Friday, September 18, 2009

Frugal Finds for Frugal Finances

Several people asked me how I save money when purchasing groceries and household items. While there are many, many blogs and websites out there that offer tons of saving strategies and frugal ideas, I thought I would share what works for me. My situation is a bit different than most of the online forums, and I know that a lot of you are in my boat. What sets lots of us apart from the rest of the frugal world? Location, location, location. There is simply no getting around it: the Bay Area, LA, New York, DC, etc. are some of the most expensive places in the US, and grocery prices reflect that. Below are some of the strategies that have helped me to consistently slash my grocery bill in half or more.

1. Find an online blog or forum that lists out weekly deals and coupon scenarios for stores in your area. I like (Thanks, Stephanie!). Caution must be used with these, however; I often discover that a Target store in the Midwest is having a deal that mine doesn't offer. So, just because the online info says there is a deal to be had, shop with an open mind and realize your deals may not be quite as good as others are getting.

2. Once you find your preferred blog (and only choose one! Otherwise, your monetary savings will be spent in time wasted on the internet), limit yourself to just a couple of stores. If you buy chicken on sale and Nob Hill and Hamburger on sale at Safeway, you'll spend your savings on gas to get from store to store. Not only that, but I've started noticing that if chicken is on sale at Nob Hill one week, it will be on sale at Safeway the next. This brings me to my 3rd strategy:

3. Stock up! If an item is on sale that is either non-perishable or can be frozen for later use, buy lots! Then you won't have to pay full price if you run out when there is not a convenient sale to be found.

4. Purchase a Sunday paper for the coupon inserts. There are usually 3: SmartSource, RedPlum, and P&G. If you buy a paper from a stand each Sunday instead of having it delivered to your door, you can shave a few cents off of the cost. Once you have your coupon inserts, clip out ALL coupons, even for things you don't normally purchase. Why? Two reasons. One, you may find a deal where you can get an additional item for free when purchasing the item you don't usually use (as long as you are truly saving money by doing this!), and two, you can either give away the item you don't use or you can use it as a gift. Coffee comes to mind in this situation; I hate it, but my extended family love it. So if I can get it for free or close to free, I'll use it for a Christmas gift.

5. The online forums will often give you links to printable coupons. If you have a printer, these are great ways to save money. Try to print as many coupons on one sheet of paper as possible (to save on paper costs), and only print coupons for items you buy since it does cost a few cents per print.

6. If your stores of choice have coupon cards, such as Safeway, link your card up to online card coupons. Amazingly, if you upload a manufacturer's coupon to your card and then print out an identical manufacturer's coupon, you can often get the benefit of both on a single item. Check out for more information and to find the coupon upload links.

7. Skip Walgreens. Just forget it. No matter how good the sale may be, I've found Walgreens to be nothing but a waste of time. You can only use one coupon per item (thus you cannot combine manufacturer's coupons with store coupons); items are usually over-priced; some RRs are item-specific (such as buy Sally Hansen nail polish and get $3 RRs for another Sally Hansen purchase instead of $3 off of any type of purchase) but are not listed as such in the flyers; you cannot use a coupon that is for more than the cost of the item (I tried to buy a candle for $2.50 and wanted to use a "Save $3 on a candle" coupon but the cashier would not allow it); and the service (at least in my area) is more despicable than Wal-Mart!! But, perhaps, this is only true of my area's Walgreens.

8. Become familiar with all of your coupons. I've found many deals that are not listed on the online forums just because I know what coupons I have and then I spot a store sale for a coupon item.

9. Remember to take tax into consideration. I pay 9.25% state sales tax, and most of the time you have to pay for tax on the original item price, no matter how inexpensively you snag it. I've gotten "free"candles but still have to pay the tax, and since candles are not something I normally buy, paying the tax on them is an increase to my usual spending. I hope that makes sense...

These are my grocery-purchasing strategies in a nut shell. As I mentioned before, there are TONS of web sites dedicated to this stuff that spell it out much more eloquently than I did! A few of my strategies are a little more in tune with higher-cost-of-living areas, though, so I hope to inspire those of you who, like me, live in one of the most upscale areas of our great nation. It's still possible to achieve great savings, even if we cannot get a table-full of groceries for under $6 like some people can.

All of that said, here are a few other tips I've found to be helpful when trying to cut spending:

1. Don't buy plastic food storage containers. Do you buy yogurt or sour cream? Save the containers once you've eaten the product. Do this long enough, and you'll collect a whole cupboard full of stackable, plastic, disposable, convenient containers! Just a tip, though: take a sharpie and put big "X"s on the empty ones, so your spouse will know that a container does not necessarily contain what is advertised on the outside!

2. Don't buy cleaning products unless you can get them for free by combining coupons and sales. Just use vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda to clean. You'll find lots of cleaning recipes online that use just these ingredients, along with a touch of Dawn soap, and the results are a better cleaning agent that's safer for kids and pets than the usual name brand stuff.

3. Remember that newspaper you bought for the coupons? Use the rest of it throughout the week to clean windows, mirrors, etc. instead of buying paper towels.

