Category Archives: frugal tips

My Big Bulk-Shopping Trip

by aka Kath

by aka Kath

Monday, school closed due to the remnants of Hurricane Ike, which did some damage all the way up here in Ohio.  After doing a little happy dance at the unexpected holiday, I decided to head out to the grocery store for my first attempt at buying for three months.  Last week, I posted the rules for my new approach to groceriesBasically, I want to buy non-perishiables to last three months.  Then, I’ll supplement with trips to the farmer’s market, and bi-weekly trips for meat and cheese.

Thanks to some tips from readers, I decided NOT to join a bulk warehouse or go crazy buying things online.  Instead, I went to Meijer and aimed to buy the store brand as much as possible.  The trip itself was actually pretty fun.  They have nuts and granola in bulk bins and lots of large quantities of other supplies.  By limiting my shopping to the middle aisles, it didn’t wear me out the way buying everything does.  With my big bags of nuts and spices, I got a few odd comments at the check-out line, but also struck up an interesting conversation about grocery shopping as newlyweds.  Here’s what I bought:

  • 6 packs of butter and some canola oil to make our own spreadable butter
  • $40 worth of mixed nuts, sliced almonds, raw almonds, and walnuts
  • 12 cans of beans and 6 cans of salmon
  • 10 lbs of rice, 2 lbs of couscous, 10 lbs of sugar, 35 lbs of flour, 8 lbs of oatmeal
  • the largest containers of olive oil, honey, whole pepper, red pepper, and 6 italian spice grinders
  • choclate chips, nutella, peanut butter, raisins, bread crumbs
  • minced garlic, boullion cubes, lemon and lime juice, yeast, vanilla, taco seasoning, salt
  • 10 lbs of coffee
  • vinegar and rubbing alcohol to make our own cleaning supplies
  • 25 lbs of cat food and 12 cans of tuna (for the cat)

I also bought a few odds and ends for the week, but all told, I only spent $300!  I feel that this is much cheaper than the weekly deals I’ve been trying to get at Kroger’s.  Partly, I think this is because Meijer has lower prices, but I could also see the savings in buying the largest packages.  For example, the largest jar of minced garlic was about $3 cheaper than the equivalent in the smaller size I usually buy. 

I subtracted $50 from this month’s budget.  Then, I’ll pay back the other $250 out of each month’s budget over October, November, and December.  I’m hopeful to hold my bi-weekly budget to $70 and the farmer’s market to $20 a week.  If I do this and my supplies last, I’ll be able save about $1,200 over the course of the year.   That would be significant!

More than just the savings, I like the feeling of having all that food stockpiled.  Just with the moderate wind damage we had, several friends lost power for 4 or 5 days.  I like knowing that I’d have plenty to eat if that happened to us. 

Realistically, I know we won’t face a three-month disaster.  However, I also like that this approach is cutting down the mental clutter.  Getting together a big grocery list, scouring for deals, and doing a big shop every week took a lot of energy.  Now that the basics are all in place, I can free up some of that energy for more interesting things.  I’ll keep you updated on how my supplies last, and how well I do baking more items from scratch.  For now though, I’m quite excited about my “new thing.”

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The Frugal Shopper’s Golden Rule

Thou Shalt Never Walk into a Store Without a List (and a budget).

Of anything that has helped my debt-reduction, I think this is the most important rule.  Of course, I’ve broken it, to rather expensive results, but when I follow it, I find it much, much easier to stay on budget.  Why does it help so much?  Well, let me list the reasons!  (You know that I couldn’t resist a list in a post about lists.)

