I’ll Try Anything Once…. A Week?

I do not make New Year’s Resolutions each January; instead I make goals for myself to begin that year but also carry on long after the calendar has changed over. One of my goals for 2013 is to try new things. I want 2013 to be a year of firsts! The year is already a third of the way over and I think I have done pretty well so far. I went to my first art class ever (at Create), I have tried many new restaurants, we did our first walk for a cause, and I even mowed our yard for the first time. There have also been the unplanned firsts: I got in my first car accident, got my first rental car, and had the flu and bronchitis for the first time. Good or bad I welcome all the new experiences and the knowledge that I am able to gain from each one. So why would I not extend this goal into all areas of my life? Of course this has an application to saving money.

All of us at the SPCA K9-3K walk in April

All of us at the SPCA K9-3K walk

I have found that one of the easiest ways to save money on food costs is to be willing to try new foods. I’ve had many friends that want to learn how to use coupons to cut costs but later decide they don’t like it because they can’t find coupons for the items they want and they don’t want to try the foods that have a lot of coupons available. We instead love the fact that couponing has helped us to try so many new foods that we otherwise would not have bought. When we find a good deal on a new item we still buy it. Thus far we have not come across anything that we were not willing to try; and I would say that we have liked 95 percent of these new foods that we have tried. The few we haven’t liked (for example: shrimp flavored pasta cups) we donate to the NC Food Bank so that the items can benefit others. However, more than just trying a few new products here and there, trying new eating styles helps to further cut costs.

Shortly after we got married I went to an activity at church that talked about menu planning. One of the many topics discussed was how to save money on food. The main consensus was to plan a menu ahead of time so that you only buy the food you will need and nothing will go to waste. However a couple ladies mentioned that they like to make vegetarian meals one night a week in order to save money since meat is typically the most expensive part of the meal. When I thought about it I realized that we had been doing this for the few months we had been married without even realizing it. We have pet chickens so we get fresh eggs daily. Because our egg supply is so abundant we typically make breakfast for supper at least once a week. This includes scrambled eggs, French toast, fried eggs, quiche, omelets and more. The possibilities with eggs are limitless. We had been using the eggs as a way to make our food budget stretch further but this comment at church made me realize there were more ways to add vegetarian meals into our menu.

So many eggs!

So many eggs!

All our chickens.

All our chickens.

Feeding grapes to the girls.

Feeding grapes to the girls.

In the beginning we would simply replace our meat entrée with some type of egg or bean dish as these are frugal options that still provide the protein that can be lost when excluding meats. Then we began experimenting more with meatless meal options and we have found many favorites. In addition to all the breakfast options we already cooked we have come to love frittata with squash and other vegetables, vegetarian pizza loaded with peppers, onions, and mushrooms, bean burritos with veggies, and grilled mozzarella sandwiches with marina sauce for dipping. Our favorite is when my husband cooks Brasilian dishes that he learned to cook while living in Brasil for two years. Most of these dishes use rice and beans as the main ingredients which are both frugal and filling. We are always trying new foods as we both love to cook but now picking recipes without meat doesn’t seem strange; in fact we look forward to making vegetarian dishes just to see how they will turn out. Meal planning no longer has to begin with choosing a meat for the entrée and instead of feeling limited I now feel like the possibilities are endless!

Frittata with squash.

Frittata with squash.

Baked potato with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and garlic cheese sauce.

Baked potato with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and garlic cheese sauce.

Grilled mozzarella with marinara sauce.

Grilled mozzarella with marinara sauce.

Staying on Target

Creating a sensible budget, and more importantly, sticking to that budget, is one of the most important aspects of couponing and any other money-saving effort. It is very easy to get swept away in the flurry of finding a good deal to the point that you forget there is a budget that needs to be adhered to. It is amazing how fast everything always seems to add up at the register! There are innumerable different ways to develop a budget and track spending and it is important to find what works best for you. There is no use in having the “greatest system” for all your budget needs if you never actually use it; you have to find what best fits your needs and what fits your style so that you will use it. I will go into more detail on the methods I use for budgeting and tracking spending in a later post.

Rather this post is more focused to share a new website/blog that I came across about a month ago that I have fallen in love with. The lady who runs this site posts multiple times a day. She matches coupons from many different sources (both online and print) with prices on a variety of products at Target. I have never shopped at Target a lot, but as I become more and more frustrated with my experiences at Wal-mart I find myself choosing Target a lot more often. In the past month I have been quite impressed with Target’s coupon policies and more importantly (for me) their customer service. I have had nothing but positive experiences thus far and have found many great deals. So far my Target finds have included: sunscreen for less than $2 a bottle, weed killer for only 49 cents a bottle, beauty accessories for free, and free vinegar. I still don’t do a majority of my shopping at Target stores, however they are very conveniently located near my house and as I find more good deals on this site I look forward to frequenting their stores more in the future!

