Friday, February 25, 2011

Saving on groceries, part 1: The Basics

As part of my resolution to save money this year, I wanted to work on tackling my grocery budget a little, and I thought I would run a mini-series on ways to spend less on groceries. Before we can get started on juicy insider tricks, though, we have to make sure we have our basics in line. Make sure you consider all of the following:

Your budget. A lot of bloggers talk about starting with your budget as if that were an easy task. Before you can cut back on your grocery spending, you need to know three things: how much you can spend, how much you do spend, and how much you want to spend. If you haven’t been actively budgeting so far, this may involve a lot of math and spreadsheets, and at least sitting down with some receipts or bank statements. You can’t just take someone else’s grocery budget and shoot for that because everyone’s situation is different. You need to actually do all the work.

Your priorities. Is it important to you to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables? To have meat every day? To buy some things organic? Or are you just trying to get everyone fed? Wherever you are, and whatever you want to do, is okay, but it’s going to affect how much you can save and how much you need to spend. This is one reason why comparing yourself to other people is not useful.
Your repertoire. What do you and your family actually eat? What products do you use? If you regularly make only 5 different meals, and they are affordable for you and it works for your family, there’s really nothing particularly wrong with that. Use that list of meals to make your grocery list and stop buying stuff you aren’t going to use, no matter how cheap it is. However, if you are interested in trying new recipes, you can save money by planning meals around the sales. I love allrecipes ingredient search for this; it allows you to search for recipes based on what ingredients you want included (or not included).

Your pantry. If you are starting from scratch and don’t have any food, you are obviously going to spend a little more on staples than is someone who has a fully stocked pantry. If you have a stocked pantry, take inventory. Make sure you aren’t rebuying things just because you can’t find them, and see whether certain things are accumulating because you are buying them without any real purpose or intention.

Your pricepoints. One reason that it is useless to compare yourself or your budget to other people is that grocery prices vary so widely from one area of the country to another. If you're just starting out, you could consider making a pricebook - essentially, you track the prices of your most commonly purchased items over time and at different stores. If you don't have the time for that, at least develop an awareness for the "normal" price and the "good" price for the things you buy all the time. There's no way to know whether a deal saves you money unless you know what you're paying now.

Your time. How much time do you really want to invest in lowering your grocery bill? Do you have the time to go to several stores a week? To dig through forums, or visit a few blogs? Remember to search for that balance in your life instead of trying to meet someone else’s challenge.

So where am I in all this? I currently have a pretty well stocked pantry and a pretty fixed repertoire of meals, but I’d like to try a few new meals. I have a lot of different spices that I would like to plan some meals around. I’m currently spending about $300 a month, but would like to modestly lower that to $250, while keeping as much of my food natural and organic as possible. I am ready to start shopping at more than one store a week if I need to, as long as I can get in and out quickly.

Want to join in? What are your grocery goals?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do Good: Join my village is back!

One of my favorite sites for donating for free, Join My Village is back for 2011. Unlike last year, when you could earn several dollars a day for the Malawi village of your choice, now you can only take one action a month. So far each of these actions have been videos to watch, and each has earned $1 or $2 for your village. Not as high an impact as last year’s program, but still definitely worth taking a few minutes to do. The coolest part is hearing about what the villages are doing with the money to help improve education and create jobs and businesses.
The sponsors will also match any donations you make, so if you are interested in giving for poverty relief, it’s a great way to raise the impact of your donations.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To do lists and other nonsense

I’ve never been much of a list maker. My husband (who very much is) always tells me to add things to my list when I think of them. I’ve always told him I’m more likely to lose the list than to forget to do it.

These days that doesn’t seem to be the case. Since I had the baby (and really a few months before), I have been operating in a sort of fog and constantly forget what it is that I need to do. I have decided to resort to the lists as a necessity. The daily chores get done and the weekly chores usually get done, but all the picky things like making appointments and writing thank you cards were falling through the cracks.

