11 Tips (That Really Work) To Save Money On Groceries

 

cash coins money pattern
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you like reading personal finance articles and blogs as much as I do, chances are you’ve read the same tips I have. Many are valuable, but if you read that much, odds are you have tried many of them already.

One thing is certain. We are all spending a lot of money on groceries and eating out! This is a great area to try to get under control to save some cash.

Here are some tips I have found to be useful. Some I have read before and you may have too; others maybe not, so read to the end. I have found them all to work and save me money. I can’t say that you will save thousands in a month, but you will save a lot of money over time if you implement them and stick with it!

Plan your shopping around sales flyers. This is one we have all heard before, but it works. Not everything in a sales flyer is a deal, however. You can save money this way but you can expand it by reading on.

Plan your meals. I know we have all heard that before, but it cannot be denied. If you don’t plan what you will cook for dinner, not only will your kids and spouse ask “what’s for dinner” every night, you will respond with “what do you want” and they will say “I don’t care” and you will get mad! Then you will get takeout! At the end of the day we are all tired from working. If we don’t plan we either get takeout or eat something that isn’t very healthy. When I plan, nobody asks because it is on the calendar and I have everything available and just start on it when I walk through the door. It makes my life easier when I do it, and more difficult and expensive when I don’t.

Know your pricing. Several years ago I took a day off from work, went to all the local stores and did the literal and proverbial pricing book. I wrote prices down and got asked by store employees what I was doing! This was a lot of work! It helped me figure out in general which store had the best pricing overall for the items I buy, so if there wasn’t a sale, that was where I would go. It also gave me a baseline of how far down prices go and how often at which store.

Use coupons. When I make my list I check online for any coupons that are available for what I am getting. I do clip coupons from the paper but I also do searches online. Most of the time I find an extra I can use for my order.

Use store specific and coupon/cash back apps. I won’t do a list here (post for another day) but use any apps you can to save money. My go to local store has one of their own which gives me 2% back on their store brands. They also give me offers for free items based on other items I have purchased in the past.

Shop at more than one store. I take several flyers and mark them up at home in the kitchen. I make abbreviated lists and plot my route out and go to each to get what I need.

Stick to your list! There is nothing worse than writing that list and getting sidetracked by something in the store and blowing up your budget. Be a “man or woman on a mission” when you go in and stick to the plan!

Spend a little to save a little. I am a busy working mother of two girls and I will admit that sometimes I don’t have time to do all of this. My local grocery store offers to-go shopping for a $5 fee if my order is under a certain amount (free if it is over that amount). When I am time strapped, I place my order online and get everything there (this is my go to store when I am not shopping sales). How does spending $5 on a service fee help me save money? It saves me time and when I shop online I stick to the budget! It is easy to shop online from my kitchen on my laptop. I typically find that I don’t end up buying things I already have (since I can check my pantry and fridge while I shop) and if the total goes over, I remove something from my cart. I have never once gone over my budget ($100/week for a family of four) by shopping this way. When I pull up to pick it up, I can still use coupons and they put them right in my trunk. This also saves me from a night of takeout on my way home from work if I didn’t have time to go to the store over the weekend.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. My local store has a lot of competition and on one occasion I arrived to pick up my order and I found they have given it away to somebody else! They said they would immediately go pull it again and ended up giving me $15 off my order and a $25 gift card for my trouble waiting. I waited 20 minutes so the $40 reduction was definitely good compensation for the inconvenience. If you have a local store competing heavily and have never been there, give them a try

I can also price shop and do the same from a local Wal-Mart (who only has a minimum $40 order for no fee but doesn’t take coupons yet). If I don’t have coupons Wal-Mart grocery pickup can be a better deal. They also will substitute a better item at no additional cost to me if they are out of what I chose.

Use those leftovers up. This was difficult in our house. Like most people I would pack up the leftovers and put them in the fridge to die. Clear containers, not so clear containers, top shelf, bottom shelf, it didn’t matter. We wouldn’t eat them. We would forget them. We would look right past them. My daughter solved it. She posted a list to the front of the refrigerator (we had to tape it because it is stainless so don’t let a lack of a magnetized front stop you!). The list says “Hey family list the leftovers here”. So we do and they get eaten (or frozen if we aren’t going to eat them). Problem solved. It was amazing such a small detail made such a big difference. I also list items that go bad quickly (fresh fruit) just to remind us all it is there.

Pack a lunch for work and for school for the kids. While school lunches seem to be priced low, you can make a healthy lunch for less and include all the things your kids like. As for work, if I don’t pack lunch I am guaranteed to have to get something from a local deli or restaurant usually between $6 & $9. Typical the portion sizes are too big so I end up eating more than I would otherwise. The leftovers work great for me. I find the most productive time for me to pack my lunch is right before I go to bed the night before. Then I only have the kids to deal with in the morning.

