that going cash-only for a short-time will have taught you something worthwhile!

Have you tried a cash-only system? If so, what benefits have you found from doing so? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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8 Mar 2010   ·   10
Money Saving Mom

Mini Apple Pies

I have fallen in love… with Mini Apple Pies.

I saw them on Heavenly Homemaker’s blog last week and knew I had to try the recipe. I printed out the recipe and left it lying out on the countertop when I left my sister to babysit last week. She took the hint and when I came back home the delicious smell of fresh-baked apple pie was wafting through our home.

Please tell me the serving size is three, because you can’t just eat one of these. Er, at least I certainly can’t!

Try ’em. You’ll like ’em.

My favorite part? You can make them and then bake half and stick the rest of the unbaked ones in the freezer. We did that and the ones out of the freezer are just as wonderful as fresh-baked.

6 Mar 2010   ·   47

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Menu Planning on a Budget (Part 2)

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

You’ve “shopped” your cupboards, consulted the sales fliers and surveyed your coupons, now it’s time to get down to business with menu-planning. But first off, let me re-iterate a very important point:

There’s not a perfect way to plan a menu.

Everyone is going to plan their menu a little bit differently. As I said yesterday, there’s no right or wrong way to menu plan. What matters is that you do it, and that it works for your family. For the record, I do it a little differently each time I plan–depending upon how much time and inspiration I have and what our plans for the week look like.

Sometimes, I have lots of extra ingredients to work with, there are lots of sales, and I have numerous coupons. When that happens, it’s pretty easy to pull together a week’s worth of meals without a lot of extra thought.

I’ve found that once-a-month Freezer Cooking makes menu planning a breeze. In fact, many weeks, I can just write out breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas on this form here, and we’re good to go for the week. I use the sheet for ideas, but I don’t necessarily follow it to a tee. In our home, flexibility and creativity is okay–provided it doesn’t mean any extra trips to the store!

However, at times, my cupboards and freezers are pretty bare, the sales are sparse, and my coupon box is relatively empty. If that’s the case, I see how much grocery money I have to work with, and I usually pull out some cookbooks to get the wheels in my head going. Or I’ll go to one of my favorite food blogs (like Tammy’s Recipes) for ideas. You can also check out Menu Plan Monday for a plethora of menu ideas from around the blogosphere.

Find a method that works for you.

You might find it helpful to take 30 minutes and make a list of 30 meals your family loves to serve as inspiration if you’re ever feeling a lack of creativity while menu-planning.

Or, you could have pre-established themes for dinners each week. Tsh, over at SimpleMom, does this and here’s an example of what her Themed Menu Plan has looked like:

Mondays – pasta
Tuesdays – soup, salad, and/or sandwiches
Wednesdays – stir fry
Thursdays – crock pot
Fridays – pizza
Saturdays – something new
Sundays – something easy

Jenna from the Newlyweds blog left a comment sharing how she plans her menus:

I try to plan 2 meals around items I already have at home in the pantry or freezer, and then plan some meals based on what’s on sale, and some based on what we would like to eat. I keep my plan flexible and allow for anything that will pop up. I also like to keep items on hand all the time for a few quick meals like taco soup and spaghetti. This way, if some comes up, I can whip these up in a jiffy. –Jenna @ Newlyweds

It might seem like a daunting task at first–especially if this is all new to you!–but don’t be overwhelmed. Do the best you can do and remember that it’s never going to be absolutely perfect. Over time, though, you’ll likely begin to realize significant savings just by taking a few extra steps and putting the effort forth to make a plan.

Free Menu Planning Worksheet and Grocery Shopping Lists

To aid you in your menu-planning and grocery-list-making, Joy from FiveJ’s and I put together some free downloads for you. (By the way, Joy put together a snazzy free downloads page here so you can access all the free downloads we currently have available. Enjoy!)

Meal Planning Worksheet :: This brainstorming form contains spaces to write down store deals, coupons, items on hand, and recipes that can be made from those items.

Shopping List :: Contains space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, whether there is a coupon for it, and how much the coupon is for. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.

Two-Store Shopping List :: Two separate shopping lists on one page, each of which includes space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, and whether there is a coupon for it. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.

How do you normally plan your menus? I’d love to hear what works for you!

Get the latest coupons delivered right to your door for
as low as $1 per week with Discounted Newspapers!


6 Mar 2010   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Freezer Cooking!

I didn’t go to the store this week except to stock up on a few items we needed for Freezer Cooking Day:

We spent $64.61 out of pocket, and here’s what we filled our freezer with:

The list of recipes and food we made we made can be found here.

___________________________________________

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.