The problem is, to do lists still make me cranky. I forget to write things on them, then I forget to look at them, then when I do look at them I only see things I can’t do at that particular moment, and by the end of the day I just look back at the list and see a bunch of things that I still haven’t done and feel defeated.
So I think the solution (and this makes me even crazier) is to maintain two separate lists: a master to do list, and a basic daily plan. The purpose of the master list is to “catch” all the stuff that’s floating in my head, so that I don’t think later “what was it I said I needed to do?” The purpose of the daily plan is to actually have a reasonable and actionable set of things to do.
So, here’s how my strategy looks these days – this is a work in progress:
  • I keep a master list on a pretty notepad of all the things I need to do. As soon as I think about it, I get my rear end to the notepad and write it down. My notepad is on my refrigerator so I don’t lose it, but I should probably put it on my nightstand when I go to bed and in my purse when I go out because things are still getting away from me.

  • I take 5 minutes at night before I go to bed (but after the baby goes to bed) to read my list and choose a few things from it that I really need or want to get done the next day. If I choose too many, I won’t get through them or I’ll be overwhelmed and not do any. I also try to cluster tasks – I pay bills in a block a few times a month, I do errands once or twice a week when things are near each other – but not schedule huge things like “file 3 months worth of papers,” a task which would stay on the master list forever.
  • I take 5 minutes in the morning to think about how those tasks will fit into my day. Are they desk tasks that I can do while holding the baby? Are they errands I should schedule around naptime?
  • I cross things off the master list as they get done, and I throw away my daily schedule every day, whether I got to everything on it or not.
It’s not a perfect system, and I can’t believe that I actually gave in to using lists. Right now, it works for me, but I’m very open to suggestions. As you can see, I’m orgazationally challenged!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Get rewards and free stuff for exercising + Mamapedia deal

I've been looking for ways to motivate myself to exercise, so today's Mamapedia deal for a Switch to Health Replay is great. My understanding is that you just wear it and then it automatically tallies up your activity over the course of the day and gives you points to use towards discounts or gift cards.

The deal costs $10. I got a free $5 credit when I signed up, and I think you can too if you sign up through the link above (please let me know if that's not true!), making this only $5. The deal also doesn't include $4.95 shipping from the site.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Frugal Friday: Saving energy and money in every room

In my quest to save money in 2011, I thought I’d turn my focus on some ways to save energy. I thought I’d organize the tips according to room, although many of these energy saving tips can of course be used in more than one room.
  • Consider using LED energy saving nightlights to avoid turning on room lights when moving around in the night.
  • Use ceiling fans, blankets and warm night clothes to keep the thermostat lower while sleeping, thus saving heating fuel.
  • Switch any lightbulbs to CFLs.
  • Unplug cell phone chargers when not in use.
  • Keep any TVs and such on a power strip that can be shut off when not in use to prevent energy vampires.
  • Take shorter showers to save on water heating energy.
  • Reduce or eliminate blow drying.
  • Switch from electric to manual toothbrushes and razors, or at least unplug them when they are done charging (most only need to charge every few days).
  • Keep the refrigerator closed as much as possible. Try to plan to get everything you need for dinner out at once, and organize the fridge so you can find things quickly.
  • Check fridge and freezer temperatures. You might be able to set them a bit higher and still maintain safe conditions.
  • Use smaller appliances when possible. Microwaves and toaster ovens use much less energy than stoves and ovens.
  • Use appropriately sized pans and burners. Don’t waste energy and money boiling more water or heat more surface than you need.
  • Bake more than one thing at a time, or back to back if the temperatures are slightly different. The oven uses most of its energy preheating.
  • Don’t preheat the oven to roast or heat something, only if you are doing fussy baking.
  • Run only full loads in your dishwasher.
  • Set the dishwasher to air dry, not heat dry.
Living room
  • Turn off the TV when it is not actively being watched (and in our house, actively watch it less).
  • Turn off computers from the power strips when not being used, and unplug laptop chargers when not charging.
  • Use appropriate window treatments to keep rooms light in the day and dark at night, and warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Laundry room
  • Run only full loads of laundry.
  • Wash everything in cold water, unless there’s an allergy issue forcing you to use hot for sheets and towels.
  • Experiment with dryer times to hit the minimum that does the job.
  • Sort clothes by weight so dryer times are similar for everything in a load.
  • Hang at least a few of your heavier things to dry. You can throw them in the dryer briefly to soften them.
Do you have any great tips to add? For more great frugal advice, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Formula Giveaway winner

And the winner of the formula coupon giveaway is....


