Penny Pinchers


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Bargain Pot Luck Dish

By Julie Norman
Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Disclaimer: Everyone's bargain potluck dish will be different.

This weekend we were lucky enough to get to go to our friend's baby's FIRST birthday.  We've watched him grow, crawl and walk and we were super excited to get to see him taste his very first birthday cake.  Baby L's parents had planned a chili potluck: they provided the chili and the cupcakes/cake and we all brought side dishes.  My first thought was: tomatoes. We've had an abundance of them this year and so I knew whatever I made would involve those.  I also had plenty of basil growing in the backyard so I decided to make a caprese salad.  Because all I would need to buy was the fresh mozarella this would be a pretty cheap potluck dish! Keep in mind that the rule of thumb is that your potluck dish serve 8 people.

I ran into City Market on the way home and saw that the large packages of fresh mozarella were on sale for $5.  Score!  At home I pulled out a disposable aluminum pan and set about slicing tomatoes and cheese and washing basil.  In the end, I only used half of the fresh mozarella which means my potluck dish only cost me $2.50!

Now obviously if someone had to buy all of these ingredients it would cost way more than $2.50.  The point is to think about what you have and work from there.  Do you have a few too many over ripe avocados?  Guacamole!  A can of chickpeas and some tahini you thought you'd never use again? Hummus! Maybe all you have is a huge bag of apples you recently got at applefest.  Those apples are the start of plenty of great, simple salads OR the start of a lovely apple and cheese tray.  Gluten free folks will love you for that one.  So the next time you're invited to a potluck, look around.  You never know what you might already have on hand.  Starting with what's at home is one of the best ways to save money.

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5 mistakes people make when buying organic - and how to keep your budget in tact!

By Julie Norman
Friday, October 10, 2014

This article from the WallStCheatSheet provides a list of 5 mistakes people often make when it comes to buying organic foods at the grocery store.  It's easy to think that if one organic item is good then lots of organic items are better! BUT those items can add up to big bucks. My own rules these days, as I've mentioned before, are to stick to the Dirty Dozen list in the produce department.  Apples? Organic.  Broccoli? Not so much.  In other areas of the store I buy what's on sale.  If the regular Safeway brand of chicken broth is cheaper than the O Organics brand, I buy that.  Often times though the O Organics brand is the same price! This past week both options were 2 for $5 (32 oz containers) so I grabbed 2 of the O Organics ones. 

In the seafood and meat department I try my best to stick strictly to wild caught seafood (it's easy to find wild caught salmon or tuna 50% off in the clearance section.  I always sniff it first but I've yet to have a problem with it.) With meats I like to stick to Open Nature, O Organics, Boulder Brand sausage and Red Bird chicken.  There are a few instances when I'll resort to "regular" meats: whole chickens for roasting and pork roasts.  There are times when you can get an entire chicken for $5.  The organic version will often be twice as much.  Open Nature brand pork roasts are often $6/lb...that's a LOT.  The regular ones are more like $2/lb.  So I'll make exceptions.  If we're eating the "good" stuff the majority of the time then I figure it's ok.  PLUS sometimes I end up scoring a really good selection of organic brands on clearance.

Example: Last week I meandered over to the clearance beef section and found 4 top sirloins - Open Nature grass fed - for 50% off.  I snatched them all up.  I also regularly stock up on 50% off packages of Open Nature chicken thighs.  Right now we've got 3 leftover chicken thighs and a couple of packes of top sirloin in the freezer.  On Sunday I'm making a big mix of shredded chicken and beef tacos.  I'm throwing some top sirloin and the chicken thighs in the crock pot with cumin, chili powder, garlic, etc and letting them cook on low most of the day.  Then we'll shred it, have dinner, leftovers and probably some to freeze. So we'll get 6 meals out of that at least. It was all organic and on clearance! Two of my favorite words :)

Finally, the dairy section...I do buy organic milk because the difference in price between organic lactose free and regular lactose free is less than .50/cents usually. I do however buy plain old Safeway brand cheddar and mozarella cheese. Eggs depend on what's on sale. If I have a coupon for Land O Lakes "all natural" (NOT the same as organic at all) I'll buy those.  If the Open Nature eggs are the same price as the regular store brand eggs, I'll get the organic ones. What I really miss is having a friend at work who would bring me farm fresh eggs!

Anyway, that's enough about groceries for a while. Next up: Halloween!