Welcoming a New Addition to the Family!

Before you get ahead of yourself, no this addition is not a living, breathing, crying creature. We are nowhere near ready to even think about that yet. Instead this addition is making our lives so much easier! A few weeks ago we finally broke down and invested in a big upright freezer!

Our new freezer!

After many frustrating grocery trips of realizing that we couldn’t stock up on the great deals due to a lack of freezer space we have rectified the situation. I searched Craigslist for many weeks to find the perfect combination of space and price to fit our needs. There was some disappointment after missing a few great deals but then we found “the one”. We got an older model upright freezer for only $50. We had to drive about 35 minutes from our house to go pick it up which we don’t mind because we love to see different parts of the state that we would have no reason to travel to otherwise. Moving it into our basement was not as difficult as we were prepared for it to be. The timing could not have been more perfect. We picked up the freezer the same night that we switched our fridge/freezer combo out with another one from our landlord. We moved the freezer in first and because it has cooling coils in the fridge it was cold in less than 2 hours. When it came time to move the “new” fridge/freezer into the kitchen upstairs we discovered that while the fridge is bigger, the freezer in it held less than half of the food that we pulled out of the old one. Luckily we had our (already cold) new freezer downstairs and were able to avoid catastrophe and food waste.

Our old refrigerator… packed as always!

Our new refrigerator! We finally have extra space!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have had it hooked up for about three weeks now and it is amazing! Not only is our freezer upstairs not always packed to the gills (making it impossible to find anything without emptying half of it) but we can now stock up on the best deals knowing that we have enough space to fit it all. We also now have space for when friends and family start gifting us with fresh produce from their gardens (and the extra from ours’) as well as fresh meat from their hunting and fishing trips. A few of the deals we have already taken advantage of (some before and some after this picture was taken) are:

  • 20 bags of Ore Ida frozen potatoes for only $0.90 each
  • 10 blocks of Philadelphia cream cheese for only $0.97 each
  • 8 lbs of fresh strawberries (for smoothies) for $1 each
  • 10 lbs of bananas (for smoothies) for $2 total
  • many other great deals on clearance meats and produce

8 lbs of strawberries

“Don’t Try to Force It”

This is not in reference to gardening or couponing as I can attest that both can be forced as I have done it many times. I have gone out and pulled weeds or shoveled dirt at 6am on days when all I wanted to do was sleep in after working in the yard until 9pm the night before. I have cut out coupons in the 30 minutes between arriving home from work and leaving for church on Wednesday nights when I really wanted to just sit and kick up my feet. “Don’t try to force it”, rather, refers to something of a completely different nature.

I heard my choir directors throughout the years say this many times. In chorus I was always a Soprano (the higher notes) and not just a Soprano, but a First Soprano (the highest notes). If there was a descant part (even higher than highest notes) I was all over it. I could proudly sing a High C (two lines above the top of the staff!) without breaking a sweat. However, it wasn’t always so easy. In middle school when I was learning to sing those notes so effortlessly I would often stumble and fall, or in the music world, I would squeak out a note or two below the intended note. The first time I would hit a new high note I would feel so proud of myself and the first words out of the director’s mouth were, “Don’t try to force it.” While I had finally hit the note I had not done it with ease and in such the force behind my efforts was audible in the note that I produced. Eventually with enough practice I would get to the point where I would sing the high notes in a song without needing to anticipate them because they came out that naturally.

So why I am I writing about singing? Well, I had forgotten all about these chorus experiences until this past Sunday at choir practice after church. It was my first time being able to attend choir practice. I, of course, joined the Soprano section of the choir and was excited to finally be back in a choir and singing again for the first time in about a year. We only practiced one song, a piece that we will be performing during church in two weeks. On the first run-through I immediately noticed something: a stumble and fall. There is one line in the hymn that has a few “high” notes in a row (never above an E). Because I was taught to sing as a First Soprano I didn’t think of these notes as being high at all, however I quickly realized that some of the other women were afraid of these notes as they are higher than what the choir typically sings. After we rehearsed the song a few times, each time with the same one lady squeaking out a note below the one written, I remembered the words of my choir director in school… “Don’t try to force it.” I quickly explained that you can’t be afraid of the note, you just have to go for it. By the end of the rehearsal she was hitting the note and we all sounded great.

