Penny Pinchers

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Free Superbowl Snacks! (and why I don’t have a grocery budget)

By Julie Norman
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Last Friday as I was planning my Superbowl snack menu, I got an email from Safeway telling me to claim my FREE offer.  Well I love a free offer, so I signed in to my Safeway Just For U account and, lo and behold, I had THREE FREE offers!

Those Red Hot Blues chips are a favorite of ours and we usually only have them on vacations.  They're $5 a bag! Immediately I formed a plan for the Superbowl. We'd have nachos using cheese I already had, and the Red Hot Blues tortilla chips. I could make guacamole with avocados that were already in the fridge too!  The Almond Dream ice cream bites would be a great dessert (especially for consoling ourselves after that horrendous loss). The milk...well, who can't use milk? In fact I had to open that carton this morning because I ran out of regular milk for my coffee.  THREE FREE items.  Not all weeks are like that, but even one free offer is still pretty sweet!

This is one of the great things about a grocery store's loyalty card.  They don't cost you anything and sometimes they hand out pretty great rewards.  Last week we had .50/cents off per gallon of gas at Safeway!

Which brings me to my next point...the grocery budget.  Lots of people have grocery budgets and I think that makes a lot of sense.  It's very easy to overspend or to buy unnecessary things when you're at the grocery store.  Having a budget can help you avoid the pitfalls of endcaps, "buy 2 get 1 free" offers and more.   I've tried the budget thing...I really have!  But it just doesn't work for me.  I get stressed about it and if I go over by $20 one week I'm just filled with ridiculous guilt. So instead of having a budget I try to just make good choices.  I don't buy much processed food and I check the clearance sections every week.

Just last week here's what I found: 

That was 3 lbs of chicken wings (each package 50% off), spaghetti noodles, a huge bag of flour, and a box of chicken broth...all 50% off! If I had set a budget for myself and already reached it I wouldn't have been able to purchase any of this! We had the wings for the Superbowl, the flour has already been opened and used when I was making pizza dough, and that carton of chicken broth is long gone. You just never know what you might find in the clearance bin! 

If you have to set a budget, I think maybe it's a good idea to include a separate, small amount per month for clearance items (if you can).  That way if you're like me and that budget is source of stress, you can still find a way to include clearance and unexpected grocery items.

So I guess my "budget" consists of sticking to the outside aisles of the store as much as possible (with an exception for grains, pasta, broth and tomatoes or tomato sauce) and checking the clearance bins. This way when I leave the store I can feel like I did a great job of purchasing good foods at good prices.  Side note:  I do have an actual budget of around $100 a week...sometimes I only spend like $60 and other times it's closer to $120.  We rarely eat out though, so all that food gets eaten...but I still don't like to focus too much on the budget.

Speaking of which, asparagus is on sale at Safeway this week for $1.99/lb!  I know what we're having this week!


Sweat is Free - Mt. Garfield

By Brittany Dale
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Happy Tuesday, readers! It's Free Adventure Tuesday!
No, you didn't miss something, I just made that up and don't expect it every Tuesday, I'm just spontaneous like that.

Last weekend we decided to take on a challenge that people have been talking about since the first day we moved here.

We climbed Mt. Garfield. Dun Dun Dun!

Photo: Panoramio (Google Maps)

I decided our little adventure was a great subject for Penny Pinchers because a great way to save money is to find free or nearly free activities, which can be more challenging than expected. We had an entire day of activity without spending a penny (not counting the 1/6 gallon of gas it took us to drive there).

If you are from the valley you know which one is Mt. Garfield. Based on the chatter we have heard about this mountain, most of you have probably attempted the trek. If you aren't from around here, it's the gigantic mound of sandy looking spines sloping straight to the sky on your right hand side as you pass by Palisade on your left. Okay, maybe that's a little exaggerated, but looking up at the summit from the parking lot, the trail may as well be ascending straight into a cloud.

