Sunday, April 12, 2015

Frugal Win/ Frugal Fail

We've done a few things to save money this week with success, and some things didn't work out. A Frugal Fail is not so much a reason to beat yourself up, but encouragement to identify ways to fine-tune your plan.

You can't change what you can't see!

Frugal Wins:

1) I baked 4 loaves of bread by hand, for a cost of $2. Artisan bread that is free of our allergens usually costs $4.99 per loaf. Two of my loaves equals one of those loaves. This saved us a whopping $8.

2) We had a 2 inch hunk of bread left that had gone hard. I ran it through the food processor to make half a cup of bread crumbs, which I store in a bag in my freezer. (Did you know you can make cookies from bread crumbs?)

I also cut my loaves on the same plate, and brushed the bread crumbs into my freezer bag. When I was a nursing student, I worked a second job as a caregiver for the elderly. This is a trick I learned from a lady in her 90s who had lived through the Great Depression.

3) Planted basil, parsley, cilantro, sunflowers, and morning glories with my daughter indoors. I plan to make a kitchen herb pot. I also potted a basil plant we bought at the store. Things are starting to sprout! April 15th is our last frost date for the outdoor flowers, so we should be able to plant them next week.

4) Packed three lunches for my husband this week. He usually eats out 5 lunches per week, so this is improvement. This saved us $21.

5) I used a 20% discount code to renew our Zoo membership. I upgraded our membership, since I will be staying home and bringing my mother. My mother will be retiring and on a fixed income, and I don't want her to have to pay to get in, so this will cover her as a guest. We will also be going more often.  This pass usually costs $199 for a year, and I paid $159. This saved us $40.

6) Used my Kroger fuel points to save $0.30/gallon on gas. I also completed the feedback survey on my receipt so far twice this month, which gives us 100 fuel points, or an extra 10 cents off per gallon. If I do this every week, it will save us an extra 20 cents per gallon over the course of the month.

7) Cancelled our standing Amazon Subscribe and Save orders for cereal bars and other snacks. I'm going to make them at home. I baked 2 dozen oatmeal raisin cookies this week for snacks. This will save us $20/month.

8) I am making homemade applesauce and homemade yogurt today. I am making a gallon's worth for about $3, which includes a cup of plain yogurt for a starter and $2 for a gallon of milk at Kroger.

I make the yogurt in my slow cooker, but I strain using a chinois my chef brother gave me to get it Greek style.

9) Kept my grocery budget $86.55 this week! That is 69% of my maximum weekly grocery budget of $125. This works out to $0.82 per person per meal.

10) We used our gift closet for a birthday party where our son was invited.

11) I cancelled our monthly donation to St. Jude. It's just not in our budget. We will continue to donate yearly, but in a smaller annual amount. This will save us $20/month.

12) We nixed juice boxes for kid lunches. My son is content with water. I am sending an old Medela breast milk container with half juice/half water for our daughter, and she is happy with that. This will save us $12/month.

13) I took the plunge and signed our 4 year old up for 3 morning a week pre-K through the YMCA for next year. Class is at the church around the corner (a 7 minute walk!), and we get a discount for being Y members. We love the current preschool, but we can't afford the $99/week price for three mornings. The YMCA will cost us only $146/month, a savings of $250/month. By walking every nice day, we will save gas money as well, and get some exercise.

14) The heating element went out on our dryer. My husband figured out what was wrong, bought the part for $70, and fixed it himself. It took a late night, but it saved us $150 in labor costs.

Frugal Fail

1) Worked very late on Friday and we ended up ordering pizza for dinner. We did use a coupon code, but there goes $25! This happened last week too- can you see a theme?

2) I didn't plan well for yesterday's dinner. We had gymnastics for my daughter, a swimming lesson for me at the Y, and my son had a birthday party in the afternoon. I didn't get to hit the stores until late, so I picked up chicken nuggets and tater tots for dinner. It was cheaper than takeout, but it was $7.50 added that shouldn't have been necessary. Shall we call it a fail/win?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Grocery Trips- 2nd Week of April

Kroger Trip: $63.04.

The major deal I took advantage of at Kroger this week was half gallons of milk for $1. The milk trial is going well with the baby, so I am going to make slow cooker yogurt with it this week. I had to buy a small yogurt as a starter culture, but should be able to save some aside from this batch and use for future yogurt batches.

It was a later than normal shopping trip day, thanks to two lessons and a birthday party, so I picked up chicken nuggets and tater tots for dinner- a rarity in this house. That added an unnecessary $7.50 to my total.


Fresh Thyme: $23.51

I pretty much only bought the loss leader produce at Fresh Thyme (otherwise it would be very expensive). I got cantaloupe for $0.77 each, asparagus for $0.97/lb, apples for $0.88/lb, and tomatoes for $0.77/lb. Bags of organic carrots were for $1 for a pound.

Fresh Thyme

Total for the week: $86.55! 

A friend who raises chickens is bringing 4 dozen eggs to me this week too. I plan on making a ton of deviled eggs for my husband's lunches, eating scrambled eggs for dinners, and maybe a frittata.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Grocery Trips- April Week 1

My goal for April is $500- or less- on groceries per month.

There is a new Whole Foods-type store in my area called Fresh Thyme, and I decided to check it out this week. It was set up just like Whole Foods, and a lot of the prices were just as hefty, but there were some great loss-leader produce items.

I paid $0.97/pint for raspberries, $0.77 each for avocados, and $2.97/pound for grass-fed beef. I usually pay $8/lb for that! Of course, I bought several pounds, which I froze for future use. I have been trying to find the lowest price for maple syrup, at least some that was less than $24 for 32 oz for organic maple syrup that I get through Amazon Subscribe and Save. They had a 32 oz Grade A syrup that was $19.99, so we are trying it and hoping it isn't skunky maple syrup.