5 Mar 2010   ·   37

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Menu Planning on a Budget (Part 1)

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

So now that you know some of the benefits of menu-planning, I thought it’d be helpful to share some suggestions for planning a budget-friendly menu. However, please remember that there is no right or wrong way to plan a menu. These are just suggestions–take what works for your family, and leave the rest!

1) “Shop” Your Cupboards

I always start menu-planning by looking in my freezer, refrigerator, and cupboards. This simple exercise often yields a great deal of inspiration.

For instance, last week I discovered that I had cream cheese, canned tomatoes, and noodles on hand. So I made this lasagna as part of Freezer Cooking Day.

Maybe you open up your freezer and find chicken and frozen broccoli and you open up your cupboard and see a bag of rice. Well, you have the beginnings of Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole. Just add cheese and cream of chicken soup  to your grocery list (or make your own Homemade Cream Soup) and you have everything you need for one dinner that week.

One great resource for coming up with recipes based upon what you already have on hand is by using the Ingredient Search feature from AllRecipes. Type in the ingredients you have and those you don’t have, and it will pull up a list of recipes you can make.

Two other websites you can consult for recipes based upon ingredients you have on hand are SuperCook and Recipe Matcher.

2) Consult the Sales Fliers

Once you feel like you’re getting the hang of planning your menu based upon what you have on hand, you’re ready to move onto the next level of menu-planning–planning your menu based upon what’s on sale at your local store(s). This is where you really start to see the savings happening!

Most grocery store chains have their weekly sale fliers available online. If not, you will often receive a copy in the mail. Or, you could even pick one up at the store if you’re going to be driving right by it.

When you’re in the middle of planning your menu and grocery list, quickly browse through these sale fliers and see if there are any exceptional deals on things you need or things you will use in the next few months. Most of the time, the hottest deals of the week are listed predominantly in the front page of the flier. Oftentimes, these front-page deals are “loss-leaders”. (“Loss-leaders” are deals which the store is actually breaking even– or losing money on! They are designed to be good enough to “bait” you into shopping at that store.)

Don’t neglect to look through the full flier, though. Sometimes there are great deals which are hidden on the middle pages. However, remember that just because something is listed in the sales flier it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great deal. Over time, you’ll start learning what are the “rock-bottom” prices for items you buy and how often they go on sale in your area.

3) Survey Your Coupons

Once I’ve gotten a good idea of what I have on hand and what’s on sale at my nearby stores, I pull out my coupon box to match up coupons with the sales and see if I have any other coupons I want to be sure and use (such as high-value coupons or coupons for free items). I put these coupons  in a stack and then it’s time to make my menu plan–which we’ll talk about in more detail in the next post in this series.

What are your best tips for menu-planning on a budget? Comment and tell us!

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5 Mar 2010   ·   55
Money Saving Mom

The Myth of Monthly Payments

Guest Post by Amber from The Hormonal Housewife

My husband and I were looking for a larger home for our growing family. We crunched the numbers and knew exactly how much our mortgage could be without piling on more debt. We spent time looking at homes in our area and were even considering building if we could do so on our budget.

This quest is how we ended up at a regional builder’s model home display. After explaining the building process to us, the agent told us that the overall price of the home wasn’t important; the only thing that mattered is the monthly payment. That’s when we knew we were in the wrong place.

You see, my husband and I have $35,000 in debt. How did we accumulate so much? The answer is simple: one payment at a time.

The scary truth is that the last time we financed a car, we weren’t even sure afterward how much the car itself cost us; we only knew how much we were paying for it each month. Scarier still—we don’t even own that car anymore.

We have three children now and the car couldn’t hold three car seats. We sold the car and used that money to buy a semi-dependable van. Unfortunately, we’re still making payments on a car we no longer have and we don’t even know how much it really cost in the first place.

All of our debt happened in a similar way: we financed something because even though we couldn’t afford to purchase the item, we could afford the monthly payments. My family could never file for bankruptcy even if we wanted to because we can still make every payment.

We struggle to buy clothing and pay for haircuts but we can still make all those payments for so many things we no longer have or are unable to use. Isn’t that sad?

As a couple, my husband and I are determined from now on that we will only buy things we can completely afford instead of making payments we think we can afford. Admitting to the world that we have so much debt because we made poor decisions is embarrassing. The reason we do tell others is because we are passionate about spreading the truth that monthly payments led us deep into debt.

We are working hard to become good stewards of the money with which we’ve been blessed by doing things like using cash and searching for deals on sites like Money Saving Mom. We hope to help others do the same.

Amber Clark is a former English teacher who is now the proud mother of three beautiful children. She is the author of The Hormonal Housewife and hopes to use her blog to encourage women to be better wives, mothers, and home managers.

photo credit: LemonJenny