Monday, November 28, 2011

Menus and freezers and budgets, oh my! (Part 1)

Anyone will tell you that meal planning is the key to saving money at the grocery store. As far as I can tell there are two main strategies for menu planning, as it relates to saving money.

The first strategy is to plan an entire week's worth of meals before you go to the grocery store. Make a list of all the ingredients you will need for your dinners, as well as anything you may need to make breakfasts and lunches. Buy only those things.

The idea here is that you save money by avoiding impulse buys, by avoiding extra trips to the store mid-week when you realize you forgot something (extra trips which inevitably lead to impulse buys), and by avoiding food waste when you buy something because it looks good but have absolutely no idea or intention of using it.

You can save even more money if you make your meal plan with your grocery ad next to you, planning the main ingredients around what happens to already be on sale. You end up with a little repetition of meat this way, unless you have a lot of great sales, but you can save big.

This is a great way to grocery shop. It is efficient, frugal, and can be very successful. But it's not what I do.

The buy ahead principle

Instead, my goal is to have everything I need for an entire week's worth of meals before I go to the grocery store. On Friday, before I go shopping, I survey my freezer and pantry and make a meal plan based on what I already have. Some of the meals are things that I've cooked ahead and stashed in my freezer. Some of the meals are quick cooking staples in our house, or easy crockpot recipes, that I just keep the main ingredients of onhand. But the idea is before I go to the store, I should be able to count at least 7 easily available dinners in my house. I double check all the extra ingredients and sides for each meal, and add any that I'm missing to my list, but it is a very small part of my weekly grocery list.


There are a few main reasons for this. The first is that I'm generally just not good at sticking to a plan. When I count my 7 meals of the week, I know I won't get to all of them. I'll probably have a leftover night. I may have a sandwich night. We may go out. DH or I may decide we don't want to eat anything I planned and just make a frozen pizza. If I bought only the week's worth of meals, I would lose that flexibility.

The biggest reason, though, is saving money. I try to buy things only when they are on sale. Other than fresh fruit and milk, which we buy almost every week, almost nothing enters my house that wasn't at least 50% off. This saves me big at the grocery store.


The basic principle here is that you need to start small. Every week, you can add just one extra meal to your freezer stash. This way you won't go crazy overbudget or make yourself crazy with all the cooking.

Then as you start to develop a freezer stash, you'll be able to spend more of your budget on stockpile items and less on weekly need items. If I know I have 5 containers of chili, 5 containers of slow cooked taco beef, and 3 lasagnas in my freezer? Then each week's meals become very easy to plan.

The plan is to write part 2 about how I shop, and part 3 about how I assemble freezer meals, and possible a part 4 with recipes. But I'm not good at plans. Leave a comment letting me know how you meal plan, or what you would like to know about my meal planning and shopping, and we'll play it by ear, okay?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How I get deals at CVS


In order to get the best deals at CVS, you need to sign up for an ExtraCare card. Once you have one, you should register and sign up to get CVS emails. When you do, you will also get coupons to use and even get surveys you can take to earn more extracare bucks.

You can also sign up for the CVS beauty club to get extra offers.


Read a good deal blog that lists the weekly CVS deals along with coupon matchups. My favorites for CVS are Simply CVS and Coupon Katarina. They list all the deals and any coupons available to go with them.

Some of the deals will be cheap with just the coupon, but many of them are only cheap after extra care bucks. These are in-store dollars that you receive for purchasing certain items and can use on future purchases.


Once you've bought a few things and earned some extra care bucks, roll them onto future purchases. This is where the savings really comes in.


  • Always scan your card at the price scanner when you go into the store. It will print personalized coupons for you, sometimes for free items.
  • Extra care bucks expire, and some weeks have better deals than others, so if you can get something "free", it's often best to buy it to roll your ECB's, even if you don't really want or need it, just to extend the expiration dates of your bucks.
  • If you have a manufacturers coupon for an item that is already free after ECB's, you still get the full ECB value listed in the add, so you can actually grow your ECB's, essentially making money for taking home the shampoo or toothpaste.
  • When you have more than a certain number of ECB's (for me, around 5; some people carry over a lot more), it's best to spend some down by buying milk or some non-ECB deals that you happen to need. This keeps you from having a ton that you have to spend before they expire.
  • You can only use one manufacturers coupon and one store coupon per item, so if you have 2 $2 ECB's and want to buy a $4 item, you'll need to buy a cheap filler item.
  • If you can go more than once a week, or split your order into multiple transaction, you can minimize your out of pocket spending by only paying for the first item and using ECB's to pay for the rest.
  • You also get quarterly ECB's in the amount of 2% of your out of pocket spending. I now get almost nothing since most of my spending is coupons and ECB's.
  • Also get a green bag tag. It costs $1, but if you attach it to a reusable bag and scan it with your extra care card, you will earn $1 ECB for every four scans.

Make sense?