4. Make your own laundry detergent. Online, you'll find recipes for both liquid and dry detergents. If you have a washer that's over 30 years old like I do, only go for the liquid stuff. My washer just can't clean well enough anymore to use the powdered.

5. Check out "The Tightwad Gazette" from your local library for lots of frugal ideas (thanks, Julie!).

6. Bake your own bread. All of it. Biscuits, loaves, rolls, etc. Some of you even make your own tortillas, something I've not yet tried. If you despise the thought of kneading all of that dough, figure out how much it would cost to make it from scratch and subtract that amount from the cost of purchasing it pre-made from the store. Then look up the cost of purchasing a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook and see how many loaves you would have to make from scratch in order to save enough to afford the mixer. If you are diligent, you can actually pay for a mixer and get the benefit of both the mixer and fresh, homemade bread! (With the mixer, it takes me 5 minutes to make bread. Not too bad!)

I know that many of you are already doing these things and more to help stretch your dollars and to be the best stewards of your God-given resources! Feel free to add on to this list - I am always looking for more ways to save!

Monday, September 14, 2009

For Those Who Have Been Asking and Praying

Many of you have asked how Jon is doing, so I thought I would post another update. He is doing incredibly well, thanks to everyone praying! While he is still susceptible to headaches, the chronic headaches have completely disappeared. As his sinuses become increasingly clear, his voice is changing. That takes some getting used to, to say the least! Coworkers have called and have not recognized him over the phone, the change is so drastic. I've known him for 10 years, but he's had this condition so long that apparently I'd never gotten to hear how he sounded without being congested.

Another change for the better has been the lack of symptoms. Before his surgery, he would have severe sinus pressure whenever there was a change in the weather. This usually brought on a heightened problem with the CSF leak, as well, making him very uncomfortable. Despite the rain and wind these past two days, however, he's suffered none of his regular symptoms and has felt very well! He will have another check up on Wednesday just to make sure everything is healing the way that it should, but we are confident that the results of that appointment will be good.

On the job front, Jon was able to complete the art test without too much trouble. The test was very reasonable and manageable, and Jon turned in the completed work Sunday night so that it was waiting for them Monday morning. We've not heard anything back yet, so he's a little nervous as he anticipates a reply. We both feel that this would be an ideal position for him and for our family, but we also realize that the Lord can see the future whereas we cannot. We are praying that we will hear something back by tomorrow afternoon, even if it is only confirmation that they did indeed receive the email containing his work. I find it difficult to remain calm in these situations; I am like the toddler who has no concept of time and who keeps demanding, "Are we there yet?"

Thank you for your continued prayers, both for Jon's final stages of healing and for the job situation. One "setback," you might call it, has been the fact that after taking a week and a half off of work, Jon is really struggling to get back into the night shift. He's been going on so little sleep for so long that it's nearly impossible for him to readjust after being able to sleep as much as he wanted to during his recovery. This is yet another compelling reason to hope for a different position. Again, though, the Lord knows our every need and desire and will open up the doors to the perfect job in His perfect timing. We must be content to rest in the fact that He knows our needs much more clearly than we do!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Post-op Appointment

Jon had his first post-op appointment today. The doctor was pleased with his progress, which was good to know. She gave him a different medication to help alleviate the cranial pressure he's been dealing with. Each day is a little better, but he still struggles with headaches. Thankfully yesterday and today the headaches have been less severe.

The doctor also cleared out his nasal passages today, so he can finally breathe through his nose! It was so fun to watch him enjoy lunch. He said he could actually taste for the first time in years. Already he's noticed a huge difference in his health. He no longer has daily allergy-like symptoms that he's constantly fighting. This is exactly what we were hoping this surgery would accomplish, so we are so thankful that it is working!

I cannot say how much I've enjoyed this past week. While I could never wish this on anyone, since Jon had to go through it, I've found so much to be thankful for. Having him home for the past 8 days is certainly the best part. We had such a nice, relaxing family time. We didn't go anywhere or do anything fancy - Jon wasn't up for that yet - but having him home where we could visit with him and the kids could do activities with him was wonderful. I am so glad for this little break in our schedule!

I've also been amazed at how the Lord has met each of our needs - often before we were even aware of the need! It just goes to show, once again, that His timing is, indeed, perfect.

Here are a few things I've learned from this experience:

* I could never be a nurse. Watching someone go through that much pain is just not something I could handle on a daily basis. (Not to mention my aversion to blood, needles, etc...)

* I don't think I'd realized until last week just how much I rely on Jon or how much he does for me and the kids.

* Kaiser really is a good medical facility, all billing headaches aside.

* This was much harder on the kids and me than I thought it would be, but it has also been much more rewarding. I had no greater joy than to help Jon as much as I possibly could.

* When the egg carton falls unnoticed against the refrigerator's thermostat and turns it off, the milk will smell funny the following morning.

*It's easy to get caught up in only what is going on with my own family, but life continues on for everyone and there are still many opportunities to pray for and to serve others even in the midst of a difficult situation.