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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Update on our so-called "extreme" couponing

When we noticed that a grocery store was having a double coupon day, we decided to try out extreme couponing. 

While we do have a grocery store in town, it is more expensive that other ones and I don't generally do the bulk of our shopping there.  For this trip, we drove the 20 miles to the store, and then 20 miles back.  Usually I try to combine trips because, if you are spending more in gas than you would be saving, it's not really a good deal.

This is how our trip went.  At Family Fresh, we used multiple coupons, but since the doubling only occurs if the coupon is less than $1, only one coupon was doubled, from $.40 to $.80.  Otherwise, we did use one $3 off coupon and 3 $1 off coupons, saving $6.80 for a total bill of $52.  With that, I bought 10 lbs of butter (I had to buy 10 items to use the $3 off coupon and didn't like the other products).  Since the butter was on sale for $1.89 a lb, saving $3 (or $.30 per lb) took that down to $1.59 a lb.  We have the freezer space and will most certainly use it up before it would go bad.  Other than the butter, the only thing I thought was a good deal was yeast, because I got the $.80 off a sale price. 

We had coupons for other things, but even with coupons and being on sale, most of the time it was still more expensive than buying it at Aldi.  We bought flour on sale without a coupon, 5 lbs for $1.39, but we had a coupon for $1 off a 10 lb bag (priced at $4.08), so using the coupon would actually be more expensive than buying two 5 lb bags.  If the 5 lb bag weren't on sale, I would have waited and bought it at Aldi, because I know that a 5 lb bag of flour there is $1.49.  We also bought coffee creamer, but at $2.24 even after the $1 off coupon, it was about the same price as it is at Aldi.  We did, however, get a $.05 off per gallon coupon for gas at the local station, and since I used my credit card, we got the points.  Overall, based on the dollar amount, we saved only about 10%, not including sale prices, with coupons.  However, I think that the trip wasn't too bad because of the deal on butter.

We then went to Target.  Just the day before I got an additional 5% off coupon in the mail (that you can stack with your 5% off you get by using your Red Card).  By signing up for their Rx Rewards program, you can sometimes get 5% off coupons with every 5 prescriptions filled, but we didn't have one of those coupons so it was nice to get the unexpected one in the mail.  I have read articles where Target keeps track of what you are buying and then market to you.  Well, they were keeping track because I also got some coupons for things I'd actually get!  They even sent me a coupon where I would get $5 off a $50 purchase.  Of course they believe that you will just keep buying stuff to get up to the $50, but we were going to get there anyway because we needed to buy diapers (my eldest is now potty trained but the younger one grew out of the cloth ones so we gave them away, but they were on sale and we had a coupon even for the Target brand).

I had stackable coupons (store coupon and manufacturer coupon) for some items like make-up and candy, but after looking at it and having the candy in my cart, I put it back because my rule was that I wasn't going to buy something just to save.  Yes, getting two items would have been even cheaper than buying one, but I didn't need the one to start with, and it would still be money spent. 

Our big "deals" were getting dry pasta for $.50 a box based on stacked coupons, and good prices on pasta sauce and a light bulb we needed.  However, buying impulse purchases because of a strategically placed box of Cheez-Its where my daughter could see, and lime flavored tortilla chips for my husband, made for less of a savings.  Plus, my husband, while he says that he likes shopping and wants to look around, does NOT like going through coupons to see what would offer the best price, so he was getting less patient and therefore I didn't take as long as I may have on my own.  I still think we did an acceptable job saving.  Altogether, we saved $16.65 in coupons and then used our Red Card.  I saved over 40%, not including sale prices. 

I still can't figure out how anyone can save like the Extreme Couponers do, unless you are eating crap food.  While I'm glad I found the website for coupons for the store brand, and I use Target's coupons on occasion, I will still do the majority of my shopping at Aldi, because I can get things for less cost and with less hassle of having to hunt down coupons.  

I think my biggest savings comes from buying direct from the grower/farmer.  It's always disappointing with farmer's markets ending for the season, but there are still a few deals to be found.  Just this week I went to a farm and a 50 lb bag of potatoes was priced at $12!  (That's $.24 a lb for organic, local food versus about $1 a lb for the pesticide-laden stuff at the store).  I bought three bags because we can store them in the cold room until next May or so.  Last week, we met someone who was selling off baskets full of squash for only $.75 each, and they were much, much larger than the kind you'd get at the store.  We bought 6, because they also can keep for many months. 

Of course, the best deal is growing your own, so I'll keep planting.  Happy growing and happy shopping!