Total at Fresh Thyme: $57.75


Red Gold canned tomatoes were $0.39 each after buying 10 participating items, so I bought two orange juice half gallons and 8 more cans of tomatoes for my stockpile. 18 eggs were $1.99, and we are in our milk trial for baby girl, so I bought less expensive whole milk and dairy yogurt for her.

Total at Kroger: $59.51

Today was Easter and we ate at my mother's, who is unable to cook only a small amount of food. I brought home a huge load of brussiolatini (Sicilian meat dish- I have no idea if I spelled that right), ham, and turkey lunch meat, 4 cartons of chocolate almond milk, cider, and orange juice, green beans, mashed potatoes, homemade chocolates, cake, fruit, and salad.

I am baking bread tonight to prep for my husband's lunches tomorrow, and sending him with big sandwiches full of meat and veggies, a big salad, and cake.

My weekly total is $117.26, under the $125 I wanted to stick to this week.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Stay-at-Home Readiness

I have four months left before my official last day at work, and we are continuing to gear up towards making a smooth transition financially.

When we made the decision a month ago, I printed out this free expense tracker, so I can keep an even tighter focus on what is going out. We are frugal, but I do know that because we have a very comfortable income, we don't think twice if we have to run to the store mid-week for something, or order takeout for a family visit instead of planning ahead.

If there are small leaks in this ship, the time to plug them is now.

Last month, I kept track of everything that I paid for, and my husband transferred that amount into the savings from his salary. I did not include the expenses we will no longer have once I leave my job, child care and the twice monthly cleaning service. I paid attention to my grocery and entertainment expenses more than usual. I was happy to see that even including the once-per year expenses (life insurance I pay for my father, a yearly 1 Fit Widow membership that will probably not be renewed next year, and a donation to a friend's cancer treatment fund), my total expenses were $1225, which is exactly the high end of where I would want to be. We even have 2 days of eating out in there that I don't plan on repeating.

Of course, I am planning on starting grad school in August, and we would like to pay out of pocket and remain loan and debt free for the two years it will take to complete it. I would like to decrease it to the absolute minimum possible.

Ultimately, I would like to keep my usual expenses, including clothing for the whole family, food, internet, medical copays and expenses, gas for my van, household needs, entertainment, and children's activities to between $900-1000/month on average. There are a few areas my husband has always paid for that I could work on reducing, namely the electric bill, cell phone bill, insurance, and his lunches out. I am going to focus on 1-2 things at a time and chip away as best I can.

I'm going to work on:

1) Work lunches for the mister. He eats a ton for lunch, and likes to go to buffets. I'm going to work on packing hefty lunches that are satisfying and don't cost $10/day. I will probably start by making huge subs out of those $0.25 loaves of bread I make (he can eat one loaf in a sitting).

2) Medical costs. There is nothing I can do about the many medical appointments we have in a month, and we easily spend $50-150 in office copays every month. I plan on seeing how we can reduce the cost of our monthly prescriptions by using the mail order pharmacy, or seeing if Sam's or Costco has any of our regular prescriptions available as $4 generics.

3) Decreasing monthly charities. I donate $57 monthly to three different charities. I will probably reduce that, or choose to make a smaller yearly gift, until I am at least done with grad school.

4) Decreasing the electric bill. I have arthritis, and I know better than to try a "freeze your buns off challenge" again, as cold makes my arthritis much worse. I can, however, tolerate heat more, and will try to keep my a/c use to a minimum this year. I will also try to find any energy hogs in the house, and nix them as best I can.

5) Gas. I will be driving less, as my son will take the bus to school, and my 4 year old will hopefully only be at the preschool that is close enough to walk back and forth, as is our YMCA. I would like to go to the Y every day for an exercise class, and barring bad weather, we should be able to walk there and to the neighborhood playground.

6) Entertainment. We are foodies, and will go on one date night a month, hiring a babysitter when we do so. This can easily cost $200. We plan on using free babysitting from family, on a Saturday afternoon, for example, and either doing a free date like hiking, or using a deeply discounted Groupon or local deal, gift card, or see a discount movie. We still want the occasional indulgence at our favorite local foodie joints, but are saving those for once or twice a year.

This year, we may skip the Renaissance Festival. We will renew the Zoo membership, but plan to really get our money's worth. There are plenty of local parks/sprinkler parks to explore.

Also, no more buying books/movies on Amazon. We will be using the library only or watching things on Prime/Netflix, or using a free Redbox coupon code. A friend can let me tag along with her to see free plays, and I might do a couple this year.

We don't have cable, but have a Roku,  Amazon Prime, Kindle Free Time, and Netflix streaming only plan.

7) Clothes. My kids are pretty much taken care of this year, and my girls have several years of hand me downs stored away. My son will need a few things, and I plan on not spending more than $50 for them this year. I hope to sell enough of his old things to break even and have no additional out of pocket. I am losing weight, and only have 1 pair of jeans in my size, and live in yoga pants. I will continue to do so.

8) Phone: We own our android smart phones and pay $100 month for both of our data plans. We don't have a contract, and I want to see if there are any options to keep adequate data and be a "free agent". We don't have a landline.

9) Food: We have been given the go-ahead to trial milk with the baby by the allergist, and she seems to be OK, so we are able to buy cheaper whole milk, and I have the opportunity to make my own yogurt again. I hope to spend $500 or less a month on groceries (we are doing that now), and will try to push it as close to $400 as possible. Upcoming challenges will be my son's birthday party and my mother's retirement party.

10) Cleaning, personal care needs. I have a hefty stockpile, but need to do a thorough inventory and plan for the year, to maximize couponing trips.

It's a lot- but I love a challenge!