Thursday, February 11, 2010

Are Coupons Worth It?

The Wall Street Journal seems to think so. I don't think I need to give you my opinion on the matter - it should be very clear from this blog what I think. The fact is that, yes, coupons take time. Most things in this life are a trade off between time and money. If you have the money, you can buy yourself some time by paying more for conveniences or hiring someone else to do the work. But, when you find yourself short on money, you have to be willing to invest your time to change that.

Last month I saved $517.94 from both sales and coupons (this month, I've alread saved $571, and the month's only half over!). I probably spend 10 hours a week clipping coupons, organizing them, checking blogs, planning shopping trips etc. (I probably spend more time on blogs than I need to, but I enjoy being part of the couponing community) That works out to be about $13 / hour. And that time spent was at home, with my kids and husband, usually watching a TV show or movie at the same time. I can't think of any other job that has the perks or the benefits of couponing. Plus, as an added bonus, there's the rush of excitement in the check out lane when you see just how low you got your total.

Right now, I really feel I have the best job in the whole world - I get to be a stay-at-home mom and a savvy saver. It's pretty much...awesome :o)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

January Budget Wrap Up

Albertsons: (2 shopping trips)

Total Shelf Cost: $148.61
I Paid: $27.44
Savings: 81%
I am SO going to miss Albertsons - the last store closed and I am SO sad *sigh*. That's one of the reasons why I didn't stay under $100 last month - I just couldn't let these deals go by because I will never see ones like them again.

Rite Aid (2 shopping trips):
Total Shelf Cost: $78.90
I Spent: $7.95
Savings: 89%

Smith's and Maceys:

Total Shelf Cost: $52.70
I Spent: $27.74
Savings: 47%

Walgreens (3 shopping trips):
Total Shelf Cost: $100.00
I Spent: $17.09
Savings: 82%

Total Shelf Cost: $16.70
I Spent: $4.20
Savings: 74%

Total Shelf Cost: $92.06
I Spent: $32.57
Savings: 64%

Walmart (2 Shopping Trips):
Total Shelf Cost: $93.85
I spent: $29.33
Savings: 68%

I did do some price matching, which is totally evil, I know, but I had to go there to pick up stuff for a Primary activity and didn't want to make any other trips, so I did it. And I only feel a little bad about it.

Buy Low:

Shelf Cost: $16.35
I Spent: $6.31
Savings: %61

Sunflower Market:

Shelf Cost: $5.14
I Spent: $3.23
Savings: 37%
(FYI - The brown bag is flax seeds)

Shelf Cost: $41.32
I Spent: $6.44
Savings: 84%

Target, Buy Low, Babies R Us (very random, I know):

Shelf Cost: $29.72

I Spent: $7.94

Savings: 73%

We also had several small trips to Smith's where we picked up bread, milk, and whole milk yogurt. I also placed an order with for some Saran Wrap, because we were all out and I knew I wasn't getting to a store in the next few days and didn't want to make a special trip.

All told, in the month of January we:

Spent $197.22 on all groceries (food, household items, diapers, toiletries, medicine etc)

Total Value of Purchases (Shelf Cost): $714.66

Saved with coupons: $284.86 (don't doubt that coupons are worth the work!)

Saved with Sales: $233.08

Savings: 72%

At the beginning of the year, one of my favorite blogs had an excel spreadsheet to download that tracks all of these numbers - you just enter a few numbers in off your receipt and it totals everything up - I love it. I not only love seeing how much I save, but it's so much fun that it keeps me on top of my receipts so that I don't lose track of how much I've spent. I used to just keep a mental tally of how much I had left to spend, but I know there were things I forgot and that adds up. So, I'm loving this new spreadsheet because it's yet another way to save money.

Eating From the Pantry Wrap Up

Well, this is where the confession comes in - I pretty much failed at my eat from the pantry challenge. I wanted to keep our grocery spending under $100, and that did not happen - not even close. In fact, I spent $197! I fell off the wagon, big time. But, I don't really feel bad about it - maybe I should, but I don't :o) I knew that it would be very difficult for me to stick to a $100 budget and I'm not really surprised that I didn't make it.

