Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saving at the grocery store

We are trying to bring down one of the biggest costs in our household: the grocery bill. I think the only thing higher is our rent.
 We have three teen and preteen boys in the house, and they can eat. We try to choose healthy, and we do eat dairy and meat, which raise the bill. We tend to shop at WINCO, Their prices are good and they are employee owned, which we appreciate. Before we moved here, we frequented the Discount Grocery Outlet, but now the closest one is 30 miles away. Since the inventory is forever changing, it is a hard to store go out of the way for. We also shop at our local food co-op and Safeway. Since we are trying to reduce our cost, I have decided to tweak our model. Yesterday I scoured the websites of 3 different grocery stores. We have 2 IGAs as well as the Safeway, co-op,  and WINCO. There are also 2 WalMarts, but we don't shop at WalMart for ethical and sensory issues. I price checked. I also made a meal plan, or at least a loose one. I came up with about 10-15 different main dishes that we would be interested in eating, so we can pull cheap, easy, quick meals out of our hat.

The list:
Creamed tuna or chicken casserole
Potato and Mushroom Soup
Spaghetti with meat or clam sauce
Pizza (from scratch)
Veggie Omelets
Lentil or split pea soup with bread
Chicken and Dumplings
Corn Chowder
Shepherd's Pie
Egg Foo Young
Meatloaf in Acorn Squash bowls

We went to WINCO with our list and sale prices from other stores. We plan to make a price book so we will know the best price at a glance, but having this list was a big help. It took us a total of 3 hours to go to all these different stores. I hope to get into shopping every two weeks, making the shopping trip more efficient. Our trip to Safeway was especially satisfying. They have their new loyalty program that requires customers to log in and select the sales they want to participate in. These sales are personalized for each customer, somehow. I always forget to sign in and use the program, just like I always forget to keep track of my Rite Aid rewards money. But this time, I logged in and grabbed some bargains. One of them was Lucerne yogurt for $1.57 a quart. We eat a lot of yogurt and usually spend about $2 a quart, so I was happy about this. When we got to the store, we found the red "reduced" sticker on a quart of plain lowfat. The sticker said 50% off the club price. We found a total of 6 plain yogurts with these stickers. Each quart cost 79 cents!  Thanks to the discount club, I was able to get block cheese at$2.25 a pound. We will use our food processor to shred it. I also grabbed a gallon of milk for $2.25. Given the fact that milk prices may soon soar, I am happy to find any deals I can!

Goals to reduce food cost: eat in more, carry snacks in the car to avoid drive thru temptation, create a price book, comparison shop and shop at multiple places to keep costs low, participate in Bountiful Baskets, shop Safeway clearance, reduce waste!, and clean out freezer* so we can use it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Dude is planning to make snowshoes. We found a possible solution, and so went to Ace to buy PVC couplers. While we were standing in line, I noticed there were free calendars, and I grabbed one and discovered I was eligible for a free roll of packing tape with a $10 purchase. Our purchase came to $10.18, and now we have a spare roll of tape.

*I don't remember if I posted about this, but over the summer, we bought a frozen turkey and put it down in the basement freezer. The freezer was on a power strip which was accidentally switched off. The result was obnoxious and smelly, and it all happened at the hottest part of the summer. We tossed the turkey, but there is a bloody stinky mess in the freezer. We plugged it back in and shut it up, in order to deal with it another day. That day has not yet come! The freezer sits in the basement, plugged and empty, waiting for someone to clean and deodorize it. Sad state of affairs.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Changes afoot

I decided to invest in an espresso maker with steam jet. We have one of these:
But I like frothy creamy drinks. So, we went trawling the thrifts and I found one like this: 

I paid $8 for it, which was a little more than I wanted to spend, but this was the  only one I found and I didn't want to embark upon a never ending trek that keeps us going back to thrift shops. I think this one will pay for itself within 4 trips to the coffee shop, if my home brew allows me to be satisfied with a cup of drip at the coffee shop. I also spent 60 cents on a lovely mug with hearts on it. I will bring this with me to the shop and it will help the drip coffee feel a little more special. 