Menu plan

Over the last two weeks, my body felt as though we have had too much meat.  Even though I know it's not even half of what the average American eats, I still have a low tolerance for it.  So, I will listen to my body over what is typical of someone else.  We ate some meals with leftover meat, but mostly ate very little of it.  It was good to put us back into our norm.  I will be more conscious of putting vegetarian meals into our menu planning. 

So far this week we've had omelets, potato soup, cheese pizza, and BSTs (turkey bacon, spinach instead of lettuce, & yummy garden fresh tomatoes).  For the remainder of the week, here is our plan:

Thursday:  Curried rice with leftover chicken, with roasted parsnips and carrots.

Friday:  Grilled cheese with spinach and avocado It includes pesto, which we have and we also have spinach in the garden (even though it is snowing as I type this).

Saturday:  Leftovers and a potluck later

And for next week:

Sunday:  Cheesy quinoa with baked acorn squash (with butter and brown sugar, of course).

Monday:  Gnocchi with chard and beans

Tuesday:  Dinner at the in-laws'

Wednesday:  Butternut squash and apple soup.  It seems the appropriate Halloween food, followed by trick-or-treating for the girls.

Thursday:  Roasted chicken, cheesy potatoes, and brown sugared carrots.  Because it is the Day of the Dead, we will honor my sister with one of her favorite desserts:  crème brûlée.

Friday: BBQ chicken (with the leftover chicken),  pickles (beets, cukes, beans), and baked potatoes.

Saturday:  potluck

Sunday:  Egg foo young.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our adventure with "extreme" couponing

I do use coupons, but not as frequently as I used to because when you eat Real, there aren't that many coupons to be had.  But, since I'm off of work for a few weeks and can't really lift heavy things (like I would be doing my garden beds this month but I can't haul around the bricks to surround the garden areas), I figured I would work on the girls' scrapbooks (I'm way behind) and coupon.  It only occurred to me to blog about this when I noticed that an area grocery store is having a day (yes, one day, and I've never seen them have it before) where they will double coupons with a value of up to .50.  If a coupon is $.50, then it goes to $1.  If it's over $.50, then it goes to $1.  If it's over $1, then it's face value. It is not like the TV shows where they will double unlimited amounts of coupons up to any amount, and the item can be free but the store will not give more money back than the item is worth.  It's this Saturday so that gives me a few days to plan. 

I don't like to spend retail prices.  I admit that I am rather frugal.  In losing weight while breastfeeding and eating Real food, I needed new clothing.  That means the thrift store.  You'd think that I'd just go whenever and buy whatever fit, but I am so "frugal" that I buy on 50% off days, or days where certain color tags are $1.49.  I prefer Banana Republic, or Ann Taylor, but I'm not spending more than a few bucks for an article of clothing.  (Ok, I did spend $20 on a pair of jeans at a consignment shop a few months ago, but they retailed at well over $100 and they are an amazing fit).  I like to consider price per wear (ppw).  Your wedding dress should be the most expensive ppw (one time at how much!?!), but the shoes or shirt you love should have a very reasonable ppw.  If it's something I could wear multiple times that fits well and is comfortable, then it will likely be a good ppw.  If not, then I reconsider the purchase.  Time to get off the tangent and back to groceries. 

For grocery items, I have found that generic items are generally as good as name brand, with a few exceptions.  My mom tended to buy some things name brand growing up and I have found that I like certain things name brand as well.  As far as store-bought ice cream goes, because of the ingredient list and a refusal to spend several dollars on a single serving, I will generally only eat Breyer's (but we also make it at home).  Of course, some flavors have more (fake) ingredients than others, but there is nothing like a natural vanilla ice cream.  Yum.  However, I will buy generic most often because, even with combining a sale and both a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon, the generic brand is often still less expensive (hence my habit of shopping at Aldi).  I really don't see how people are buying stashes of food and merchandise for pennies on the dollar in those extreme instances.    

Previously, I watched "Extreme Couponing" and got a bit miffed rather than inspired.  People stockpiling stuff that they don't use and could never use up before expiring seemed wasteful and greedy.  It's also unrealistic.  There's no way a full-time worker and full-time parent, who also gardens, blogs, works out and often likes to sleep could spend 30-70 (yes, seventy) hours per week clipping, researching, and using coupons.  I decided to set some ground rules for our adventure (my MIL is being supportive of this adventure and has already printed off some coupons for me to use).

1) The food (or merchandise) must be something we would buy without a coupon or would otherwise try. 