  1. The more choices there are, the more limits you need.  Especially at the big box stores and grocery stores, a list keeps you on track.  Without a list, I often fall prey to what my friend calls “imagined needs.”  There are always a ton of things (often in the beauty aisle) that I didn’t know I needed until I see them.  A list reminds me of what I REALLY need, not what I imagine I need.
  2. The budget keeps the list realistic.  At the top of my list, I always write my maximum budget for the trip.  Sometimes the power of the list can overwhelm my feeble efforts to stay on budget.  If my budget for groceries is $120, but the list of stuff ends up being $170, what to do?  I’ve started keeping a running tally of purchases at the store.  When I near my budget, I have to decide what on the list can wait until the next week.  Perhaps we can just have one type of cereal this week or skip the fancy olives or buy root beer next week.  At first, NOT buying things on the list freaked me out a little.  If it is on the list, we must need it, right?  However, I have found that we need some things more than others, so there are always a few non-essentials that can wait a week or two.
  3. It’s easier to use coupons with a list.  With a list, I can plan out what coupons are good deals and take them into the store with me.  While some people may feel comfortable taking all their coupons into the store and digging through them in an aisle, it just doesn’t work for me.  Without a list, I’d never used coupons.  These days, they save me $12-$15 a week.  With that extra $48 – $60 a month, we can buy root beer or fancy olives.  🙂
  4. No list = no entry.  I admit that I break this rule in the name of expediency from time to time, but many days it helps keep me out of Target or CVS.  At the very least, I try to make a quick list in the car before I walk in the door if I’m out without the main list from home.  Outside, writing a list forces me to focus for a few minutes, and that helps me resist temptation inside!
  5. Make the list wait until the budget is ready.  I used to run to the store whenever the list looked like it had reached a critical mass.  Sometimes, this would be two or three times a week.  Clearly, I also went over-budget with those extra trips.  Since my budget is organized monthly and weekly, I try to make the list wait for the next week’s grocery budget or the next month’s Target budget.  Sometimes, I have to run in for milk or something urgent, but I’m really trying to wait.  Olives are not an emergency (although my martini might disagree).  If I run out of olives and have to wait a few days, I try to find substitutes.  For example, a martini can be quite yummy with a little Triple Sec and a frozen strawberry rather than vermouth and an olive.
So, there are my five reasons to stick to lists and keep the lists from taking over.  Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am in charge of the list, not the other way around!  Now, I’m off to make a list for this month’s trip to Target and CVS.  Here’s hoping I score some incredible ECB deals like Finance Gets Personal did this week!

Your Local Library: Netflix for Books

I’m an avid reader and have spent far, far, far too much money in the big box bookstores and used bookstores over the years.  During the summer, I can easily read several books in a week, and if I’m doing research, I’ll run through five to six in a day.  Buying all those books can lead to considerable expense! 

Before I started paying off my credit cards, I tried to limit my book spending to $50 a month.  In reality, I’d slip into a bookstore for a quick pick-me-up and charge $20 here and there.  Anytime “Amy’s new thing” required books, I wouldn’t count it into my book allowance.  Often, on my $50 shopping trip, I’d squeeze in something else and end up with $60 or $75.

These days, I look to our library first.  At first, I just picked up what looked interesting on the new release shelves and decided I wouldn’t be able to read the really popular books while in debt-reduction mode.  I’d stroll past a bookstore in the airport and linger over new titles as if they were forbidden fruit.  I told myself, “it’s only temporary — you’ll be out of debt soon.”

Now, though, I’ve discovered our local library’s online consortium.  Our library is one of 71 throughout the state that is linked together.  So, if I look for a book through my local library’s online catalog, it’s linked up with the catalogs for all 71 library systems.  I was thrilled to discover that when I place a hold at my local library, I’m in the queue for copies from all over the consortium.  That way, even if I’m number 82, there are enough copies circulating that I’ll get it fairly quickly.  I get an e-mail when a book is in, and all the books are shipped to our library.  All I have to do is pick it up and return it to my local library.

So, now I’m using my library the same way I use Netflix.  Two weeks ago, I skimmed the bestsellers on Amazon and read through the book reviews on NPR and the Washington Post.  I put about a dozen books on hold through my library’s website, creating my own little book “queue.”  I won’t necessarily get them in the order I want, but my odds of getting something good fairly quickly have increased considerably.