I did succeed in cleaning out the fridge and freezer quite a bit (the freezer door actually stays closed now and things don't fall out when I open it!). I managed to go from 10 bottles of salad dressing in the fridge, to 5 (and 2 of those are almost gone). I also finished off lots of other odds and ends that were taking up room in the fridge and freezer: Hoisin sauce, maraschino cherries, marinated artichoke hearts (2 half full jars - what's my problem!), lots of cheese, BBQ sauce, sweet & sour sauce, 10 lbs of clementines, cranberries...and probably some other things that I can't think of at the moment. It feels good to clear out the clutter in there. So, in that regard, the challenge wasn't a complete failure.

In that regard, this challenge was really beneficial to me in that it changed the way I meal plan. I am much more conscious of what I have on hand and need to use up. It was fun to invent recipes that used ingredients that I had on hand - I haven't been that creative in the kitchen for a while - it was refreshing. For those reason, I'm really glad I took on this challenge.

I think I'll throw up a post showing everything I bought last month, just to show that some of the deals were just too good to pass up (and maybe justify my complete lack of self control).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Our Swagbucks Booty

Search & Win

Our family has been using Swagbucks for about 9 months now and during that time, we're accumulated $100 in Amazon gift cards. With those gift cards we bought:

This Plantronics Bluetooth headset for Fred:

This Radioflyer Scooter for Hunter:

(Shhhhhhh, we're saving it for his birthday!)

And this arrived in the mail yesterday for me:

I wrote here that one kitchen gadget that I simply cannot live without is my digital probe thermometer. Well, my beloved thermometer died, on Christmas Day. Not great timing. But, luckily Ham isn't a particularly "needy" meat, and our dinner still turned out great. That day I logged into our Swagbucks account and started redeeming our Amazon gift cards. I was SO grateful that we had a bunch of these gift cards that we got completely free so that I could turn right around and get an item that I wanted.

If you're unsure what Swagbucks is, I wrote posts here and here that explain exactly what it is and why I love it so much. If you'd like to score your own Swagbuck booty, click here and you'll be able to sign up. When you sign up under me, I'll get a Swagbuck for every one that you do (up to 100). And when you've signed up, sign up all your friends and family under you so that you can get Swagbucks for every one that they earn too. It really is a win-win situation: We all get free stuff, just for searching the Internet using Swagbucks, which you probably do already.

Help for Haiti

Ok, so I feel a little weird about posting this, but with all the tremendous support for this cause in the blogging world, I feel I kinda need to. One of my favorite blogs, Money Saving Mom, has started an effort to help those devastated by the earthquake in Haiti. For every blog linked up to her Help for Haiti post, she will donate $10 to Compassion International. She has also recruited the help of 45 blogs, who in turn are donating money for every blog linked to their sites. So, by posting what our family has done to donate to those in Haiti, I will be able to link up to all their posts, multiplying the little that we were able to give.

We donated money to our church's Humanitarian Services. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and our church runs a phenomenal Humanitarian Aid program. There are dozens of reputable organizations that are accepting donations for Haiti, but I chose to donate through our church because I know that 100% of the money they receive goes to those in need - there is NO overhead for administration costs. I know that they do a wonderful job and are guided by the spirit in their efforts. If you wish to donate to the LDS church's Humanitarian Aid fund, you can do so here.

Our donation wasn't very big, but as Crystal said, even $1 - $2 is a lot of money in Haiti. And thanks to all the wonderful bloggers out there, I can multiply our small donation by simply linking up to their sites. I encourage you to do something and check out all the blogs that will multiply your efforts. This is definitely the kind of thing that I normally just keep to myself, and I don't mean to brag about what I'm doing, I'm really just posting so that I can make our small donation stretch a little further. And beside money, we can all pray. Because above all, the people of Haiti need miracles, and miracles come through prayer.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Eating from the Pantry Week 1 Wrap Up

We've been "Eating from the Pantry" for a week now, and we've barely made a dent. But, we have used up some odds and ends, and it feels good to be clearing the kitchen clutter. I'm only posting our dinners here because breakfast is usually cereal and lunch is usually leftovers or something simple, like soup and sandwiches.

Day 1 - Appetizers: home-made cream cheese & crab wontons, pigs in a blanket, cuties, celery with cream cheese, sweet pickles, cheese ball with crackers, and sparkling cider.

