Sunday, September 21, 2014

How I Save Money on Produce - September 21, 2014

The first thing most people say when I tell them I like to use coupons is that "coupons are only for processed food." Which implies that I only buy processed food for my family, and that's not very nice - and most definitely not true. I'm a broken record but this is the fact: many coupons are for processed food but not all. You just have to dig a bit.

So someone asked me how I save money on produce and I figured I'd just blog about it really quick so I'd have a reference source to send people instead of just answering over and over.

But I have to say first, I am lucky enough to live near YDFM, so I have easy access to inexpensive fresh produce (organic and conventional). To be honest, that is the short answer of it - when I shop at YDFM, I spend less than I spend at regular grocery stores and my cart is full of ingredients, not finished products. If you can find a place like this near you, that's what I'll say to do - don't fuss with coupons or sales, just buy the cheapest you can find.

Around here (in the greater Atlanta area), there are also so-called "ethnic" grocery stores and they almost always have super cheap produce (and produce I can't find anywhere else) - Super H-Mart, Cherian's International Groceries, Patel Brothers, the Buford Highway Farmers Market, etc. (Plus, if you have a Super H-Mart near you and if you sign up for a shopper card, they also send you coupon books every few months with produce deals galore in them.)

Also, I haven't bought the paper in months and I almost never use the coupons from those circulars. I rely on printables, apps, and other deals instead.

Other ways to save money on produce with coupons:

Look for the marked-down stuff in the back of the store! Here, my local Kroger stores do this regularly. I've bought barely browning bananas for pennies and frozen them to make smoothies and "ice cream." I always see bruised fruit or veggies that are on their way to mush but still edible. If my budget was even tighter than it is now, I'd buy from there constantly.

Buy in season! Out-of-season fresh produce = more expensive. Find out what's in season in your area and buy that to get the best prices.

Frozen frozen frozen! Many studies have shown that frozen veggies are as good as - sometimes better than - fresh. Plus it lasts longer (how many times have you bought fresh stuff and had it go bad? Just me? I doubt it...). I can get a big bag of frozen spinach for 99 cents and I put that in everything. Frozen peas are awesome. Frozen broccoli rules. I buy a lot of frozen produce. Store brand, mostly. But there are almost always coupons for the national brands and this is particularly awesome when you can combine it with a sale.

Apps! Ibotta (referral link!), Savingstar, Checkout 51. All three almost always have rebate deals on fresh produce - Savingstar has a weekly 20% deal, Checkout 51 has given me money off of bananas, oranges, and salad mix, to name a few. Ibotta has deals all the time. There are downsides to this strategy - you have to save your receipt (hi, husband who never remembers to do this), take a picture of it within the app (and scan the bar codes of things you bought - that takes 1 second though), upload it, and wait to be credited. It's an extra step to save money but for me it's worth it. Then all of these apps have a minimum threshold for cashing out, so this is not fast. But it's money back for produce, and I'll take it. Also check out Shopmium (referral code - please use it! - GMMKKUWC, and you'll get a free Lindt chocolate bar when you do, which is LIKE a vegetable...), which kicks back your savings to you without a minimum, and BerryCart, which is all organic/healthy products, including produce.

Target! Target will text you coupons if you sign up for them, and I have seen fresh (and frozen) produce deals almost every week.

Digital coupons! Kroger has digital coupons for fresh stuff often (usually its house-brand organics).

Printables! Especially the printables from Mambo Sprouts (all organic/healthy stuff), but poke around on coupons.com, smartsource.com, redplum.com, and also coupons.target.com (some are Target store coupons - and some stores consider Target a competitor and take 'em too - and some are manufacturer).

Overage! Sometimes you have to buy something you don't want/need (DONATE IT) because it's not only free but your coupons/savings give you more back than the item costs - and then you can apply that extra to your produce. Rare these days, but it does happen. How do you find out about these deals? Well...

Bloggers! Find the bloggers covering your area/your local stores and follow them! They do all the legwork for you. I don't know what I'd do without Michelle from iheartpublix and iheartkroger. (I also like Southern Savers.) MoneySavingMom and CouponMom also cover grocery stores across the country. Let them tell you what's on sale and how to maximize that sale! They often highlight produce deals so watch for those in particular - and scroll by what you won't buy/use/eat.

Go to the brands themselves! Find Facebook or webpages for produce "brands" and sign up for whatever you can. Check packages too - some brands of strawberries, for example, or packaged lettuce blends, definitely offer printables and bonuses and deals. Basically, look for any spot where you might be able to get a discount and sign up for it.