The entire hike is a challenge. The first portion is a steep climb that makes you suck air like it's going out of style. The section that tight-ropes the sides of the huge castle-like structure on top is super calming. The rest of the climb is exactly that, a climb. Over rocks, around rocks, digging in your toes and grabbing whatever you can to keep yourself as close to the ground as possible. Despite the agony in some moments, it was incredibly rewarding, as most activities like this are.

See those? Those are HORSES. Horses are more agile than me! 

There are people who leap and bound up and down this mountain, I saw them, and my jaw dropped. I also read about a race that happens each year that goes up and over the summit. Loony bins, gazelle-like loony bins. I, on the other hand, used very technical skills such the skid on my butt until my pole catches something sturdy and repeat reassuring mantras while sideways-baby-stepping down the spines. They do it their way, I do it mine.

I wasn't convinced I was going to make it to the top. We decided that we were in no hurry, we would stop when we needed to and whenever we were finished would be fine. We made it up and back down in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Once we got up the spine part of the mountain, it was still challenging but less so-much-cardio-I'm-gonna-die! I was amazed when we finally reached the top. This valley that we live in is so beautiful. Even more beautiful is the feeling I had when I let it sink in on the car ride home that my legs took me there. My body is powerful and I underestimate myself too often. The fact that we came home with two exhausted dogs, sore bodies and spent no money was also a great feeling. Using the nature and opportunities we have here really makes me grateful for the area we live in.

My awesome little family. 

Leisurely hiking is an activity you, generally, don't need to buy anything for. Mt. Garfield is a step up from that. I wore my regular workout clothes and tennis shoes which I later realized was a mistake. To climb Mt. Garfield in January I would recommend hiking boots. One week later I still have a some nice shiners to prove tennis shoes don't quite cut it. The only other thing I would recommend is hiking poles. Given the incline and decline, the poles were very helpful. Outside of those two items, this was a completely free adventure. Tired dogs, good workout, no money spent; win, win, win.

Proof. Don't wear tennis shoes.

What's your favorite little or no-cost adventure in the valley? 


Let’s talk about cars

By Julie Norman
Monday, February 3, 2014


I've had the same car, Little Red Car, for 10 years.  She is the first car I purchased on my own; I have a soft spot for her.  In her 10 years Little Red Car has spent much of that time just tooling around town because I was working for a curriculum company from home.  Even today she gets to spend her time just making the 5-mile-round-trip commute to work with occassional side trips to the grocery store.  Little Red Car has had a pretty easy life and only has about 60,000 miles on her.  I haven't had a car payment in 5 years and that's pretty sweet. 

Last week, however, Little Red Car needed quite a bit of maintenance.  First she needed 2 new tires.  Alignment, tires, oil change...all that set me back about $275.  The tires weren't even expensive for my little car!  Things just add up. When I went to pick up Little Red Car, the tire guy told me that I really really really needed to have the Power Steering fluid and Tranmission fluid changed out.  Sometimes I forget that Little Red Car is 10 years old.  With so few miles on her some things get neglected.  So I drove her down to my favorite maintenance shop, Scotty's, and left her for the guys to work on.  A Transmission Flush is $175.  The Power Steering change was another $40 or so.  So...there went another $215.  GAH!  I was ready to pull my hair out! 

Right then I wasn't seeing the big picture.  I was seeing almost $500 leave my account in two days. Tuesday afternoon I was working on some automotive inventory updates for our site.  Even some used cars from as far back as 2007 were being advertised for over $20,000!  These are great cars in great shape and I'm sure they'll sell fast, but for me, seeing those numbers really put things in perspective.

  1. Little Red Car is perfect for what she does:  shuttle me around town during the week and rest on the weekend while we take the Subaru to Powderhorn, bike trails, etc.
  2. $500 isn't even 2 car payments on a new or gently used car. 
  3. Little Red Car means that I don't have a car payment.  Period. Her insurance is cheap, her registration is cheap and she doesn't use much gas.
  4. In the end, Little Red Car is in great shape. I do not need a new or different car that would require money from my account every. single. month.