Pantry items used:
  • Sweet pickles
  • Cream Cheese
  • Crackers

Verdict: Yummy!!!!!

Day 2 - Southern Style Chicken Sandwiches, Frozen Onion Rings, Green Smoothies

Pantry Items used:
  • Tyson breaded chicken breasts in the freezer (gone now!)
  • Whole wheat hamburger buns in the freezer (gone now!)
  • Pickles (We have tons of pickles that I got for dirt cheap when Smith's doubled coupons)
  • Frozen Fruit (I got a bunch of Albertson's brand frozen fruit on clearance before they changes to Fresh Market)
  • Onion Rings (used half the bag)
Verdict: Nothing amazing, but they were tasty.

Day 3 - Apple Pecan Pancakes with Pumpkin Butter, Green Smoothies, Hash browns, Sausage

Pantry Items Used:
  • Krusteaz pancake mix (that I got for $.67)
  • Pecans (chopped and stored in the freezer)
  • Pumpkin butter that I made from our jack-o-lantern that we never carved
  • Frozen fruit (gone now!)
  • Jimmy Dean Sausage (that I got for $.49) (gone now!)
  • frozen shredded hash browns (gone now!)
Verdict: Yummy! And very filling - We had lots of leftovers (which we ate for lunches)

Day 4 - My version of Outback Steakhouse's Alice Springs Chicken, salad, canned pineapple

Pantry Items used:
  • Center Cut Bacon (that I got for $.75)
  • Cheese (there have been so many good cheese deals lately - we have a ton!)
  • Chicken (frozen - bought for $1.29 / lb)
  • Canned Pineapple (I bought for $.25)
  • Used some salad dressing on the salad, but we still have tons in the fridge)
  • Used leftover ham sauce from Christmas instead of making honey mustard sauce (and it tasted great - my ham sauce is pretty amazing, if I do say so myself)
  • Potatoes (they have been so cheap lately that we've been buying and using a lot of them. These I got at 10 lbs / $.99 at Albertsons)

Verdict: Soooooooooooooo good! (but not worth paying $10+ for in the restaurant when you can serve 4 for half that price)

Day 5 - Steak, Baked potatoes, roasted broccoli, cherries

O.k. so I know that it is not remotely close to cherry season, but they looked so good and I love them, so I splurged (paying $2.99 / lb - ouch!) Grant loved them too!

Pantry Items Used:
  • Chef's Request Steaks (I got these for $.98 after coupon)
  • Italian salad dressing (I used it as a marinade - 1 bottle of salad dressing down, 9 to go!)
  • Potatoes
Verdict: Good. I bought 4 packs of the Chef's Request Steak (at $.98 each) before I'd heard that they weren't very good - you can taste all the preservatives they use. But, I didn't want to waste them, so, I marinated them for 2 days and served them with crushed pecans and they actually tasted good. Not great, just good. I don't recommend this product at all.

Oh, and the cherries were delish!

Day 6 - Macaroni & Cheese with ham and Broccoli, tropical fruit

Pantry Items used:
  • Macaroni (Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta that I got for $.20 / box)
  • Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • Evaporated Milk (I got for $.24 / can)
  • Frozen Broccoli
  • Deli Ham
  • Del Monte jarred Sun Fresh fruit (I used a BOGO coupon on this, it was still a splurge at $1.50 / jar)

Verdict: Creamy, warm, and yummy! I probably wouldn't buy the fruit again though - it's really nothing special and you can get canned fruit for much cheaper. I love the Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta - it's fortified with fiber, calcium and protein, so it has some of the benefits of whole grain pasta but the taste and texture of regular semolina pasta which makes it more versatile.

I made a ton of macaroni & cheese, so we froze half. I love to make double batches of recipes and then freeze the second portion. We rarely eat out, so it's nice to have something on hand for those days that I just don't feel like cooking.

Day 7 - Spaghetti & Meatballs, peas, cherries

Pantry Items Used:
  • Spaghetti (Ronzoni Smart Taste again)
  • Ragu pasta sauce
  • Ground beef (96% lean that I got for $1.99 / lb - gotta love Smith's markdowns!)
  • Italian Blend cheese
  • Green Giant Frozen Peas
  • Bread Crumbs
  • Dried herbs

Verdict: Nothing special, but it satisfied the family's craving for spaghetti and meatballs after watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

I also made a double batch of meatballs and froze the second portion.

