I’m not exaggerating here folks. Every week I go to the Grocery Store, dump our leftover change for the week into the CoinStar machine, and get pretty much everything we need without having to hand over one paper bill!!
OMG!! The Masters of Frugality would probably say. That machine charges 8 cents per dollar!!! Roll your own coins and take them to the bank and you won’t have to pay the fee!!! What are you crazy??
Well, yes, more than one person has told me I’m crazy. But that’s not the point. I work 50 hours a week, do some freelance writing on the side, keep up with this blog, and still manage to put a nice, homemade meal on the table for Mike 5 times a week. Not having to roll our change (because I SUCK at it, slow as molasses) is something I’m willing to lose out on 8 cents a dollar for.
We routinely have around $25 to $30 worth of change (after the troll in the CoinStar machine takes his cut) and that’s usually all we need to buy our food for the week.
So how do I buy what we need for the week, plus extra to stockpile for the future when the price is free or super cheap?? (FYI…“Stockpiling” is a term, recently made more popular by all the Extreme Couponing going on, that refers to an alternative method of shopping where one buys extras of non-perishable of freezable items when the price is free, for pennies, or severely discounted, so that the shopper will never have to worry about paying full retail for commonly purchased items again.)
Some simple tips, which I will probably expound upon later…
- Pick your top-ten, most-often cooked, favorite, crowd-pleasin’, hubby lovin’, easy and delicious go-to meals. Scan the ingredients for each. You’ll probably notice several of the same/similar ingredients in a lot of them. Which of these ingredients can you store in your pantry or freeze? This should be the basis of your Master Stockpile List, or the items you should be on the lookout to buy (more than you need at the present) when the price is free, cheap, or heavily discounted.
- Try not to be brand loyal!! I’m only tried-and-true to a few food items in life, other than those items, I can zig-zag between brands and generics without a second thought. One that comes to mind is Jiff Peanut Butter. It’s OK to have a few favorites you will not deviate from. But have a sense of adventure when it comes to everything else, and your purse will thank you for it. Be willing to try whatever brand is cheapest. I bet (most times) you won’t be able to tell the difference.
- When it comes to meat, buy Grocery Store Loss Leaders. These are the meats/other deals on the front page of the grocery sale ad, put there to lure the consumer into the store with super low prices. If I find boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.69 per pound, I’m stocking up for two or three weeks on chicken. If I find pot roast on sale for BOGO, I’m getting 4, not 2. Freeze what you don’t need for the next few weeks, and you will be eating cheap chicken instead of paying $3.59 per pound for chicken breasts next week when you get a hankerin’ for some General Tso’s Chicken.
- Clip your coupons!! Besides everyday essentials like milk, bread, cheese, eggs, and meat, I get everything else I buy for FREE or PENNIES by combining coupons with sale prices. Every blue moon, you CAN find coupons on things like cheese and meat (usually in the form of a store promotion or Catalina coupon offer, but don’t hold your breath!!) Things like condiments, prepared sides, rice, pasta, beans, salad dressing, cake and brownie mixes, canned tuna and many others can be found for free or nearly free by buying at the right time, and then buying more than you actually need to save for a rainy day. Think of it as an Edible Savings Account.
- Fruits and Veggies?? Plant them yourself, or do some creative bartering if you live in an apartment, like I do!! Trust me, If I had the land, I’d be gardening everything from basil to pumpkins. So much healthier, so much cheaper, so much more rewarding. But I don’t, and I HATE grocery store produce most of the time. Somehow the idea that my tomatoes took a cross-country trip in the back of a dirty truck that took god-knows-how long isn’t appetizing to me. But I digress. I advocate gardening whenever possible for fresh veggies and fruit. Hell, even an apartment dweller can cultivate a pretty nice window herb garden that will save bundles on fresh herbs called or in recipes. What to do if you can’t grow it yourself, and don’t want to pay crazy prices for border-jumping plums? Option A: Your local farmer’s market is WAY cheaper and WAY fresher (aka healthier) than the sad, tired produce being misted in the bins of your grocery store. Option B: Find someone in your community with an ample garden, and offer to take some of their harvest off their hands. This is easier than it sounds. I know so many people who are overrun with zucchini they are practically BEGGING people to take some home. I personally trade one of my happy-hour bar regulars a nice 26 oz draft for a bag full of fresh, organic produce every week.
- Make it from scratch!! We eat a lot of Mexican around here. Tired of paying $1 to $2 for a tiny seasoning packet for tacos, burritos, chili and the like, I did a quick internet search for homemade spice blend recipes. Now I am making my own out of the spices in my cupboard for a fraction of the cost, and they taste a lot better. It’s up to you how far you want to go with The Homemade Revolution, even thought it’s quite in style right now. For example, my sister makes at least one loaf of homemade bread every day, if not more. Now, she’s a Stay-at-home mom of only one child, so she spends a bit more time in the house than I do. I’m not sure I could ever have the time or patience to replicate her bread efforts. Quick breads (like banana and zucchini) are relatively simple and fast to concoct, not to mention super-delicious. The homemade possibilities are endless. My next to-do on this list is to make my own fried rice and Mexican rice, instead of buying those convenient 7 minute packages.