Sure enough, over the past two weeks, I’ve read the new Jennifer Weiner and Marion Keyes (two of my favorite ‘chic lit’ writers).  I’ve read several NPR picks for summer reading and have Ethan Canin’s America America at home.  I’m doing fun research on American cooking, so I have a facsimile of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796).  In my “queue,” I’m waiting for My Stroke of Insight by Jill Taylor Bolte, MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf about cooking during World War II, and Jonathan Miles’s Dear American Airlines.

I love that I can keep my reading current for free!  Plus, I’m able to track down all sorts of interesting things that the big box bookstores can’t carry.  Our small-town library is clean, friendly, and very convenient.  I can walk there on a nice summer afternoon or stop by on my way home from work.  They even have a summer reading program for adults, which is so cute!  It reminds me of how much I loved the library’s reading program as a kid.  The website helps me keep track of what I have out, and I can renew things online.  So far this summer, I haven’t paid a single fine.

So, if you’re an avid reader and trying to be more frugal, check into your library’s hold system.  If it’s as efficient as ours, you can easily create your own Netflix for books!

Frugal Souvenirs from the Farmers’ Market

I came across this interesting post on Wise Bread about farmers’ markets. The author wondered how frugal markets are and decided to compare the prices at her farmers’ market and her grocery store. While she found that her purchases were slightly more expensive this week, I agree with many of the comments on the post. On the whole, I save money by buying produce locally, love the quality, and love that I’m doing something to help the planet.

Over the weekend, I found a great new use for farmers’ markets: travel souvenirs! My friend and I spent a busy weekend shopping in San Francisco, but I didn’t buy anything until I got to the market. Since I’m trying to pay off my credit cards, I passed on the the $200 kate spade shoes and the $90 designer t-shirt. Usually, I love buying clothes in other cities. It’s always fun to think of the trip when I wear the item, and it’s even more fun to tell people where I bought the item when I’m complimented. This time, I’m more excited about paying off my debt. By the end of the trip, I realized that I was about to go home empty-handed! Then, on Saturday, I had time to head over to the Ferry Street Farmers’ Market with my friend.

At first, I just bought a cute market bag for $15 to take to my local market this summer. Then, we started wandering up and down the stalls of fresh fruit, cheese, meat, and vegetables. At home in Ohio, we only have asparagus and spinach in our markets. Since I’m eating locally as much as possible, this means that I haven’t had much fresh fruit in months. I was in heaven sampling the cherries and apriplums, but figured I’d have to make do with just a sample when my friend convinced me that I could manage to get them home. So, I bought fruit, dried mushrooms, artichokes, and cheeses, all for $40. It was a perfect gift to bring back to my family, and I was excited to make some new dishes with the produce.

The mushrooms, cheese, and artichokes survived the trip just fine. The fruit had a little harder time but was still delicious. Yesterday morning, we had fresh cherries for breakfast, and then I made a gallette with the apriplums and last of the cherries. The best part was dinner. I picked fresh lettuce from our garden and tossed it with the goat cheese and a homemade vinagrette. Then I steamed the artichokes and served them with some leftover pasta the future husband had made (three cheers for his excellent cooking while I was gone!). When we sat down to dinner, I felt like I was still on vacation! The artichokes were amazing — the best I’ve ever eaten. I was happy to share all that California goodness with the future husband, and we happily chatted about all the lovely food we’ll eat there on our honeymoon.

For $40, less than the cost of t-shirts for all of us, I got to share my favorite part of vacation with my family. Plus, I still have mushrooms and cheese left. I’m making a mushroom soup tonight and homemade bread to go with the cheese. I love markets because the really reflect the place you are visiting.  The Ferry Street Market is right on the bay and just felt San Francisco-y.  In fact, I may start planning vacations so that I can end on market day to bring back more edible souveniers!