And finally, yes, there are circular coupons for produce. Usually it's for frozen/name brands (Birds Eye, Green Giant, etc.), but sometimes it's for fresh (I've seen coupons for oranges, pomegranates, lettuce....). Also sometimes they come in the form of "Buy this one thing, get this produce thing for a discount/free." If you're buying the first thing anyway (like...buy cereal, get strawberries), this can work out well for you.

Then stretch what you get. Buy in bulk if you find a great deal and freeze (I did this with fresh organic strawberries when they were at their peak - cheapest and sweetest - a few months ago, and I plan to use them in January when it's dark and cold). Make a soup (and freeze it). Sneak everything into pasta sauce. Etc etc etc. I also adore BudgetBytes for recipes that are inexpensive and full of veggies.

I will update this post if I think of more tips, and I welcome your comments on how you save money on fruits and vegetables because nom nom nom!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Current Favorite Recipes and Getting Out of a Rut

The only way to get out of a writing rut is to crawl my way to the edge and up and out, I suppose.

In an effort to save money and to stop going to the amazing, beautiful, fabulous restaurants that surround me where I live, I've started actively cooking again. Before this "I'm cooking, look at me go!" moment, my husband mostly was the family cook. He is amazing for doing this, first of all. Second, his skill is opening a pantry of ingredients and throwing things together - often within a short period of time - to produce a dinner that the entire family will eat. That way of cooking impacts how we grocery shop to a large degree - we buy ingredients without thinking exactly of how they'll fit together. They just will.

Plus I am a Lifetime Weight Watchers member. I don't track anymore (oh I have the best of intentions some mornings - and by midday I've given up again) but I have maintained my weight for well over two years and don't want to screw that up. I am very mindful of ingredients, portions, calories, and so on. I don't skimp, necessarily, but I am careful. And I like to eat as little processed foods as possible and there are some ingredients that I avoid as much as I possibly can.

What we usually have for dinner when he cooks: A grain (whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice), a protein (we keep a vegetarian house even though now my husband is not vegetarian and my daughter is not when she's out and about - he's not a fan of tofu but I am, we also use seitan, beans/chickpeas, and the occasional faux meat - usually Gardein, sometimes other brands depending on what's on sale). Vegetables of all kinds - usually fresh but sometimes frozen, almost always organic but sometimes not. A sauce - he's a big fan of all kinds of sauces and spices and will make/mix/create with them. And we almost always have a "salad," whether that's a bag of greens rinsed and put into bowls or something fancier. (I used to eat my salad first but now he's taught me to have it after my main course. It's just what we do.)

But sometimes I am just tired of that combination of things. Of course all I want to do is say "let's go out to eat!" but our financial situation is, as a household of two freelancers at the moment, precarious on a good day. Our local restaurants are just amazing. Just....amazing. But we cut back to maybe once or twice a month, and we order carefully.

Cut to me realizing I need to cook more. I've always loved to cook, I even did cook every so often, but it's easier to just let my husband take over. My way of cooking is more often than not to find a recipe I like (blogs, friends' recommendations, cookbooks...) and follow it as closely as I possibly can. When I realized "Hey, I need to cook more because that produces the more complex kinds of dinners I like - the ones I'm craving in restaurants," I started seeking out recipes that could become part of a routine.

I am lucky to be friends with a woman who plans her meals very, very carefully and who already had this sort of stable of recipes established for her family. They eat very little meat, so most of her favorites are either already vegetarian or easily adapted. She recommended a few blogs to me, and I added them to my repertoire.

So here is a list of recipes that I make on the regular for my family. Most are from Budget Bytes and Skinny Taste. My daughter eats the things on this list sometimes. I will make notes as to how I modify them for her. This list, this entire post, is just to climb out of the rut. Sorrynotsorry if it's not complete or exciting or helpful. It just is what it is.

http://www.budgetbytes.com/2012/05/mediterranean-quesadillas/ - When I make this, I make 8-10 at once and freeze most of them, each individually wrapped in foil and placed into a large plastic bag. They cook from frozen beautifully and I love that I have many lunches already made ahead of time. But I save a plain tortilla for my kid and I make her a quesadilla with cheese, black beans, and spinach instead.

http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/05/italian-wonderpot/ - Fast and easy and the kid eats it with no modifications except that I give her Parmesan instead of feta.