It was only after I got home from church that I realized the application of this lesson to my current life situation. I have not written on my blog in over a month now. I really desire to keep up with it and write regularly, however some times I feel like I just don’t have anything worth sharing with other people. When I first started the blog I had put it off for many months already so I didn’t want to fall out of the routine of writing as quickly as I had tried to get into it. So on my last post I forced myself write the post, and even though I was not at all satisfied with it, I posted it to the blog. I have not been satisfied with it ever since. I just wanted to write so that I could say I had done it, not because I had anything to say. This is where the words of my choir director come in… don’t try to force it! I was forcing myself to write just for the sake of writing. I have felt guilty for not writing on my blog over the past month however this epiphany has allowed me to realize that it’s ok not to write at specific intervals. I don’t know why I hadn’t made the connection before as I do the same thing with my journal writing (yes, I am a 23-year-old who still writes in a journal). I do not write every day. I used to make myself write in my journal every day and some days I would spend an hour writing and then, at the end, realize that I had not written anything of meaning or importance, simply a timeline of the happenings of my day. Now I only write in my journal when I feel impressed that I have something I need to write about, whether it is to clarify my own thoughts, to have to refer back to later, or to be able to pass on to my posterity in the future. I will now apply this same principle to my blog; I will only write when I feel I have something that I want/need to share with others.

Amusingly, since having this revelation on Sunday (only three days ago) I have been inspired of five new blog posts that I am anxious to write (not including this one)! Much of my inspiration has come from this blog that I stumbled upon on Pinterest and have been addicted to for the past three days reading it every spare second I get. It makes me want to do better about writing but has also given me so many new ideas. There is a lot more coming so be on the lookout for all my new posts in the very near future!

History Has a Way of Repeating Itself

Since I have been couponing for over 6 months now (I honestly can’t remember when I started) I decided that I should have a post with some of my past coupon trips and my best finds!

Grocery Trips

Store: Harris Teeter     Spent: $3.81     Saved: $11.33     SAVED 74.8%

Store: Harris Teeter     Spent: $4.20     Saved: $4.89     SAVED 53.8%

Store: Food Lion     Spent: $6.33     Saved: $5.61     SAVED 47.0%

Store: Harris Teeter     Spent: $32.64     Saved: $35.83     SAVED 52.3%

Store: Harris Teeter     Spent: $13.80     Saved: $13.01     SAVED 51.5%

Store: Lowe’s Foods     Spent: $7.64     Saved: $15.39     SAVED 66.8%

Store: Food Lion     Spent: $5.37     Saved: $9.27     SAVED 63.3%

Store: Lowe’s Foods     Spent: $2.08     Saved: $4.28     SAVED 67.3%

Store: Harris Teeter     Spent: $25.61     Saved: $40.69     SAVED 61.4%

Store: Food Lion     Spent: $23.64     Saved: $25.38     SAVED 51.8%

Best Trip!

Store: Whole Foods     Spent: $1.22     Saved: $25.76     SAVED 95.5%

Let it Rain… Let it Pour…

I have always enjoyed a good rain storm, splashing in the puddles, not caring that I am soaked to the bone, but now I have one more reason to love the rain… free water! Any time it starts to rain I set out all the potted plants that are normally under the overhang so that they get rained on. I also move all the plants that are on the carport waiting to go in the ground to the driveway so the rain can reach them as well. I never move the plants when I think it is going to rain or if rain has only been forecast because this is North Carolina and the weather changes every 5 minutes. We also have 2 rain barrels, one 50 gallon and one 30 gallon, which we built to collect the rain water that comes from the gutters so we can use that to water our gardens instead of paying for city water all the time. Obviously I can’t decide or affect when it is going to rain but I do what I can to take advantage of the rain that we do get.

Here are just a few pictures from the rain storm today…

 

 

Here are all the potted plants that are usually housed in the carport waiting to go in the ground. I set them all out on the driveway so they can get rained on.

 

I set the strawberry plants that are waiting to go into the vegetable garden (this week!) on the bistro table where they could get watered from the rain as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was trying to peek through the plants in the Planter Garden to see the garden beds below and how much the rain was able to reach them so I would know if I needed to water later.

$$$ Coupons Are Free Money $$$

My mom raised me to always use coupons when possible. I have been going to the grocery store with her since I was little. We always got the Sunday paper at our house and my mom and I would cut out the coupons together and organize them by category. Then when we would go to the grocery store (almost always Food Lion) we would use any coupons that happened to match up with what we were already buying off of our list.