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Clothes Upcycling

By Julie Norman
Thursday, October 2, 2014

Look I'll be the first to admit I'm not super handy when it comes to sewing.  I don't own a sewing machine.  I do have a small sewing kit, so if something needs heming or if a button needs to be sewn back on, I can handle that! Otherwise? Not so much.  BUT if you ARE the type of person who can do those sorts of cool things, then head on over to the New Dress a Day website.  

What started as just a fun website for Marisa Lynch blew up so much that she eventually published a book! Her original plan: buy one dress every day from a thrift store and, using fairly basic sewing skills, turn it into something fabulous.  Upcycling at its best! 

Want to learn more? Click the image to find out what she did to this Mumu.  What a great way to save money and be creative all at the same time.

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FINALLY! A budget-friendly week at the grocery store

By Julie Norman
Monday, September 29, 2014

I'm sure you guys are sick of hearing about me and the grocery store, but hey...it's the store I shop at the most!  This weekend I had the first under-budget week at the store that I've had in a while.  Yeah, it's been an expensive few months...we haven't wasted anything, but there have been trips and friends visiting...a camping trip...all of those things require "extras" from the store and those extras add up FAST.  This week though I managed to keep things in check by yes, making a menu. I know...you've heard me before decry the menu as causing extra expenses...but with a little compromising I think it can come in handy.  My method was:

  • Think about ingredients I had on hand (particularly meats and staples).
  • Look through my printed coupons, digital coupons and "just for you" Safeway coupons.
  • Look at the sale paper.
  • Get some new recipe ideas from Pinterest and Cooking Light.  
  • Put ALL of this information together to create a menu for the week.

It didn't really take that long.  I sat at the kitchen table Saturday morning and got everything all planned out. At the same time I scanned the dirty dozen list and made notes of which produce items to buy from the organic section (pears and apples this week). 

So what did I buy and what did I leave out? Well, I bought the meats I needed for a few recipes (some Candian bacon that I had a $1 off coupon for and some on-ale Al Fresco Chicken Sausage). I bought lots of produce: raspberries, apples, pears, broccoli, some mushrooms (buy the loose ones and you'll probably save $$ and know that none of them are slimey)...milk, eggs (I had a coupon for Land O Lakes all-natural), yadda yadda...I don't remember what else. All I know is that I got everything we needed and, in the end the total came to $79!  That included a $9 book of stamps!

What wasn't in the cart were store-bought cookies, bread, crackers, jarred tomato sauce or frozen pizzas. Not that there aren't healthy versions of all those things. There are.  We just don't usually buy them and definitely didn't need them this week.  What are your tips for menu planning?

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Organic Penny Pinching

By Julie Norman
Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gah! I really wish I'd had this list I'm about to share with you with ME this weekend when I was grocery shopping.  I've made a decision to buy more organic produce, but man does it put a strain on the wallet...fortunately there's the Dirty Dozen list.  I'm sure you've heard of it and its counterpart, the "clean 15." These lists show the fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated by pesticides (and therefore best to purchase organic varieties of) and the ones that are least likely to be contaminated (you can buy the less costly version and feel ok).

So what's on the list? 

12 Most Contaminated

Peaches
Apples
Sweet Bell Peppers
Celery
Nectarines
Strawberries
Cherries
Pears
Grapes (Imported)
Spinach
Lettuce
Potatoes


12 Least Contaminated

Onions
Avocado
Sweet Corn (Frozen)
Pineapples
Mango
Asparagus
Sweet Peas (Frozen)
Kiwi Fruit
Bananas
Cabbage
Broccoli
Papaya

I really wish I'd thought to look this up at the store.  I could have saved on avocado and broccoli! Still, it's good to know I was smart to get the organic apples and strawberries.  Food prices are constantly on the rise and keeping the food bill down is a chore.  I haven't been as good at it lately as I could have been...and in fact cursed myself for leaving coupons AT HOME! Still, what can we do but say we'll try better next week, right?  Sometimes I have to take the "pay more for the food now and less at the doctor's office later" approach and just suck it up. If we wasted quite a bit of food each week it would be different, but honestly we rarely throw out anything. Occasionally a bit of salad might get too soft, but that's about it.  Serious leftovers on the brink get tossed in the freezer to be used up at a later date. I take stock of what's in the produce bins a few times a week and make sure to use that stuff up.  Tonight, for example, we're having a vegetable lasagna to use up some spinach, peppers and zucchini from the garden. After that the rest of the peppers will probably get chopped and frozen for use later on. The freezer is a penny pincher's best friend it seems!

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