I Buy It 1/2 Off Or You Toss It!

Now THAT’s a good chunk of Manchego!I just had to write a quick post about my grocery trip today!

I wanted to get some Manchego cheese for a Mexican bean soup I’m making this week, but specialty cheeses can be very pricey and I didn’t have room in the budget.

I chose to substitute Monterrey Jack instead, even though the spanish cheese would have been ideal for the soup. I love cheese and zesty Manchego has a wonderful nutty flavor. I enjoy snacking on shavings like I would a fine parmesan. But I digress…

When I was at the store this morning I decided to look at the Manchego anyway, to see if by chance it was reasonably priced. I was out of luck. An 8 oz chunk was over $8.50. Sigh.

I examined all of the blocks, trying to find a smaller (and cheaper) size and came across one pushed under a display. It was still 8 oz and $8.50, though. Then I noticed it said “sell by 3-14” on the label. I wanted to use it for dinner tomorrow so it would still be just fine for me.

I took note of the expiration dates on the other packages and they were all set for June. Bingo!

I called over the deli attendant and asked if they would discount the cheese for me. She looked confused, looked at the cheese, then said she would get her manager. When he came over I simply said that I’d like to buy the cheese for half off because the expiration date was in 2 days. He said that they don’t usually do that.

I said, “what are the chances that someone is going to come in here to buy this piece of Manchego in 2 days? Either I buy it half off now or you will have to throw it away.”

He looked at me, smiled, and discounted the cheese by half with a marker.

It was like a rush for me. I’ve never done that for cheese before! I got the specialty cheese I wanted for only $4.25 and they made a sale on something that would have been wasted. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Next time you are wanting something pricey and perishable, check out all the available items and see if any packages are within days of expiring. If you find one, put on your sweetest smile and ask for a discount! If the item is a speciality item that doesn’t move quickly you have an even better chance to negotiate a lower price!

Have you been able to score a deal on something expensive because it was close to expiring?

One Week’s Food: Our Version

Last November, Eric wrote about an interesting photo essay by Time magazine called “What the World Eats”. We were so inspired by those photos that Eric and I set out to create our own photo. If you haven’t seen this series of photos yet, make sure to check it out. It’s truly fascinating (and sometimes humbling) to see what families around the world eat in a week.

Here is my family’s photo:

One Week of Food
United States: Family of two in Texas

If you mouse over the food items, you should get a popup that tells you what the item is. This food is what we are actually going to eat this week. We tried very hard to make it as accurate as possible; even including condiments and cooking oil. But, instead of showing the actual amounts and varieties of spices we used three bottles to represent all the spices. I also didn’t have a small enough bottle of canola oil so I substituted a bottle of almond oil in the photo.

So, what’s on the menu? This week, Eric is attending an intense class to prepare for his big certification. This means he will be gone until late in the evening every night. I wanted to make dishes that would reheat well for lunches and late dinners. I also wanted to make some of Eric’s favorites so he has something comforting to look forward to during the tough days ahead.

The menu:

Sunday Roasted Chicken Legs w/ Veggie Medley
Monday Chicken Tomatillo Enchiladas w/ Black Beans & Yellow Rice
Tuesday Chicken Divan w/ Rice
Wednesday King Ranch Chicken
Thursday Pork Adobo w/ Baked Sweet Potatoes
Friday Leftovers
Saturday Leftovers or Turkey & Cheese Sandwiches

Breakfasts will be cereal for me and granola bars for Eric. For lunch, Eric gets leftovers from the night before (or a turkey & cheese sandwich) with a fresh salad and nuts and I’ll have soup, sandwich, or a Hot Pocket (they were on sale). Dessert will be peppermint ice cream. This is the only time of year they have this flavor and we both love it!

Actual cost of the items we bought from the store: $67.25
Estimated cost of additional ingredients from home: $9.15
Total expenditure for one week’s food: $76.40

That is right on target for getting my food budget back on track. Our monthly budget for groceries is $350 but I try to aim for $75 a week. It feels good to be budgeting again!

One of the USA’s families spent $350 a week for food! Granted, they had two teenage sons but wow! Judging by the brand name and fast foods I see in their photo I have to assume they weren’t eating on a tight budget.

I would love to see other frugal-minded people do the same sort of “what the world eats” photo. Lots of American families eat really well on a budget. What would your photo look like for a week’s worth of food? Consider doing your own version and sharing it with us!

If you create your own version please trackback, pingback or send me an email – I’d love to link to it.