Trade out your freezer bags for sandwich bags when freezing small portions. That’s right-it’s not a typo! How would you avoid freezer burn you ask? Put those bags in a gallon freezer bag. You will save money on freezer bags which are more expensive and easily be able to pull one serving out at a time without the contents freezing together.

Admittedly most of these aren’t anything new. They really do work if you do them, especially if you do all of them. I used to think some of these things didn’t work for me for whatever reason I came up with at that time. I finally looked in the mirror and admitted it didn’t work because of the person I was looking at!

Habits are so hard to change but if you don’t stick with it and do it, nothing will ever change. So change them and keep more of your change!

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The One Most Important Thing To Do Now That The Christmas Holiday Is Behind You

photo of two brown wrapped gifts on wooden table
 – Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

 

Now that the Christmas holiday is complete, there is one very important thing you must do. Go through every gift you received and think about whether you love it or not. If you don’t absolutely love it, get rid of it.

I do this every year and it is such a great feeling. In the end I only have gifts I really love (this also means I have fewer of them).

There is nothing worse that adding “stuff” to your life you will never use. Several years ago, I spent some time cleaning out the closets and making piles of things that had to go.  Not surprisingly, some of those items were gifts I had received that I didn’t love. What a waste to have it and never use it. Some I hated, some were just “okay” and others were “well someday I may use this”. Take it from me, you won’t. Get rid of them now.

Once that pile was disposed of, I fell lighter, less cluttered – dare I say less stressed. Maybe it is my age, but I have less desire to keep things I don’t really use. It feels like they are stealing my energy and sapping my strength just for them to be there, or to even have to look at them.

How much money is it costing you to let things hang around you will never use? How much in stress does it cause to move it, store it, trip over it and most importantly, feel guilty for not using it?

You can re-gift those items or better yet, return them to the store they were purchased and get something you really love. Nothing there?  Get cash, save it or spend it on an experience with family or friends. Maybe a combination of both; save most of it and go to lunch with a good friend.

Most people who give gifts want the recipient to enjoy them. If you don’t, thank them nicely and just move on with finding something you do. They wouldn’t be offended because they want you to be happy (or they wouldn’t buy you a gift in the first place!)

Add to your New Year’s to-do list a day to clean out your closets and come back and post how many gifts you found (I bet you will find at least six!) I also will predict once they are gone you will feel like you simplified your life, made a good decision and are happier for it!

Happy Holidays!

7 Things You Can Do With an Expected or Unexpected Year End Bonus

 

black and white check cheque close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

‘Tis the season for an expected or unexpected bonus payment at work. Many people are fortunate enough to work for an employer who recognizes their hard work.

What to do with it? Depending on your situation there are different answers.

Save it – Saving it would be a smart option. Beefing up (or starting) an emergency fund is a great idea. Read most any article and you’ll see this is a foundational step. How much to save? That depends. Dave Ramsey says 3-6 months; Suze Orman says 9 months. I am a fan of Suze on this one. There is nothing like having some cash when things don’t go as expected.

Invest it – Adding additional funds to your retirement savings is always a good move. Whether you can defer more into your 401(k) or IRA, your older self will thank you for doing so. I frequently ask myself when I am thinking of spending money needlessly whether my older self would care that I spent money on XXXXXX. The answer is always no. This helps me clarify needs vs. wants. Not to say I don’t spend on wants, I just don’t get into the stupid zone with it.

Pay Down Debt – If you have debt you are trying to clear, then this might be a great opportunity to gain some ground on it. Using an annual bonus to make an extra principal payment on your mortgage can reduce your interest in addition to scheduling that “burn the mortgage” party earlier!

Education –  Have you wanted to take a class or start on a degree program? This might be the jumpstart you need. Have kids? You could put it into their 529.

Home Repairs – There might be a home repair you’ve been putting off that you would love to tackle over the New Year. This has the potential, depending on the repair, to increase the value of your home. You could do something big like a new furnace or something small like replacing your kitchen cabinet knobs with something new.

Spend it – Maybe you had plans and were saving up for something special and this puts you over that magical amount. Balance out your spending with other priorities. While items are nice, sometimes spending on experiences is well worth it, especially with family.

Donate it – I have a friend who donates her annual bonus every year split between her local church and a variety of good causes on her list. Some good ideas are food pantries, hospitals, conservation groups, homeless shelters or even a friend, family member or neighbor in need. There is no better feeling than being able to help somebody else.

Any of these or a mix of them would be great choices. The important thing is to plan out whatever you are going to do with it. You will then avoid that awful feeling of regret.

