Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Saving With Store Brands

I came across this article today about saving money on groceries by purchasing store brands.  According to the article, switching from name brands to store brands can save you about 25 percent.  The article does go on to state that not all store brands taste the same as name brands, and that the nutrition content may be different.

Personally, I believe that buying store brands only saves money if the store brand is something you will actually use.  Here are some tips I’ve picked up along my quest to reduce our grocery budget:

- Store brand ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, spices, etc) seem to be more similar to name brands.  We’ve never noticed a difference in using these store brand ingredients instead of name brands in cooking and baking.

- Store brand prepared foods seem to taste very different than their name brand counterparts.  We notice the biggest difference in things like pasta sauce and canned soup.  It doesn’t save money to buy “cheaper” jars of pasta sauce we’re never going to eat.  We are better off to wait for sales on the brands we like. 

- Vegetables seem to be equally as good when purchased as a store brand instead of a name brand.  We buy a lot of frozen spinach and canned beans, usually store brands, and have never noticed a difference.  This is especially true if they’re going in a casserole, soup, or chili. 

- If you have skin allergies or sensitive skin laundry detergent is not something to try to save money on by experimenting with different brands!  I have very sensitive skin and most laundry detergents turn me into a miserably itchy walking rash, sometimes leading to a doctor’s visit for a steroid shot.  In addition to making me miserable, that costs a lot more money in the long run.  I have learned to just stick with the three brands of laundry detergent that I know won’t trigger a bad reaction.  I try to save money by stocking up on them when they’re on sale, not by buying “cheaper” alternatives. 

- Once in a while some grocery stores will run a “buy theirs try ours free” special where you receive the store brand version of certain items free when you buy the name brand.  This is an excellent, risk free, opportunity to try the store brand and determine what you like and don’t like.  You can find out about promotions like this by signing up for the store’s emails. 

- Don’t underestimate the value of shopping sales and using coupons.  We’re fortunate enough to live close to several different grocery stores, so I always check the sale ads to see who has what on sale before we go shopping and only get what is the best deal at each store.  Many times the sale price on a name brand is cheaper than the store brand.  Name brands also have coupons sometimes, which just add to the savings.  Watch for in-store promotions where buying a certain number of items from the same brand will take money off of your total bill.  I love to use this when I can match coupons to the items that are on sale.  They usually work out to be anywhere from about 75 percent off to free. 

I also try to stock up on things we use a lot when they’re on a really good sale.  Most grocery stores seem to have about a six week sale cycle, so I try to buy about six week’s worth of items we use a lot of while they’re on sale instead of paying full price for them later on. 

Shopping this way has resulted in a few amazingly cheap shopping trips.  My best to date has been $125.00 worth of groceries for $25.00.  I wish I could tell you this happens every week, but it doesn’t.  Shopping this way on an average grocery trip usually saves us between 40 and 60 percent, which is still good enough to make me really happy. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

We’re In!

I heard about CSAs a few years ago from a co-worker.  You can read more about them here, but basically CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are a way for farmers and people local to them to work together.  The benefits for the farmer include receiving money up front and sharing some of the risk.  The benefits for the consumer include weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) fresh, local, seasonal produce, and knowing exactly where the food is coming from.  It seems like a largely win-win arrangement.

We have wanted to join a CSA since I first heard about it from my co-worker.  We liked the idea of buying local food and knowing where it comes from.  We also think (hope) that having already paid for and receiving a weekly box of fresh produce will encourage us to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.  We also found this wonderful cookbook, The New Southern Garden Cookbook, by Sheri Castle, which got me even more interested in joining a CSA.  The cookbook is organized by ingredient and focuses on using what you have an abundance of, usually what’s in season.  The recipes are amazing; they seem to be an excellent mix of somewhat traditional preparations and different ways of using the same old produce.  All of the sections begin with some information on traditional use, growing methods, etc for that particular food, which makes for interesting reading.  Having this cookbook removed that last little bit of doubt about what we would end up doing with produce that we weren’t as familiar with. 