I have been couponing seriously for almost a year now. While the concept is the same as when I was little and shopping with my mom the application is a lot more extreme now. I still typically go to the grocery store with my mom J I still match up coupons with the items I buy in order to save money, but now I do it in such a way as to save as much money as possible instead of just what is convenient. Instead of first making a menu for the week, then a grocery list, and then picking out the coupons for the items I need, I do it all in reverse. First I look at the sales and my coupons to see what items I can get the best deals on. I then use that shopping list to create a menu for the week. This allows me to save the most money possible.

Coupons are everywhere! You can find them inside boxes of products already purchased, on displays inside stores, in the newspaper, in magazines, on many websites… they are everywhere! With so many places to find coupons it can become overwhelming to figure out what works for you. I mostly use the coupons from the Sunday News & Observer. There are usually 2-4 coupon inserts in the Sunday paper and I go through them every week to cut out the coupons that I am likely to use. (“Likely” means if there is any chance that I will buy it, I cut it out. There is nothing worse than finding a great deal with a coupon you didn’t cut out and then having to dig through the trash can to find it. Trust me, I’ve been there before.) I do receive coupons in my email as well; however I do not print them until I have matched them with a sale and know I am going to use the coupon. I don’t want to waste the paper and ink to print them all ahead of time and risk not using it and just having to “throw it away”.

A good place to start (if you’re in the Raleigh area) is with this website. This is how I got started learning how to coupon. The site explains all the rules of coupon use at different grocery stores. For example Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods double many coupons while Food Lion does not. If you sign up on the site you can receive a daily email with details about good deals in the area. Every Wednesday, when grocery store sales start, she posts a Deals list for each of the main grocery stores matching coupons up with sales and showing who has the best overall price for items that week. It is really helpful at first to have this extra help, however after only a couple of months I began to notice that I could look through the sale paper and match sale items with coupons in my mind before I received the email for the day. It doesn’t take long to catch on! On Fridays she does a post of Friday Freebies with details on free items around town that you can get in the next week. I check her posts every day… it only takes a couple minutes and it helps me to save a lot of money. There are a lot of great sites with good information and tips on couponing out there; this is just the one that I have found to be the most helpful for me.

Here is a look at my method for staying organized with all of these coupons.

This is my official coupon notebook. My mom and I got the same ones so we can stay organized on our shopping trips together… yes, I wasn’t kidding that I still go to the grocery store with my mom🙂

This is what it looks like on the inside. There are 2 sets of rings which are really helpful in staying organized. The pockets are great for holding extra items that may come in handy. Things I like to keep in my notebook are: a pair of scissors, a small calculator, a small pad of paper, an ink pen, and I always grab a copy of the store’s sale paper when I enter the store and keep it in the front of the notebook for the duration of my visit to that store.

On the left side are all the non-grocery item coupons (i.e. animal food and supplies, personal care items, household items, car care, etc). They are divided into sections like just mentioned. I use plastic dividers to hold all of my coupons. There are pieces of paperboard or cardstock cut out and inserted into each of the pockets to make it easier to get coupons in and out of the slots. I can have coupons on both sides of the dividers so they use fewer dividers. The dividers are easiest to find for sale online from collectible stores advertising them for preserving baseball cards and other paper items, however with couponing becoming more popular you can probably find them being sold for coupon use now too. I got mine in 4 different sizes so I can fit any coupon I come across. There are ones that hold 2, 3, 6, and 8 coupons per side.

This is the set of rings on the right side where I keep the coupons for all the grocery items (aka food). I have this side divided into 9 sections following the layout of most grocery stores. When I first sat down to assemble this notebook I realized that almost all grocery stores have the same layout. Yes there are some that like to make it difficult by putting their freezers in the middle of the store or switching their deli and meat department locations, but for the most part they are all just about the same. So I decided that it would make the least work for me at the store if my notebook followed the layout of the stores I shop at the most. Thus, my sections are in the following order: Condiments, Meats and Refrigerated Items, Dried and Canned Goods, Snack Items, Breakfast Items and Drinks, Desserts and Cooking Items, Bread Items, Dairy Products, and Frozen Items. This order follows the layout of the Food Lion and Harris Teeter that I shop at most often.

There are many possible ways to stay organized in couponing and everyone has their own way that works best for them; this is mine. I hope you all find the way that works best for you so you can enjoy the savings that are in your near future!

All it Takes is a “Little” Hard Work

Let me start this blog post with a quote from my sister-in-law, Catherine: “I am jealous of all your free Craigslist plants, but I am just too lazy to dig them all up myself.”