Do what you do intentionally. Your employer gave you the bonus to reward you for your hard work this year. Follow through and continue to do a good job for yourself.

 

Why Dave Ramsey is right about using cash

photography of one us dollar banknotes
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I have listened to Dave Ramsey since late 2007. My husband found his TV show on Fox Business one night. He came down the stairs and said “there is this guy on TV you might like”. So I watched and was hooked. Since then the TV show went off the air but in the interim I found the podcasts and listen to them regularly.

Dave Ramsey is a huge advocate of using cash and rages against credit card use. He has rational and logical arguments against this. I agree that they are really are a convenience.

In early 2008 we decided to make the switch from using credit cards to cash. I had used credit cards since I reached theoretical adulthood at 18. I thought it would be a minor change and in some ways it was, but not in others. Here is what I discovered when I made the switch.

Spending cash requires pre-planning. With a credit card I can go anywhere conveniently. If I am to spend cash, I need to go to the bank (or an ATM), and take out the right amount of money. If I don’t take enough out, or even if I do, I am limited. This resulted in the next thing I found.

I spent less. I had always budgeted but as many studies have shown, I spent more by using plastic. There is just simply a bottomless pit of money there. You are limited by your credit card limit but really, who thinks about that when spending? You would only think about that if whatever you were buying would bump up against your limit. If you are buying dinner for $65 and your limit is $3,000, you won’t give a thought to ordering a dessert. You will rationalize that it is only $8 and order that chocolate cake. How much would it cost you to bake a chocolate cake at home and save money? Next to nothing.

I had a hard time parting with my cash. This was quite surprising to me. This made it real. There was more of a connection between “feeling” my spending than with a credit card. I naturally limited myself because I wanted to hang on to the cash. This was probably the biggest benefit I found by doing this.

I stayed on budget. Really this statement is a no brainer. I only had so much cash to spend and when it was gone, I was done. The time I would need to spend to go out of my way to go get more money just wasn’t worth it to me. I am a busy person and didn’t want to do that. Inertia works in my favor there. The trip is not worth it to me. This was a built in buffer or “time out” from spending aimlessly.

The loss of the credit card rewards really didn’t matter. When you are using the cards, you think that you are being smart since you are getting some money back. Not using coupons but using your credit card? That’s okay, you’ll get rewards points. When you stop using them, you find that those rewards are much smaller than what you save by staying on budget.

I felt relieved. I handle all the money in our home. I use Quicken for our finances. Each credit card charge requires me getting a receipt, bringing it home, entering it into the software, reconciling the bill, then paying it on time. It was so liberating not to have to do all of that or keep track of it. I felt free.

I had no purchasing guilt. This is one of the things I heard on Dave’s show and it is real. He says having a budget gives you permission to spend. I agree except that I always had a budget. I didn’t always follow it, but even when I did there was always something “there” and I never noticed it until I switched to cash. It was stress. Stress for spending and not having the tangible cash in my hand. Even though I knew I had enough in my checking account to pay for it because I planned on spending $100 at that store, it was still there. I never knew it until I switched. Then I could feel it leave.

Freedom. I have never looked back. Try it.

 

 

12 Holiday Traditions our Family Cherishes

christmas home house light
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We live in the Northeast so the scene above isn’t all that unusual for us. The holiday season brings snow and cold weather along with the anticipation of time being spent with family and friends. Year after year we continue the same holiday traditions in our family and look forward to them all through the year.