Congratulations! I have sent you an email.

The funny thing is, your tip on layering crib sheets is my favorite tip for new moms too!

Friday, February 4, 2011

BeRuby Superbowl contest

Do you have a Be Ruby account? If you do, go vote in the forum SuperBowl contest. The winner gets $10, and if at least 50 people post then everyone who entered gets $1 for free.

Be Ruby is a web portal where you can make money for doing things you already do on the web. Earn 1 cent a day just for visiting and half a cent each for clicking through to sites like gmail and twitter. I never say no to free money.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Making extra money in 2011

Making Money in 2011

One of my goals for the year is to make a little bit of extra money to help finally pay off our student loans and to save for some big purchases. I work a few hours a week outside the house, but I was hoping to squeeze out a few extra dollars from home. They have to be things I can do sitting on the couch with my husband after the baby is in bed, or in bits and pieces through the day while the baby is sleeping and after my house is clean. Here are the various venues I hope to explore:

  • Blogging – As of right now, this blog earns me a few cents a month and I’ve always been pretty okay with that. I’m not interested in overly monetizing it. I know, though, that there are a lot of little changes I could make that would help to make the blog more user friendly and also make me a little bit of money. I have a lot to learn as I know the blog is kind of a mess right now, so besides writing, I’m going to invest a little time into researching good blogging practices.
  • Writing – At one point, there were a variety of websites I used to get paid to write articles and reviews. I haven’t done this in a while, but I’d like to get back into it.
  • Squidoo – I have a few squidoo lenses that you earn me a couple of dollars every month. I am especially proud of the click to donate lens, as it’s something I get excited about and can do good while I earn some money (for myself and for charity). I could spend a little more time updating and promoting these, and probably make a few more as time allows.
  • Surveys - No one ever got rich doing surveys, but if you’re looking for a few dollars to snowflake on your debt, this is a low impact, low commitment way to go about it. I always have an inbox full of surveys and end up deleting a lot of them because they have expired, so I could stand to stay on top of these more.
  • Offers – Once upon a time, I used to make a good chunk of cash at GPT sites. My impression is that they are not nearly as impressive anymore, but I’m going to look into it and see what I can do.
  • Sweeps – I really enjoy entering sweepstakes and instant win games. By picking good ones, I can usually win a few free item coupons or other small prizes a year. And who knows, if I kept at it, maybe I would eventually win a bit item or two. It’s not a priority, but I’m willing to spend a minute or two a day doing this.
  • Blog Giveaways – Similar to the sweepstakes, I’m getting really excited about blog giveaways these days. If I’m willing to spend time on sweeps, I should spend time on these too. The odds are usually better and you get to check out and help support some really great bloggers while you enter.
    (PS – Did you know I’m giving away a coupon for Free formula? As of the writing of this, there’s only one entry!)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Giveaway: Free formula coupon

I don't use formula, but sometimes I get things in the mail from formula companies anyway, and I hate to see things go to waste. I currently have one FREE coupon for a Similac SimplePac, Sensitive or Advance, value up to 25.99 to give away to one lucky reader.

To enter, simply leave a comment below with your favorite tip for moms of infants. I'll close the giveaway February 8, so the coupon has time to get out before the 2/28 expiration date.

Bonus entries:

  • Subscribe to my blog in a reader.
  • Follow me on twitter (story3girl).

I might edit to add more bonus opportunities later, so check back. Good luck!

Edit: PLEASE leave contact info if it's not in your blogger profile! I can't send a coupon to an anonymous poster!