http://www.budgetbytes.com/2014/03/portobello-polenta-bowls/ - I make these for my lunch all. the. time. I make a batch of polenta ahead of time and just scoop some out every day and cook up some fast mushrooms/spinach and throw on the feta and sauce. Divine.

http://www.cooks.com/recipe/b93hx9nf/easy-homemade-flour-tortillas.html - I have learned how to make tortillas, but I haven't learned how to make them round. Suggestions on this problem are welcome. I halve this recipe and use a blend of 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 cup of regular flour. (I also like to use Trader Joe's whole wheat tortillas because they don't have any crazy ingredients and are inexpensive. I have yet to find a regular grocery store brand of tortillas that has such a short ingredient list.) (Next up: Try to make corn tortillas.)

http://www.skinnytaste.com/2013/06/quinoa-and-spinach-patties.html - These feel like they take forever to make/cook but they are delicious and are excellent hot or cold the next day too. The kid eats these though she whines while doing so.

http://www.skinnytaste.com/2012/10/spaghetti-with-creamy-butternut-leek.html - The kid eats this and really that's the end of that. It's so easy.

Two pickle recipes that I've made:
http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/07/easiest-fridge-dill-pickles/ - I love staring at Smitten Kitchen's recipes a lot but have yet to make anything beyond this.

http://www.laaloosh.com/2014/06/17/spicy-cucumber-salad-recipe - I ate this daily for all of June and much of July. 

http://www.laaloosh.com/2014/01/15/kidney-bean-salad-recipe/ - Super easy and absolutely gorgeous.

http://mydarlingvegan.com/2013/09/baked-apple-cider-donuts -  It's fall! It's time to make these apple cider donuts over and over and over...

http://www.snack-girl.com/snack/homemade-donut-recipe/ - More donuts!

Also I have been making pizza once a week using premade dough from either YDFM (usually) or Trader Joe's. I'm learning new ways to make that better but have yet to leap to a pizza stone and peel. I know, I know. I use a Dollar Tree pan. It works. I have my eye on this simple dough recipe but haven't done it yet - premade dough is only $1.20 or so: http://moneysavingmom.com/2009/02/homemade-pizza-in-less-than-30-minutes.html Last night I actually made pizza using TJs dough and I tried making it on the *back* of the Dollar Tree pan and...that worked very well.

So there are some of my latest tricks. I have a clipboard hanging on the wall onto which I clip any recipes that I've printed out, so I have sort of a makeshift and ever-growing cookbook there. I probably should use my actual cookbooks more often. Maybe that's a post for another day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

#contest! Dial Coconut Water Refreshing Mango Body Wash: Review and Giveaway

The Dial brand provided me with a sample of Dial Coconut Water Refreshing Mango body wash plus coupons in exchange for a product review. Everything you see here is my own personal opinion and was not influenced by the freebies or anything else.

This is what Dial Coconut Water Refreshing Mango body wash looks like. See? See.
When I signed up to try out Dial Coconut Water Refreshing Mango Hydrating Body Wash (say THAT five times fast), I hadn't gotten stuck in the "thrifting post" rut. And now I'm trying to get my head around telling you nice things about body wash. This one is good though. It feels moisturizing, it smells good, it made me feel clean. I think that the idea of coconut water - drinking it, washing in it - is a bit overhyped (the New York Times agrees with me - and also mentions this Dial product line of all things), but it does make for a nice product, and Dial won't break the bank. Trendy ingredients, good smells, fruity stuff, and you can grab it at your local grocery store for cheap? Sure! I recommend it.

I have two free product coupons available to give away. I'll keep this contest simple - but do note that I am a small enough blogger who gets few enough entries that I have time to vet every single one. If you type random words or don't answer my questions in the Rafflecopter widget, I will delete every entry and you won't win this fabulous prize. This really happened to me in my last contest and it was disheartening. Just jump through my hoops, OK?

Contest runs August 4-10, 2014. United States addresses only, please.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sorry Not Sorry: The Thrifting Posts Continue! - July 22, 2014

First: A SHOUT OUT to my new friends. You know who you are. Whee! SHOUTY!

So I thought for sure that 50 cent day was last week, but no. The store's calendar said yes, but the staff said that it was this week. Last week I bought one thing - some dividers for drawers from the Container Store for $2. This week I bought....many things.