Almonds Yogurt Cilantro Diet lemon lime soda (store brand) Cream of chicken and mushroom soup Cream of mushroom soup Chicken broth Black beans Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce Tomato sauce Diced tomatoes with green chiles Lemons Yellow onions Green bell pepper Tomatillos Roma tomatoes White onions Sweet potatoes Frozen broccoli Frozen veggie mix Jalapenos Garlic Limes Peanuts Coffee Romaine lettuce Salad dressing Mushrooms 2 cans of soup Spices (cumin, garlic powder, others) Parmesan cheese Eggs Sliced pepperjack cheese Peanut butter granola bars Inglehoffer sweet hot mustard Sour cream Peppermint ice cream Hot pockets (pepperoni pizza) Canola oil Shredded cheddar cheese 1 stick of butter Long grain rice Mayonnaise Flour tortillas Corn tortillas Breakfast cereal Walnut multigrain bread Turkey lunchmeat Pork tenderloin Chicken legs quarters 1% Milk

One Week’s Food

I came across this photo essay on the time.com website a while back. It shows a picture of a family and the food they eat in a week, along with the price and a few of their favorite foods. You can find the link here. It’s well worth a look.

A few things surprised me when I looked at this. I actually read through it a few times.

Is this how much people typically spend on food? I’ll have to admit that for a very long time I never paid attention to the food bills. I just bought what I wanted at the grocery store, usually going without a list, and then paid at the end and never tracked what I spent. As Melissa and I chose to live fully aware of our spending, we started tracking our food bills very closely. On an average week, we live on about $75 worth of food. When the month is tight, we can pull that weekly total down to $50 (and have managed to get it down to less than $40 when we had to). Some families (granted, there is going to be some difference based on currency exchange) spent nearly $500!

The American family from North Carolina had virtually no fresh food. I see some meat up front, a few tomatoes, and some grapes. The rest of it was processed food and fast food. Their expenditure for a family of 4 was nearly $350! In the US, to eat cheaply is seems that you have to buy processed food (you know, the kind that’s always on sale and has really good coupons). In our case, our most expensive weeks are when we have the most fresh food. There are never coupons for the fresh food. One thing I did notice was that there was a lot of fast food and that isn’t cheap. Their food bill is $1400 a month!

Another thing I noticed was that in many of the photos the families had large amounts of soda. Soda is an expense that is completely unnecessary in my book and it holds zero nutritional value. I wish I could convince Melissa of this but she just won’t give up her soda.

Some of the poorest locations had the most fresh food. The people from Chad had nearly nothing. The people from Ecuador had almost exclusively fresh food. The most healthy way to eat, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, was enjoyed more by the poorest countries, and less by the wealthiest. Why is that?

The discrepancy in costs was also amazing. The people in Germany spent $500 a week on food, while the people in Chad spent $1.23! That’s an enormous difference. I know there are reasons for the differences, but it still shocked me. Honestly, if I were spending $500 a week on food, I don’t think we’d be able to afford it! That’s $2000 a month (roughly). That’s double the house payment!

I also found it fascinating to see what people in different countries eat. I had no idea that frozen pizza was so popular around the world. Or that people drank quite so much soda. Just seeing the volume differences was interesting too.

Overall I just found the photos amazing and really appreciate that Time did this photo essay. Once we move I think I might try to put together a photo of what our family eats in a week and the total amount of money spent. I think that would be pretty interesting.

Couponing Strategies – “Separate And Save For Sales”

Special coupons go up front!If you already read Couponing Successes posted earlier today you will be familiar with the examples used in this post. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure to check it out.

The reason most of the coupons I used this weekend were about to expire (literally, they expired that day) was because I was holding on to them waiting for the best deal. I had been holding onto to some of them for several months at that point. I find that it isn’t always the best plan to immediately use those freshly clipped coupons unless the items happen to already be on sale (e.g. Walgreens frequently runs sales corresponding with the newest coupons).

When I’m clipping coupons I set aside the very best coupons I definitely want to use and keep them separate from the rest by paper-clipping them at the front of my coupon file. The rest of the coupons that I might use get sorted into the pockets based on product type (breakfast, cleaning, etc). Don’t put the “gotta use” coupons in with the maybes. Nothing is worse than throwing away really useful coupons because you forgot about them before they expired. This happened to me with a good “get one free” coupon and I’ll never let that happen again.

Every week, when I go through my file to do the shopping list, I look at those coupons first and see if I can pair them with a sale. If not AND they don’t expire that week they go back into the paperclip in hopes that the following week there will be a sale. I also jot down these items on the bottom of my shopping list to remind me to check on those specific products for unadvertised sales when I’m at the store.

None of the expiring coupons I used this last weekend matched a sale opportunity before that day so they were still left in that paper-clipped bunch.

For the special coupons that were about to expire I had to decide if it was worth using them or not. Most were NOT worth using because they were either:

Some of these rejected coupons I left for other shoppers next to the products in case they wanted them. It was a busy day so hopefully someone saved some money with them.