But it just didn’t work out for us to join a CSA for a few years.  It seemed that we couldn’t find a place with a convenient pick-up location, that offered half shares (a full share just seems like way too much for only two people), that was within our budget, that wasn’t already full.

This year, though, I put joining a CSA on the calendar for January because we didn’t want to be too late and miss out.  We finally found one that offers half-shares and a pick-up location about 15 minutes from both of our office buildings with hours that will easily allow one of us to pick up our box every week.  This CSA offers a payment plan of one third down and the rest paid over the next two months, which definitely makes it easier on the budget.  It also seems like this farm will be a good fit for us as their shares focus more on fruits and vegetables and less on herbs (which we plan to grow ourselves again this year) and fresh flowers (which are lovely, but not safe with our quirky quartet of cats).

We sent our application and down payment in at the beginning of the month and yesterday we received our confirmation email.  We’re officially in!  The pick-ups should start sometime in late May and they will be in touch with us closer to that time.  Now we just have to pay the remaining balance and wait, and of course decide which recipes we want to try.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Here’s Hoping

My sister, Gabrielle, recently won an award at work.  Apparently this particular award is a big deal; the company is fairly large (located in multiple states) and only three to four people receive this award per year.  This year Gabrielle is one of them. 

It's creative recycling, right?
Based on the number of Friday nights and Saturday afternoons I’ve called her only to learn that she’s at work, I think she really deserves it.  Needless to say, I’m very proud of my little sister.  So I was all set to send her flowers at work to congratulate her on her award, but then I found pajamas I know she really wants. 

I gave her a pair of these pajamas a couple of years ago and she loves them, so much so that they’re looking a little rough from having been worn so much.  She’s a hard to find size, and the store that carries them isn’t local to her.  I’ve been instructed to keep a lookout for them and buy them when I find them. 

I found two pairs, in her size, in patterns I think she will like, the day she received the award, so I decided on congratulatory pajamas instead of flowers.  (Pajamas sort of make sense; she’s worked hard, now it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the award, right?)

I called and told Gabrielle about the pajamas.  We live three hours away from each other, so I was planning to just give them to her whenever we see each other next. Because we’re such patient people in my family, she couldn’t stand the idea of waiting.  So she decided I could send them Fed-Ex because apparently she gets a discount through work. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a Fed-Ex store near me.  This didn’t deter my sister; she sent me a shipping label to print out, and arranged a pickup from my office.  She assures me that it won’t matter that I don’t have a Fed-Ex box, and that all that matters is that no writing or other company names are visible on the package. 

The pitiful looking box in the picture is what I managed to finagle out of an Amazon box, some paper grocery bags, and a whole lot of tape (she just thought I used a lot of tape on Christmas presents!).  It’s definitely not going to win any awards for being an ascetically pleasing package.  Here’s hoping the Fed-Ex driver will take it tomorrow! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

A to Z 2013

I did it, I’ve signed up for the 2013 A to Z Blogging Challenge.  You can read more about what the A to Z Challenge, and sign up to participate yourself, here  if you’re interested.  Basically it involves blogging every day except Sunday during the month of April and going through the alphabet. 

I’ve signed up much earlier this year (I’m currently number 455) than I did last year (when I was number 11-something).  I really, really enjoyed participating in last year’s challenge, and I’ve been happy to read that many of my blog friends from last year are participating again this year.

Like last year, I am not sticking to a theme for the A to Z Challenge.  I don’t do especially well with themes.  My first attempt at blogging was with a themed blog, and that just didn’t happen.  I like variety. 

Unlike last year, I am planning to try to write at least a few of my posts (bloglets, as one blogger calls them) in advance.  I have no doubt that I will still find myself googling “words that begin with” late at least one night, but I’m hoping to minimize that.

I’m excited about the challenge.  It was a lot of fun last year, and it’s how I met most of the people that I regularly interact with here in the blogging world.

So what about you?  Have you signed up for the 2013 A to Z Challenge yet?  What number are you on the list?  Do you plan to sign up this year?