(Not shown: I bought two cardboard storage boxes with handles to corral more of the overwhelming paper mess in my house. I'm going to cover them with cute paper. Probably. Maybe.)

All the clothing cost 50 cents per piece. (The store does a monthly clean out where anything that has been in the store longer than...it seems about 2 months...gets marked down. This is my happy happy place.)

Oh, sorry, were you napping? Didn't mean to wake you...

Brown sleeveless Merona top.

Suuuuper cute Ann Taylor Loft skirt. The ribbon belt is adorable. It's greener in person.

Stripey button down shirt because I need button down shirts again. AT Loft.

This innocuous, squishy, foldy bit of fabric is in fact a yoga-pants-material squishy skirt. It's Merona and it kind of reminds me of a maternity skirt I loved to pieces - except not maternity.

Dockers dress! (So classy that I left the doorknob in there.) This one has a story - I've been eyeing this dress for a while now but I wasn't interested in paying $8 for it. The last time I hit 50 cent day, I was pretty sure this dress would be on those special racks, but the staff hadn't had time to look at the dresses at all. I skipped last month's 50 cent day. Today I saw that it was still on the rack and I was POSITIVE this should be marked down - so I grabbed it and asked, noting the magic number on the tag. "Oh, yes! Definitely." Yeehaw. It's cute on too.

Some sort of plain gray shirt.

Again with the jeans. I know, I know. Abercrombie though. And next to them, that thing is a long black stretchy skirt, just trust me.

Really cute AT Loft shirt. More button downs, see?


This shirt is good but not great, but it's American A*parel (yes, I starred it - I don't want this to come up in search because that company is problematic - but they do make cute, soft shirts).

This is the robot portion of the post. ROBOTS. Does this shirt fit me? I have no idea, I didn't try it on. Will it fit my kid? Maybe. BUT ROBOTS. So I bought it.

ROBOTS. ALL THE ROBOTS. Same story as above.

SERIOUSLY, MORE ROBOTS. Same story. ROBOTS.

I went back and forth on this shirt (what does it mean?) but it fit well and it's a Bella shirt (nice, soft) so eh 50 cents, sure.

Shorts for the kid!

A sister shirt to the other Snoopy shirt I bought recently!

Talbots skirt. Fits well, flares out in a nice A line. Love.
ALSO:

Old-style Candyland for a dollar. The cards are possibly not all there and some are bent, but the board is perfect - we can use it with the spinner from the (weird, overwhelming, sensory-overloading) newer version we have.
Tadaaaaaa. Thrifting!

Monday, July 7, 2014

All I Post Anymore Is Thrifting Posts and I'm Sorryish - July 7, 2014

I have so many posts in draft form for this blog. Blood and guts and my heart spilled on the screen. And that's just it - I simply haven't yet felt comfortable enough to be like some of the bloggers I admire and SPILL THAT for random people. The few regular readers. The possible chance that I'd get picked up by some mean site or go viral for good or bad reasons. The potential for family members to find this. (I think one of you already has, hi.) The voice in my head telling me I can't write for shit. All that.

So instead I am giving you another thrifting post. If you're wondering why I bother, well, I do actually still use these posts to go back and see what I've bought/what I have worn. I am trying to use them to help me weed out the stuff I bought "for only a dollar!" that I never use that's taking up space.

I had my delightful day of escape on Tuesday. No special sales, no special reason, just wanted to hang out with my friend. We went to two thrift stores and that was it. And Starbucks.

Store one was the animal store. Nothing was more than $2. I was more restrained than usual (trust me, I was) and put a few things back that were just eh.

Look - I tried to take nicer pictures this time. And I LOVE this dress. It fits me really nicely and it sort of flows out at the skirt. This picture makes it look frumpy but I feel really cute in it. I just have to find a reason to wear it. I think dresses are $2.

Wait. I bought a plain black T-shirt what? $1.50

I didn't know how to set up a cute photo of jeans so I gave up. They're Old Navy and they were $2.

An Old Navy sweater because I am forward thinking. $1.50?

This blueish American Eagle top is cute but I really loved the buttons on the sleeves (which you can barely see in this picture) and the color (which is lighter blue in person).

Yes, another brown sweater. Wait, this isn't the last of them either.

I know it's a black T-shirt but the scoop neck is different!

My friend found this for me. It's American Eagle too and the clouds are embroidered.

I shouldn't have bought this, but I couldn't make myself put it down either. So I did. And it's cute so there.