I had compelling reasons for each of the coupons that made the final cut. In the case of the BBQ sauce it wasn’t on sale but they had bonus size bottles which still made it a good deal to use the coupons.

I have never seen the Bertolli meals go on sale but by waiting until the last moment to use these coupons I at least got a chance to find a deal. In the end, I simply had to use them or give them away. I opted to use them because it was something we found very useful but would only buy with a hefty coupon to lower the price.

The soda (Sprite) I had a coupon for was actually on sale but at $3.39 a 12-pack it wasn’t a very good sale. I was about to abandon the coupon when we spotted that most of the generic soda was eerily missing. We then spied an in-store coupon that gave us a free 12-pack of store brand soda for every 12-pack Coke product we got. At that point that coupon came in handy and helped us stock up on soda at a phenomenal overall price of $1.27 a 12-pack. Saving that coupon paid off big time.

I do not use this “separate and save for a sale” strategy on every coupon I have. I only give the high value coupons for items I already use this special treatment. The exception to this rule is when I find a “get one free” coupon. Even if I don’t need it I still redeem it (I only pay tax if applicable) and give the product away to friends to try. If you notice you are starting to use coupons to buy items you normally wouldn’t buy you might need to reevaluate your coupon usage.

The point behind manufacturers issuing coupons is for advertising and gaining first time and repeat customers. Sometimes irresistible coupons might encourage us to buy impulse items or products we don’t really need. You must avoid this temptation because this only increases your bill rather than lowering it. The primary goal should not be increasing coupon savings but should be focused on lowering overall grocery bills.

In other words, don’t spend additional dollars to save a few cents.

Couponing Successes

That’s a lot of coupons!This weekend I got my biggest coupon savings total ever – a whopping $40.05 or almost 30% on the bill.  I’ve had much higher percentages before but only on targeted trips where I only bought specific sale items and didn’t buy fresh food for the week.  Although I was thrilled, I was a little embarrassed because the checkers were so impressed they called over other employees (including a manager) to look at the total. 

As anyone will tell you, if you are eating primarily fresh foods this kind of savings is unlikely to happen.  We did buy a lot of fresh food but this week we also stocked up on some staples and convenience foods with coupons that were about to expire. This week was not representative of a normal shopping week for us – we typically save around 20% in coupons.

I thought I’d share some of the great deals we were able to find:

BBQ Sauce – Yes, BBQ sauce is usually cheap but we got it really cheap.  Eric eats the stuff by the gallon so we can’t afford to be too picky and get the gourmet stuff anymore.  We had 3 $1 off coupons for Bulls Eye BBQ sauce that we got from the paper.  The 18oz bottles cost $1.46 each so we figured $.46 a bottle was still a good deal.  But wait!  Are those bottles hidden behind the others labeled 55% more?  Yes!  So we scored 3 28oz bottles for $.46 each.  Nice!

Soda – I was running low on soda so we were hoping to find a deal this week.  I had a coupon for Sprite 12-packs for “buy 3 get the 4th free” but often the price is still too high to justify buying it over the store brand.  Sprite was on sale but only for $3.39 a 12-pack.  That’s not much of a deal, really.  We were surprised to see the store brand shelves wiped out of everything but the regular cola.  Turns out that they were having a promotion that if you buy a Coke or Sprite 12-pack you would get a free 12-pack of the store brand to try.  Wow!  Suddenly, my “buy 3 get a 4th free” coupon was looking pretty good!  We were able to get 4 12-packs of Diet Sprite AND 4 12-packs of off-brand cola for only $10.17.  That is about $1.27 a 12-pack!

Bertolli Skillet Meals – These are expensive (and surprisingly tasty) frozen bag meals for 2 that cook up in a skillet in 10 minutes.  They are pricey at $6.58 a bag.  We found $2 off coupons online and used those to buy 4 different styles.  At $4.58 that works out to be $2.29 a portion.  On those nights where we don’t have time or the inclination to cook these make wonderful and relatively cheap meals.  It sure beats ordering out!

Febreeze Noticeables – I recognize this purchase is not essential so I won’t buy refills until I see a sale.  The problem is that they rarely go on sale and at $4.49 regular price it is just too expensive.  I saw a rare deal at 2 for $7 and paired it with my $1 off 2 coupon.  Not earth shattering savings but the point is that I waited to buy these until they were at the lowest price point of $3 each.  Saving almost $3 is better than saving nothing!

Dijon Mustard - I had been hanging on to these Grey Poupon coupons for months now waiting for a possible sale to no avail.  These coupons were from the bottles themselves not from the paper.  After doing some price checking my $1 off coupons dropped the price below all the off-brands by over $.50.  It was a no-brainer to use these coupons even without a sale.  A sale just would have made it sweeter.

Believe it or not, there is actually a method to all of this.  Check back later today for the next post on this couponing strategy!

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