  • Traveling to a tree farm two days after Thanksgiving to pick out and cut down our Christmas tree. The farm provides saws and sleds and three fields to choose the tree. My husband takes far too long to give his final stamp of approval on a tree. The colder it is, the more determined he seems to stay out longer looking over every tree. It is fun despite this and strapping it to the roof of the car, getting it in the house and finally trimming the tree is something the entire family enjoys.
  • A photo of my daughters in front of the decorated tree is next.  This will go on the holiday cards. I have seen distant relatives whose first comment is that they love the cards and keep them coming. This is not so unusual as I have friends who adorn their cards with pictures of their family. They do tend to take pictures in different places though and include themselves. Our picture is always only the girls and always in front of the tree. Boring you may say; tradition say I.
  • All the extended family members come to our house for holiday meals. The extended family comprises anywhere from 18 to 28 people depending on who can come which year. We serve the same meal every year – Prime Rib with all the associated side dishes, appetizers and desserts. I have nobody bring anything and I do all my own dishes. It is family time when they are there and not a day for chores.
  • Everybody gets a fleece blanket. We have a rather large sectional with recliners and in the family room, chairs and a love seat. All occupants get blankets for after dinner where they watch football or sit by the fire and fall asleep. It is cozy and definitely tradition.
  • This day would not be complete without a game of cribbage. Our front closet is stuffed to the ceiling with board games but yet cribbage is the only game they want to play. Relatives divide into teams and play for hours with laughter ringing out of the dining room where they play.
  • The leftovers have to leave. Everybody brings containers and takes every bit of leftovers home. My grandmother used to yell “No leftovers” loudly and in French when I was a kid.  I don’t use French but you get the picture. I make way too much food and darned if I am going to eat all of that.
  • Our family gives gifts to our service providers. There is the newspaper delivey, the hairdresser, you get the idea. Anybody in a service related field appreciates this more than you know. Most appreciate that you cared enough to do something for them.
  • We donate some cash to every person we see ringing a bell next to a red kettle. If they are going to volunteer their time to stand out in the cold ringing a bell to raise money, we are going to help them succeed.
  • We talk about how grateful we are in all that we have; we are truly blessed. My children understand you will always find those doing better than you and always find those doing worse. Find somebody doing worse and help them because they could use a lift any time of the year.
  • We stop at our local coffee shop and use the drive thru and pay for the person behind us. We find this to be gratifying probably because it is just so random.
  • One night we will go to dinner and leave the waitress an oversized tip. The closer to the actual holiday the better. One year we were out-of-town on Christmas Eve and the waitress told us about how her kids were disappointed she had to work. She was a single mother and needed the money. She got an outsized, crazy tip that night.
  • My daughters volunteer locally to help where they can throughout the year but pick a holiday event each year and help out. It is usually a community event like a local craft fair.

Some of these traditions cost money and some don’t. The ones that do, we save specifically for and get so much enjoyment out of doing them. The ones that don’t are just as dear to us. They are as big a part of who we are as the cribbage game.

Happy Holidays!

5 Important Considerations when Christmas Shopping

As Christmas quickly approaches, many of us scramble to finish or even start our shopping. For some, this is an enjoyable activity done on time each year and for others, not so much.

Here are five important considerations when Christmas shopping:

  1. Consider the recipient’s taste, style and personality. Remember to weigh heavily what this person would like (not necessarily what you would like). Does the recipient have a hobby or favorite activity? Are they an active person who likes the outdoors or a homebody who loves to cook? Do they love books? Self improvement? Like to spend an afternoon doing spa activities at home? Make a list of the things you know that they like and don’t like. Then sit back and review the list. You can utilize web searches to get ideas.
  2. Consider what is going on in the life of the recipient. Are they working a lot of hours? Visiting family more than usual due to illness? Make sure that the gift you select will fit into what is going on in their life. If they love experiences but are just too busy, maybe get them an experience gift only if you can also help them with their day-to-day so they can go and enjoy it. It is great to give somebody a gift that they would love but if they don’t have the time to enjoy it, it can put more focus on what they are dealing with at that point in time. You may want to adjust your ideas based on their present situation.
  3. Consider your own personality. Gifts are very personal items. While you should purchase the gift with the recipient in mind, something way out of character from you would seem, well…odd. The gift should reflect your personality and your relationship to some extent.
  4. Consider your budget. When you sit down to consider various ideas for a gift, don’t leave out the money piece. You need to revisit your holiday budget. Don’t have a budget? Spend some time, sit down and make a list of all the people you are buying for and give some thought to numbers 1, 2 and 3 above. In that context, assign an amount to the item(s). When you go shopping, stick to the budgeted amount. Sometimes when shopping you’ll find the gift you want to buy, but it is much more than your original intention to spend.  That is when you need to step back and find another option. It doesn’t mean you have to abandon your gift idea, but find another way to do it.
  5. Consider what is going on in your life. Once you have made your list and set your budget, you should shop for the gift. What time constraints do you have? Typically if you have more time, you can go to a physical storefront and look for bargains.  If you are pressed for time, consider shopping online as shopping in the store when pressed for time typically results in overspending. Online coupons can be found and used to stay within or spend under budget. Many websites have free shipping as well. As it gets closer to Christmas, be aware of deadlines for shipping so that packages will arrive on time for the big day.

The Christmas holiday will go as quickly as it came so make a commitment to start planning on the 26th.  Set a budget for the following year and fit a plan to pay for it into your budget. Pick up Christmas clearance while you can at reduced prices.  One year I purchased an entire Christmas china set with service for 15 for $20 representing 70% off. That was over twenty-five years ago and I still pull out that china to use for Christmas dinner every year.

Christmas is a predictable event in that it happens at the same time every year. Even if you didn’t plan this year, you can change all that in just a few short weeks.

How do you approach Christmas shopping? Share your tips in the comments section.  Happy Holidays!