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat, because a crockpot is your best friend!! As I’ve said before, I’m a Crockpot Zealot. It’s almost magical to me. I almost shed a tear. Throw in a cheap cut of meat and a few veggies/beans/spices/whatever, walk out the door and put in my 8 hours at work, and come home to a house smelling divine with some melt-in-your-mouth dinner waiting for me, all hot and ready to eat?? Sign me up!! With a crockpot you don’t have to pay premium for the choice cuts of meat. You could probably cook a boot in there (as my hunter/fisherman/bar patron John likes to say) and it would taste delicious!! Buy that whole chicken for 69 cents a pound, slap it in a crockpot with some seasonings, and feed you and your lover for 3 days on mere pennies!!
- Watch your beverages. Like I’ve said before, we are Iced Tea crazy. We used to buy a gallon a day from the convenience store, and those high prices added up. Now, we brew our own, or purchase drink mixes when they are on sale and we have a coupon, or drink plain old healthy water. Not into water?? Install a filtration system right onto your tap (like Brita), or buy a filtered pitcher. I’ve even seen pitchers on Amazon.com that I’d like to look into, where you can put some fruit or whatever you’d like into a little reservoir in the pitcher, and it infuses the water with the flavor of your choice! Cheap alternative to that expensive Vitamin Water crap that is all the rage now.
- Pack your lunch! Mike is in HVAC and Plumbing, and these guys can eat A LOT at lunch. Rather than handing him over 5 bucks or more to scarf down some artery clogging fast food in the middle of the work day that might lead to a massive heart attack when he’s out in the sun lifting 50 pound pipes a half hour later, I pack him a lunch every day. Oh sure, I got him the cool NASA-Technology (exaggerating!) thermos, and the super-size construction worker lunchbox/water jug combo and all that (on sale of course), but I only spend around $1 a day packing him a manly-mans lunch, if not less. That includes two or three sandwiches, or leftovers, or a combination of the two, homemade brownies or cupcakes, some pretzels or chips or jerky to snack on (portioned out myself from a regular sized bag), some pasta salad or some fresh fruit. In the winter he gets hot soup/chili in his thermos as well. He’s never hungry, and that’s a hundred dollar savings a month over him buying a fast-food lunch. That’s $1200 a year. That’s a vacation. Think tropical paradise, margarita in your hand, cool ocean breeze blowing over your suntan oil scented body as a steel drum plays somewhere in the background. Is that worth you spending two minutes every night packing your man a lunch? It is sure as hell worth it to me!!
What I Bought This Week:
Remember, I have a lot of our repeat performers stockpiled so I don’t need to buy everything I need for a particular recipe. Right now I even have some cheese and bread stashed away because I got it at a great price. I haven’t been using this method of shopping for too long, so this could be you in a month or two!!
- 4 lbs of chicken quarters (I was a boneless, skinless, chicken breast freak…but one day about a week ago my friend John gave me the most succulent, tasty, moist, bbq chicken he’d cooked int the crockpot. For a lot less a pound, I’m willing to give the chicken quarters a try!! And we’ll get a few meals out of it too, these puppies are huge!!) $4.00
- Jiff Peanut Butter (Told ya I was very brand loyal to this!) $2.00
- 1 lb of ground chuck (pricier than I’d like, but Mike’s crying for some red meat, and I haven’t found a good price on it in ages!) $2.59
- Butter (store brand, 4 sticks, I will only use REAL butter) $2.39
- Pint of whole milk (likewise, we only like whole milk. Granted, it’s used for cooking 95% of the time, so it’s not like we’re chugging gallons of it. $1.19
- Value pack of bologna (this, and the peanut butter (already have the jelly), will get Mike through the week on lunch till next week, when some nice deli prices roll around and he’ll be enjoying turkey breast, roast beef and salami) 99 cents
- 3 bottles of Kraft Salad Dressing, Asian Sesame, Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Zesty Italian (For all the free Romaine lettuce I’m getting tomorrow from my gardener friend. Got these on sale with a coupon, and would like to stock up on more. $1.50 for all 3 bottles
- 2 huge jars of Pillsbury chocolate frosting with sprinkles!! (Have a nice stockpile of free brownie and cupcake mixes, now I’ve got the frosting to ice them with!!) $1 for both jars
- Sunbird General Tso’s seasoning mix (Mike’s favorite dinner…I haven’t found a homemade recipe that’s cheaper or tastier…just mix this handy little seasoning packet with a little sugar, soy sauce, water and red pepper flakes, and VOILA, you’ve got a recipe quality Chinese dinner at home for a few bucks!) $1.10
- 7 Oral B toothbrushes (to add to my stockpile and give to friends) FREE
- 5 Crest Toothpastes (see above) FREE
- 2 canisters of ready-to-go Kool Aid and 4 canisters of Crystal Lite (His and Hers drink mixes on the cheap…what I paid for all would equal what we used to spend in 2 days on Iced Tea, and these will last us for a looong time!) $4.00
Total Spent:$19.76 plus tax
CoinStar funds from our weekly change:$20.73
Remember, I have cheese, keilbasa, bread, smoked sausage, chicken breasts, beans, frozen veggies and rice already on hand, in addition to a stocked pantry (which includes instant potato sides and hamburger helper for lazy days) so we have a lot of meal options out of this!
And don’t even get me started on all the freebies I got at the drug store this week…my bathroom is starting to look like a mini-CVS! (and Mike is starting to complain!)
What can you do with your leftover change this week! I’d love to hear what you get for it!