2) If it's 50-ingredient, artificial junk, we're not buying it to say we saved money.  The idea that you are "saving" money when you are really SPENDING money is something that marketers love.  Really, if it costs you, you are spending.

3)  What if it's free with coupons or a "money maker?"  Since the store will not give more than the money is worth, at best it is free (not a "money maker," which means that you get money back after "buying" it).  Why pass up free?  Because free can cost in ways other than money.  Bad health with bad food choices, a hoarding mentality, and more that you can probably think of on your own. 

4) Yes, the trip will cost money.  I do not expect to buy $144 in groceries for one penny (as was in the show mentioned above), but if I could do better at Aldi with their generic brand, or with a store brand, I do not feel as though it is really saving money.  So when someone tells you that you saved so much money or such a percentage, really you spent what the bottom dollar was for the stuff in your cart.

5)  I'm not going to spend all day grocery shopping and bringing several friends just to make separate transactions.  If I can't do it with the people in my household, it's not realistic.  Also, I don't find shopping for groceries to be the best way to spend my time.  We will be going to two stores (Family Fresh, which has the double coupons, and Target, because they give me 5% off when I use my Red Card, and because they share a parking lot and, as mentioned before, I don't want to spend my day shopping).   Did I mention that I'm not that big into shopping?  It's why my guy friends didn't mind shopping with me when I was younger, because I could do the entire mall in 30 minutes by just running in to stores that I thought may have something I wanted and didn't browse too much.

Back to the coupons...  So I did some researching on the best ways to save.  I do get the Sunday paper and cut coupons from those.  There were four sections of coupons (Red Plum, Smart Source, P&G, and one from Pepsi product stuff).  My MIL printed some off a coupon site and on Target's site (go to See More, Coupons).  I also checked out a blogger who wrote a post about it in My Frugal Adventures.  From there, I learned that Target also has mobile coupons that you can get on your phone.  And I just found that Our Family brand, which is what Family Fresh carries, has its own coupon site online.  For organic foods, you can try the four sites MFA suggests.

I do have a coupon organizer, not the 3-ring binder kind, but it works for what I need it for. Check out the next post to see how it went.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Preserving apples

Last month we were able to go a local restaurant that is surrounded by an apple orchard.  They allow families to take two free bags of apples.  I asked, and the owner informed me (as we were dining on some delicious food in the restaurant) that he doesn't spray anything on them.

With that many apples, we needed to preserve them, because there was no way we were going to eat that many fresh.  We had enough apple sauce and apple pie filling from last year, so we decided against making more of those.  We made some faux mince pie filling (vegetarian) with apples and green tomatoes, some mini pies, frozen apples, apple butter, and dried apples.  We also made some apple head dolls

When preserving a lot, this peeler/corer saves time

We put our apple butter in the crock pot overnight so it's ready to can in the morning.

These crab apples were for caramel crab apple jelly

Some apple goodies, with the dehydrator also making dried tomatoes

Limoncello in the making

I received a late birthday gift recently - a bottle of Limoncello with a couple of serving glasses.  That same weekend, I went to a flea market with my sister and bought twenty (yes, 20) lemons for only $1.  With that many lemons, we had to make our own limoncello.  I must say, ours turned out even better than the store bought kind.  We used a very simple recipe.

Here's the end product, on the left.  I think I may have found a new fruity favorite.

It's been a month now and we're wondering if it gets better with age, but we are drinking it so often that I doubt that it'll age much!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Menu plan for next week (I can't believe I'm ahead)

The wind and news reports of possible snow are making for a desire for warm & hearty foods. 

Sunday: Chili

Monday:  Apple and butternut squash soup

Tuesday:  Roasted veggies, venison, and potatoes

Wednesday:  Squash, onion & hazelnut pizza (no mushrooms for me, but maybe eggplant). 

Thursday:  Pasta, with pesto from our garden herbs

Friday:  Dried tomato risotto from our own dried tomatoes and chicken stock

Saturday:  Creamy wild rice soup, because I stocked up on heavy cream and we have wild rice. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Holiday treat ideas for Halloween

Harry Potter sorting hat caramels

Witchy fingers

Graveyard brownies

Spooky ghost meringues 

Chesire cat cheese ball  (or you could try it with hummus covered in carrots).

Broom stick snacks made with string cheese, pretzels, & chives

Vampire caramel apples with marshmallows

Skeleton cupcakes 

And there are a lot of other great ideas at Better Homes & Garden Halloween recipes and Dash Recipes.