The main lesson that I have learned from both couponing as well as gardening on a budget is that in order to save money you have to be willing to do a lot more work! A regular trip to the grocery store involves making a grocery list, going to the store(s) and buying the items you need. The most time-consuming activity involved would be standing in the line to check out. With couponing, however, there is a lot more involved in order to reap in the savings. There is the time to cut out coupons every week and keep them organized, keeping up with the sales at multiple grocery stores, and then pairing the sales together with the coupons and then comparing the different stores to find the best deal for each product. Once at the grocery store each item much be matched up with the coordinating coupon and time taken to make sure the maximum number of coupons is not exceeded at the store. A coupon trip to the grocery can easily take three times as long at the store plus all the prep time and work involved. There will be more details to come on this process in the first couponing post.

The same goes for gardening on a budget. However, when dealing with the gardens the work is often more physically straining than mentally stimulating. Many of the tasks that we would prefer be carried out by a paid professional we have done ourselves in order to cut spending. We look for any opportunity to get supplies for free and barter for things we already have and no longer need. We search clearance racks repeatedly to try not to spend full price on the things we want. It’s hard to give general examples of this for gardening so you will have to wait until I start posting about our garden transformations and all about the specific examples of the hard work it takes to get it all done. However, here is one example just to show the hard work that we have poured and continue to pour into making our gardens a beautiful place for us to escape to from our busy lives.

This is our Tree Stump Garden: one of our 9 (and ever-increasing) gardens. This Pine Tree was one of the trees that the tornadoes last April ripped out of our back yard. The stump is still there and quite the eyesore so I have decided to turn it into one of our gardens. Spencer had the idea to dig out the base of the stump and expose all the roots to give the garden a more unique look. But what to do with all that dirt???

This is our Carport Garden which we have now decided is going to be our one-and-only fruit and vegetable garden for the year. The soil that was here was mostly sand and rocks and not suitable for growing our plants. So we needed good soil to mix into it. With money we would just go out and buy some compost to replace this poor quality dirt, however when trying to save money we have to get a little more creative in our approach. So we took that good organic dirt from the top few inches around the Tree Stump Garden (which was years of decomposed pine needles and leaves) and added it to the Carport Garden. That posed a new problem…what to do with the extra dirt from this garden? Not wanting the garden to be elevated in relation to the ground around it, some dirt needed a new home.

This is our Back Garden. Here we are building a tiered garden bed with 5 separate tiers. However we are lacking in the amount of dirt necessary to do so. Thus the extra dirt from the vegetable garden (that is keeping us from adding the good soil from the Tree Stump Garden in there) had to be moved to this garden bed before the vegetable garden could be prepped for planting. Also the lower levels of dirt (aka good ole North Carolina red clay) from the Tree Stump Garden is being added to this garden to help build it up to construct the tiers. What this means is Spencer and I spent 2 whole days (8+ hours each day) moving wheelbarrow loads of dirt from Point A to Point B, Point B to Point C, Point A to Point C and so on. And we’re still not done!

All in all, what you need to know is that if you want to save money in any aspect of your life you have to be willing to put forth a little (really, a lot!) more effort than everyone else!

Going Green!

I have wanted to start this blog for quite a few months now and finally have both the time and the motivation to begin. So here goes my first attempt at writing a blog post for recreation instead of for a school assignment.

I have gone green! In my case “green” does not refer to the usual environmental interpretation of trying to save the environment. I have already gone down that road. We throw almost nothing away at our house. We recycle all the glass and plastic containers. Paper, paperboard, and cardboard are either recycled or burned and the ashes are added to the compost. Our food scraps all go to one of 3 places: our chickens, our dogs, or the compost. Meat items are fed to the dogs, bread and produce go to the chickens, and the real scraps are put in the compost. Our compost is then used to fertilize our garden and help grow our own fruits and vegetables. We empty our trash once a week and all the trashes together never even fill a 13 gallon bag. We filter our sink water instead of buying bottled water. We open the windows to let the natural breeze cool off our house instead of running the A/C units most of the time. We try to do our part to help lessen the negative impact we have on the planet. Well, that’s enough about the “green” that this blog is not about.

Rather the “green” that I refer to is that of an economical sense. “Growing a green thumb” has many interpretations. First and foremost it means learning how to be more economically responsible with the resources that you have. Of course “green” refers to the money that is being saved and “green thumb” to my love for gardening. My blog posts will fall into 2 main categories: first, couponing and second, gardening… on a budget of course.

So the only thing left to cover is: Are you ready to go green too?

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