Penny Pinchers

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Backpack Penny Pinching

By Julie Norman
Monday, June 9, 2014

We take at least one backpack trip every year and usually our dinners consist of Mountain House dehydrated meals.  There's nothing wrong with the taste...what there IS something wrong with is the price! Each meal costs between $7 and $8.  If we take a third person then we usually end up with 2 meals a night. So that's $14 a night in food...over 4 nights...we've just spend $56 on food for BACKPACKING!  This year I've decided to take a different approach and this weekend I started figuring out how.

Safeway had O Organics blueberries on sale for super cheap because of "overstock" clearance. So I bought 2 small packages and dehydrated them.  These, along with a box of Safeway plain instant oatmeal, will be part of our "design your own oatmeal" breakfast.  I also plan to mix up a baggie of sugar, cinnamon and butter buds.  This is cheaper than Mountain House granola...honestly for all the blueberries and oatmeal I probably spent $6.  That should give us 2 meals; $3 per meal; $1 per person per meal.  The Mountain House granola is probably $5 a bag. And one bag feeds 1-2 people.

I had a FREE offer for a Horizon organics mac and cheese.  We're going to use that as a tester product to see how well the noodles rehydrate when just sitting in boiling water.  Then, if it works, we'll buy a cheaper mac and cheese and create a second meal with that.   I also bought a pound of ground beef yesterday (backpacking meals are supposed to be cheap, though they aren't always the healthiest...) for $2.44.  I browned the ground beef and dehydrated it.  We're going to combine that with a Hamburger Helper mix ($1.66) for another meal.  So that entire meal will cost us $3.66 for 3 people. I entire box of Hamburger Helper for 3 people? We should be stuffed!

Finally I plan to use a box of cous cous with seasoning.  It ONLY takes boiling water to rehydrate and we can then add some dried veggies (I've got peppers, onions and potatoes in the freezer) and a package of vacuum sealed chicken, for a third great meal.  Now we're down to one Mountain House meal, and if I can come up with another idea, we won't even need that! 

Even though some of these are still processed meals, I feel a little better about them.  I can add tons of veggies to these and I actually just remembered I've got some broccoli bits leftover from dinner the other night...those would be great in my Mac and Cheese meal!  Over the winter I dehydrated peaches and berries, so we've got plenty for our oatmeal.   I am hoping we'll discover a whole new way of cooking in the backcountry with some new and different "homemade" meals.


Frugal Friday Links: Investing!

By Julie Norman
Friday, June 6, 2014

So you've been saving by clipping coupons, consignment shopping and following the whole 'reduce and reuse' idea, but what do you do with all that money that you've saved?

Here are some tips and ideas from around the interwebs:

Brittney Castro of the MintLife Blog provides several tips here.  The best one she mentions is "automatic investing."  This basically means that if your company has a 401K you should be participating in it. I participate in ours and whenever I get a raise (no matter how small), I increase by 1% the amount I'm putting into my 401K.  Right now I think I'm at 10%.  Another way to "automatically" invest is to have money auto transferred from your checking acct to savings on the days you get paid.  That way you don't even notice that it's moved!  I do this too, putting somewhere around 12% of each paycheck directly into savings. 

If you're already participating in some "automatic" investments but still have some extra cash, maybe you should put it towards a vacation or start a vacation savings account.  I have friends who do this and it keeps them from putting their entire vacation on a credit card.  For more ideas on vacation financing, check out these tips from CNN.

Still not what you're looking for?  Then maybe real estate is more your thing.  There's a great article from US News here about buying vs renting.  There are both positives and negatives to buying a home, but if you can afford it and feel you're at a place in your life where that might work for you, it's worth looking at.  Owning a home means you'll always have a roof over your head; it means you can paint, add on to, renovate, xeriscape to your heart's content! (mostly). 

So hopefully these links and thoughts will give you some ideas of how to invest or spend all that money you've been saving.  Whatever you decide to do with it (even if you decide to do nothing with it right now) at least you'll be secure in the fact that you know how to save money and pinch pennies when you need to.


5 Penny Pinching Things

By Julie Norman
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I'm taking a page from the Frugal Girl today who was taking a page from another blogger friend of hers, the Non Consumer Advocate.  Frugal girl today listed 5 Frugal Things she's doing right now, so I thought I'd attempt the same:

1. I'm picking lettuce from the garden tonight for a salad.  I haven't had to buy as much lettuce at the store lately because our garden has been supplying us with plenty.

2. I rode my bike to work on Monday and today, which means I saved on gas!

3. I've brown bagged it 2 out of 3 days this week too.  Today I had a leftover grilled jalapeno hot dog from our cookout the other night, 2 pickles and a container of bell pepper strips with balsamic dressing.  How much would that cost at a restaurant I wonder?