Sometimes we think we "need" something...we see the paint peeling or the vinyl coming off the steering wheel and thing, "Well I need a new car!" But do you really? A car is just a vessel.  It doesn't define you.  Little Red Car is doing her job and doing it well.  She's getting me from place to place.  That's what's important.  She does her job without costing me an arm and a leg and most importantly, without breaking my budget!

(Photo by


Two very different ways to save

By Julie Norman
Friday, January 31, 2014

Brittany found this post from the Passionate Penny Pincher this week about standard prices for basic grocery items.  Keep in mind that the Passionate Penny Pincher is a couponer and so she's found ways to get a lot of items for free or very little.  Still, it's a good plan to at least have a roudabout idea of what you're willing to spend or what you think is a good price for items.

Do you have certain prices that you're willing to pay for particular grocery items?

My article this week is a link to that savings plan everyone has been talking about recently - the 52 week plan?  I'm sure you've heard of it.  It's the one where you save $1 the first week, $2 the second, etc. 

While on the one hand it's cool to see how much you could save, especially if you currently DON'T save, on the other hand this means that in December, that month of Christmas giving, you're putting $200 in your savings account.  I find it hard to think that people will have that much extra cash at the end of the year.   Here's the link to a blog post about it by Survival Mom:

For me an easier way to save has been to just set up automatic transfers from my checking to my savings acct for every time I get paid. That way I don't even think about it, the money just goes where it needs to.  What are your best ways for saving?


Bulk Up

By Brittany Dale
Thursday, January 30, 2014

Forgive me for missing Tuesday's post. I picked up a lovely stomach flu or something similar. I'll spare you the details but my brain was unable to produce a thought beyond breathe in, breathe out and don't go too far from the bathroom. While I'm not in tip top shape, I'm going to attempt coherent thought anyway!

Bulk stores! 8 gallons of dishwasher soap, what?! Buying food and other items at large quantities and highly discounted prices seems like a great deal. When thoughtfully considered; is it really?

I am often in conflict with myself whether or not it's actually a good deal to buy in large quantities or not. Are the savings really worth finding space for that 187oz jar of marinara sauce? 

From the price comparison and the blog strolling I have done, it seems that some items are a bargain and worth the trip, and others can be a rip off. There are other factors that could make or break your desire to make the extra trip and become a member.

Membership Fees: We are lucky in my household because we share a membership with my boyfriend's parents. By “share” I do mean, mooch off of and not pay anything for because they are gracious, loving people. We have decided that we wouldn't pay the membership price if we didn't already have one because we shop there so infrequently. Each family will be different of course. The membership dues may pay for themselves in one trip for some.

Family Size: My tiny family of two (plus dog food) has a small grocery need. We don't use a lot of paper goods like toilet paper or paper towels and we don't have to buy things like diapers. We also couldn't eat 10 pounds of bananas if you paid us. If you have children or multiple children, 200 bananas may actually be on your shopping list which makes a trip to Sam's worth any fees or trips.

Food preference: The foods that you buy most often may be cheaper at bulk stores. Dairy is a consistent money saver at bulk stores but my family barely gets through one quart of milk per week so buying 2 gallons at a time just would do us any good. Below are two links to posts about what to buy and what not to buy at bulk stores. If your favorite foods are on the buy list, then shopping at Sam's would be worth it, and vice versa.

Passionate Penny Pincher – What Should You Buy at Sam's Club?
Frugal Wife = Wealthy Life – What to Buy at Sam's or Costco (Carole)

Clearly I'm not the only penny pincher thinking about this subject.

The strategy that works best for my family is to stay away from anything not on my list; just like the regular grocery store. The $10 bags of mixed candies just behind the registers and the packaged foods they have in the middle of the store are huge money wasters for us. When it's on the list we do buy bags of M&Ms but I have to remind myself that we don't need any of the other stuff. I buy only what I know we will use and I do keep in mind what good prices for items are just to know I'm not getting ripped off.

The bottom line that I keep coming back to is everyone is different. The staples in my home may not be the same in yours. The only way to truly know the best place to buy groceries for your family is to understand what you buy and use consistently and the prices that you normally pay for them.

What's your vote: Yay or Nay for bulk buying? 

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