My kid's size clothing is still 50 cents per piece. If she ever gets bigger, it will go up to a whopping dollar, but for now it's pretty awesome.

And more 50 cent things.
The only book I allowed myself to buy. I had the paperback version of this long ago but I was really happy to find a great condition hardback. Adorable. $1.

Not shown: A Lionel train T-shirt for my husband.

And then the other store. What you won't see is that I accidentally bought an Alabama Tide shirt thinking it was something else. It was $3 and fit really nicely but I have no interest in college football (and I'm mad because I put back a BUNCH of things to save money including a mug tree that I wanted to make into a washi tape holder and I'd rather have had that). SO. I sold it to someone for $5. And that covered the two sweaters below - all sweaters were on sale for a dollar:

It's Old Navy and is browner in person.

Gap, and it's really really really soft. And less boring on than it is on the hanger.
I also bought two nifty mugs for a quarter each - one red and giant, one light green and squared off - that I plan to decorate and resell or gift.

And that is that.

I do hope to someday get back to writing meaty interesting posts about things like my kid and cerebral palsy and my life.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ugly Pictures, Cool Clothes - Thrifting Post! - May 31, 2014

First: If you are reading this post on Livejournal DO NOT COMMENT ON THE LIVEJOURNAL FEED. I don't ever see it. Comment on my actual blog by clicking through! I love comments! Lots of comments! Hooray!

Second: So. This is quite possibly my ugliest batch of photos ever, but I am too lazy to re-take them all in nice, posed shots with good lighting and angles and...well, you know. I just wanted to get these up quickly.

Yesterday was my last hurrah before the kid goes to camp this summer - her last day of kindergarten was Thursday (yeehaw! despite her cerebral palsy - or perhaps because of it! - she tested ahead of her grade level for reading. Also she says full sentences now, which is fabulous.) so I ran off to do a quick thrifting trip with my friend and then my kid and husband joined me and my friend for dinner.

We only went to one store - the awesome help-the-animals store. Apparently the shirts were all $1.50. The mug was 50 cents and the kid clothes were nearly all 50 cents, but I splurged like whoa on two "specially priced" pieces. Scroll by or don't - these pictures are dreadful but I didn't get much that was exciting either. I just like to have a record of what I've bought.

I really got a kick out of how the way I took this picture made it look like the mug was glowing. Ahhhhh, the choir sings, it's the holy grail. I just liked that it had a funky shape - it will likely be vinyled and sold.

Paper Denim and Cloth jeans - my second thrifted pair (the others are turquoise and were from Goodwill so cost way more). $2. I like how they fit.

So I guess Jack Wills is a thing in England, and my exhaustive research (read: one Swagbucks* search) tells me that this shirt likely cost around $40 new. Nice.

See how bad these pictures are? SO BAD. This is a cute cardigan-shrug that I will wear with dresses, I'm sure. I will. Really. I think this might have also been $2.

Cover your eyes. It's...a picture of a blob! It's a black, long-sleeved T-shirt because I need 100 of these. I think it's Old Navy.

Gray T-shirt! THRILLING!

Purple T-shirt! EXCITING!

Old Navy 3/4 sleeve shirt. I liked the buttons, wasn't 100% sure about the rest, bought it anyway.

Hideous picture of what is actually a lovely Converse One Star T-shirt. It's not neon, it doesn't glow, it doesn't hurt your eyes. I just am terrible at taking pictures.

It's actually a brown shirt. Oh I am so sorry to hurt your eyes like this.

Red waffle shirt from Old Navy. Smushy!

I don't even know what is going on here. I think this shirt is really blue. It's cute. I swear.

WHAT? It's another black shirt. And this picture makes it look like it's made of satin or velour or something. It's just cotton. I promise.

This blue 3/4 sleeve Old Navy shirt was in my maybe pile and then I bought it. It's fine.

Two pairs of denim capris for the kid that may or may not fit her skinny booty. One was 50 cents, I think? One was definitely $2 because it's Gap and that made it...pricier for some reason.

And these Gymboree jeans for her were also "special" and so a dollar.

Because she is.

This one has a weensy hole in the top left that makes me think it was a Value Village shirt first. It will likely be a spare in-the-backpack shirt or something.

It's just a plain shirt for the kid. I didn't notice it had a small pull on the top...but at 50 cents, with her being such a mess, whatever.

This terrrrrrible picture of a brown T-shirt shrugs goodbye to you. Then it hops away like a kangaroo. 
*That's a referral link.