We have been trying to figure out how the Dude can get exercise this winter. In the summer, he bikes and hikes. He works in a restaurant and so moves a lot. But in the winter, it is harder to bike here. His restaurant slows down, so the exercise there tapers off. He suffers from depression, and the long winters are not helpful. We were thinking of buying a membership at my school's fitness center. I automatically pay for a membership, and have been using it often this year. A membership for him would cost about $160 for a semester. We were ready to do it, and then I started brainstorming. We bought a couple of guest passes this week and I noticed that he gravitates towards the bike. He loves loves loves biking. I searched around online a bit and found out that it is relatively easy to build a stand that will turn a bike into a stationary one. We have been interested in trying snowshoeing and a search of the web also unearthed many plans to diy. So, the Dude will get a chance to build (which he loves), and can keep his exercise outdoors, which he also loves. We may have to revisit this if it doesn't work out, but I think this is the current plan.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let's review

So, the school year got busy, we got lazy, and we fell off the wagon.
One goal was to pay down the credit cards. Thanks to some Christmas splurges and some medical bills, we now have about $4000 in credit card debt, up from $3000 in September. We have a cross state move looming this summer. We need to once again tighten our belts. The nice thing about life is that do-overs and learning from our mistakes are available.
So, what happened? A few things: we never did define needs and luxuries. A few members of the family even forgot about our no-spend pledge. As the semester ground on, it became harder to be excited. The Dude had a hard drive crash and try to go an inexpensive route, which just added additional cost to the later more expensive route. Boys are missing the bus more and more and so needing rides to school. I like meeting friends for coffee, and going out to lunch. Going out is tricky. Socializing often means money.

Computers were a big expense this semester. I had mine die at the beginning of the semester, and had to buy a new one. No way around it. I could use the computer at school, but needing to be home nights with the kids, not terribly convenient. As much as I love my iPad, I cannot do real writing work on it. So, I bought a new computer. Magnus' computer began to run ridiculously slow, due to a lot of programs running at once. He needed more processor speed. Rin needed a new hard drive when his got corrupted. He used an OS running on a flash drive, but not all programs would work and it was an exercise in frustration. I know, I know. We could live without computers, or just have one. However, we are a computer family. We don't have a television or really elaborate gaming systems. We do things mostly on the computer. Magnus reads and absorbs information so quickly that a computer is the only way to keep up with him. He can read a book in about an hour. He reads lots of books, but he likes the internet also. Rin loves computers and programming and wants to spend his life working with them. Luigi loves Minecraft. And now My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Giving them each a computer is okay by me. Magnus is at the point (10th grade) where computer is needed or at least very very helpful for schoolwork. The Dude went to the university surplus shop and picked up a "new" tower running Linux for $100. It came with keyboard, mouse, and monitor. He stripped Magnus' old computer, updated it, and gave it to Luigi. For playing Minecraft, checking email, and watching netflix, it is fine. We bought a new hard drive for cheap ($60) and Rin is good to go. The Dude bought a laptop at the surplus store for $50, but it did not work well (5 minute page loading sort of thing). He ended up buying the $280 Samsung Chromebook. I think mine was $450 with rebates. So, that is somewhere almost $1000 in computer stuff this semester! In addition to the $900 for an iPad and $400 for a tablet in the spring, and I think we need to stop spending money on technology for a while! Hopefully the Dude can sell the laptop he bought and get a little cash back. In some ways I am okay with this, because it is easy to spend $1000-$2000 on a single computer, but when on a tight budget, this is a serious outlay.

We had agreed to go to Leavenworth for Christmas and go we did. We packed snacks but did eat dinner out 3 nights. We also had a blast and since we do not travel to see family over the holidays, this trip is very important to us. We had also given the okay to spend money on Christmas and birthday gifts. Rin's hard drive was his birthday present and we used Amazon points for much of it. Magnus' computer was his birthday present and we have gift cards to use for his Christmas present, so that helped some. But we were also hit with an unexpected vet bill when the little Doodle threw out his back. We were fortunate that he didn't need surgery, just pills and rest. Still, a couple hundred dollars. Also, the 20 year old van need hundreds of dollars in investment.

But then there is the bleed. "Oh, let's stop at Jack in the Box" "Let's go for coffee" The Dude and I, thanks to South Beach Diet, now split entrees, which helps bring the cost down. But still-$10-$20 for lunch adds up. We got weak and visited some thrift shops. Overall, I think we did better than we have in the past, often leaving stores empty handed, but we still violated the no spend contract.

So, where do we go from here? We started as we always do: with the family meeting. We talked about a commitment to retool. We defined luxury and necessity more clearly. We have given ourselves $20 a month to spend on restaurants. We have decided to revisit the grocery bill-which is way out of control. We got some lovely coffee shop gift cards to help the studying fees. I am going to give up the beloved latte for a simple coffee or tea. I am planning to buy an espresso maker so that I can make lattes at home, which will help me stay on track in the shops. We have recommitted to coming up with alternatives to spending. And, most importantly, we have scheduled monthly meetings to track progress and discuss struggles. We have decided to only commit to a month at a time. Hopefully that will help.

The Dude is tackling our budget now, going through and figuring out what the heck we are spending on and how to change our ways. No time like the present to figure out the future!