4. I've added quite a few new coupons and "just for you" savings items to my Safeway card for this coming weekend's shopping trip. I will look through them all when making my menu for next week!

5. 3 out of 3 days this week I've worn items I've purchased at consignment shops and I've gotten compliments every time! Consignment shopping is awesome.  Go try it.

What Penny Pinching things are you doing this week?


The Grocery Store Experiment

By Julie Norman
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

You may remember that last week I wrote about changing grocery stores to see if I could save some money.  I thought that buying the extra amounts of produce lately had just made shopping at Safeway a little too pricey.  Sprouts was supposed to have great produce rates and I even mentioned that I could have saved money on some items I'd recently purchased at Safeway. So this past weekend I set out on my Sprouts/Walmart combo shopping trip.

Boy was I disappointed.

I'd had high hopes.  I thought this would be a great thing!  A new shopping experience! Nope nope nope nope nope. Here's what happened:  I was fine with Walmart.  I went there first for all my basics.  I got my Kraft salad dressing, my toilet paper and tissues, herbal tea, etc.  The prices were comparable or sometimes a little better than Safeway. The store was clean, the skylights were cool (way to be green, Walmart) and overall it was a good experience.  Then I went to Sprouts. 

There are quite a few people here at the Sentinel who love Sprouts.  I am not one of them. I'd been there once before and hadn't really been impressed.  This time was no different.  First, when I walked in the door I thought I was going to have to turn around and walk right back out.  It smelled HORRIBLE in there.  I'm pretty sure there was a rotten potato in a bin somewhere because nothing else smells like that.  Except, I've been in other stores where there were rotten potatoes, and even then I walked all over the store with a bag of potatoes with a rotten one and never noticed it.  So WHAT could have permeated the ENTIRE store with its odor?  I don't know.  So that was problem #1.

Then I began looking at the produce.  Signs proclaimed things like, "Lemons 4/$1!  Save .65 when you buy 4!"  Ok, but what if I just want one lemon?  Obviously that lemon isn't .25 if I'm saving .65 by buying 4 of them...Yes, I can do the math in my head, but it seems quite deceptive to me that there were no per item prices there.  Same with the pints of strawberries: 2 for $5!  Save blah blah amount when you buy 2! Well what if I only want one?  At Safeway and City Market if pints of strawberries are 2 for $5, then ONE pint is $2.50.  So therein lies problem #2.  I will have nothing to do with your deceptive pricing.  In the end I spent $15 more than my weekly budget.  This was the third week in a row that this had happened.  So, if it wasn't Safeway's fault, then what was it?

And then it hit me: the menus. Back when we first started this blog I said that I don't make specific dinner menus.  When I do, I spend more because what was once just "Wednesday: A risotto" becomes "Wednesday:  Shrimp and Asparagus risotto." I end up not being nearly as flexible and I don't buy what's on sale; I buy what I think I need.

So this week when I'm writing the grocery list I will look at what's on sale at Safeway.  I will purchase on sale O Organics meats and then I will create a menu based around what I've purchased and my pantry of staples. Because really, if you keep a variety of grains, pastas and tortillas on hand, along with crushed tomatoes and some basic herbs what can't you make?  I cannot WAIT to get back to my beloved Safeway!  I'll never doubt it again.

Want a pantry staples list? Here's a decent one from Real Simple.  Rachel Ray also has one in the beginning of her Express Lane meals cookbook.  It's a great option if you're trying to cook more at home on busy weeknights.


Frugal Friday Links: For a love of animals…volunteer!

By Julie Norman
Friday, May 30, 2014

Pets are expensive.  Maybe not as expensive as children, but definitely pricey.  They require lots of food, toys, vet visits...and for some people all that is worth the cost.  Owning a pet means you've probably helped a poor dog get out of the shelter, or taken in a poor cat off the street.  It's admirable! It requires responsibility and paticence and both of those are great qualities to have.  BUT pets will use up a lot of that money you've been saving. So, if you're thinking about getting a pet but also thinking about saving money...well, here are some other ways to get your "pet fix" without having to get one of your very own. 

1. Volunteer!  Places like Roice Hurst Humane Society are always looking for volunteers for everything from walking dogs to taking cats to the vet.  To find out more about their volunteer opportunities, click here.

2. Be a pet sitter.  If you have lots of friends with pets, chances are when they go out of town they need someone to watch their pets.  Be that person!  That way you're helping others save money, because they don't have to take the dogs to a kennel, and you're getting time with pets yourself.

3. Be a foster parent. Roice-Hurst and other groups often need foster parents for puppies to little to be adoped, animals that need extra socialization, etc.  They cover the cost of all vet visits and your costs are limited because the pets are eventually adopted into forever homes. Still, you get the knowledge of knowing you helped raise a happy and healthy pet.

Pet ownership is an important responsibility but so are other opportunities involving animals. Find your best way to help with these links and other resources online!

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