It has been a lot of fun challenging myself to use up what we've got, and it's nice to start making more space in the fridge and freezer. The back room and pantry are still a total mess, but hopefully by the end of the month we'll have cleared out enough that I can get in and organize it better.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Eating From the Pantry (well, mostly)...

A couple of my favorite blogs initiated an "eating from the pantry challenge" for the month of January. When I first read of it, my initial reaction was "Thanks, but no thanks" and I didn't give it a second thought. Then, about a week ago I was wading through our back room. I use the term wading because that it literally what it is like - we have so much food and household supplies in our back room that I can't even begin to organize it. There is just so much stuff. It's all stuff that we use, and it's all stuff that I bought at rock bottom prices, so there's nothing to feel bad about. Plus, our church advises that each family have a year supply of food and household supplies. And we are no where close to a year's supply of food! Well, except for granola bars, we have a 2 year supply of those! So, despite not having space, I still feel the need to stock up when the price is right, after all, it's what the Prophet has counseled. *sigh* But, I have finally come to terms with the fact that our little house simply cannot hold a year supply of food and our family - it's one or the other and we've got no where else to go, so the food it is.

So, I decided to follow my blogging leaders on their culinary adventure. Now that doesn't mean that we are going to strictly live off of what's in our house - I plan on buying fresh produce and dairy this month and that's about it. I will probably succumb to some rock bottom deals and venture outside of the basics, but, the bottom line is that I want to keep our grocery bill under $100 this month.

My biggest goal this month is to use up a lot of the odds and ends we have around here (like the 10 open bottles of different salad dressings in the fridge - I'm not joking!). I've come up with a menu plan for the first 2 weeks and things are looking pretty good so far (no mustard and pickle sandwiches ;) Here's the menu for the first 2 weeks (some we've already made):

Meals already made:

Appetizers (not really part of the challenge, but we grazed on yummy appetizers on New Years Day)
Steak with Baked potatoes (using my $.98 Chef's Request Steaks) and roasted broccoli
Apple Pecan pancakes with pumpkin butter and green smoothies
Macaroni & Cheese with ham and broccoli
Southern Style Chicken Sandwiches
My version of Outback Steak House's Alice Springs Chicken

Coming up:
My version of the Olive Garden Tuscana soup (in the freezer) with sourdough bread (that I will make myself if I ever remember to buy cheesecloth!)
Lemon chicken stir fry with rice noodles
Chicken fingers (with crushed up potato chips) and onion rings
Chicken Poppy seed pasta salad (Not really a winter dish, but I gotta use the salad dressing)
The Best Pot Roast
Spaghetti & Meatballs (Fred's request after watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs last night)
French Toast with pumpkin butter (I made a lot of pumpkin butter!)
Cafe Rio sweet pork salad (I have the pork in the freezer leftover from the last time)
Beef Stroganoff

Really, looking at what we have on hand, we could do this eating from the pantry challenge for 2 months before it really begins to stretch us too far. But, I don't want our stockpile to get too low - I'd hate to actually have to pay full price for things. *gasp* Really, the only reason it's possible to live (and eat well) on $100 this month is because I have a lot of food on hand, thanks to some serious couponing. Without coupons $100 would leave us eating a lot of beans and rice. I am so thankful for all the wonderful coupon blogs out there that have helped me save so much money! I've been hard core couponing for almost a year now and it has really paid off. Our family has gone from spending $400 / month for all groceries (food, toiletries, cleaning, diapers etc) and having no food storage. To spending $200 / month for everything and having a size-able food storage. What a blessing!

Sorry for that tangent...back to the point of this post: eating from the pantry - I'm excited for this challenge and the creativity it will take to use up some of the things we have around here. Hopefully I'll stop being a slacker and post some of the recipes over on my other blog (No, there's nothing wrong with your eyes, it really has been 5 months since I've posted). I'm especially looking forward to clearing out some space around here so that I can get my stockpile more organized. Yes, this is going to be good for me.