Tag Archives: Shopping

Supermarket Sweep

The “Financial Independence-or bust” trip my husband and I are on doesn’t always mesh with the other life-style goals on LifeImproved. In fact, often times the goals are down-right conflicting. For example, our household budget for groceries each week is $100. For us, this includes cat food and litter, alcohol, toiletries and cosmetics. It also includes any entertaining we want to do, such as inviting friends over for dinner. Let’s just say, we don’t end up handing out too many invitations–but when we do it’s an intriguing challenge and we really hope they like boxed wine.

On normal, non-entertaining, no-special-occasion weeks, in order to stick to the budget, or to come in under budget we cannot put too many organic, grass-fed, hormone-free products in our basket. Who am I kidding?! We can’t put any of these in the basket. Eco-friendly and organic quite often means wallet unfriendly.

I want to shop local. I want to shop organic. I really do. I am a huge believer in it. But the truth is that right now I am more of a believer in sticking to the budget. And I really only choose to shop local or organic if the choice is equally convenient and comparably priced– or not much more inconvenient or expensive than the alternative. This is something we are working on, though ,because we want to shop more Eco-consciously.

The good news is that we are making some real strides. The idea is that we eventually will have such control over our groceries that we can get higher quality meat, grains and produce, as well as the eco-friendly products.

Luckily, the goals of being eco-friendly, healthy and, well, cheap aren’t always divergent. The goal to produce less waste has helped shave a fair portion of the grocery budget in the form of not buying paper towels and napkins, not to mention Swiffer wet mop pads. Also, in my goal to create less waste and be more healthy I switched from store bought laundry detergent and cleaners to home made versions, and I also stopped buying boxed rice and pasta mixes. I have to admit, though, that my goal to reduce waste was only acceptable because it was an inexpensive alternative. I can make ten meals or side dishes with a 2 pound bag of brown rice for $1.50. So win-win-win. But if it had come down to a choice? I would have chosen to win on the budget issue first. I have been considering lately switching from cheap store-brand pancake mix to a home-made choice but the recipes call for too many other expensive ingredients that I would have to buy just for the mix and the cost is not justifying the healthier, less wasteful option… Not yet. Right now we are nailing the $100 a week budget. We spend about 30% of the budget on produce, 10% on meat, 10% on the cats and the rest on everything else. I cook using whole foods and we eat a diverse and healthy diet. The choices to substitute good, healthy choices with even better, healthier choices has to be deliberate and strategic.

These are my goals: get free range, hormone free meat; buy hormone free milk; buy fresh eggs laid by hormone free chickens; maintain or increase the level of produce we consume but get more organic varieties; replace the items that come in plastic bags with alternatives; and support local farms. But considering that to get the above in just a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, two pounds of chicken breast, two pounds of apples and and two pounds of bananas would probably be more than 30% of the budget (where as currently it is around 10%) some big changes are in order.

With those goals of getting more of the above, we have to continuously think of ways to reduce our grocery spending while still maintaining or increasing the quality of our products. We’ve been strategically planning all winter for this. Since we spend so much of our budget on produce, we just doubled our plot from last year and extending the planting season by starting a cool season in April. We should be harvesting radishes, lettuce and arugula by the end of May!

I am also researching the planting of edible perennials and annuals in my own garden. I already have a healthy herb garden and use and dry my own organic oregano, rosemary, chives, lavender, catnip, basil, parsley and sage. I plan to add more herbs and also replace some old burning bushes with edible currants or gooseberries. I just bought a black raspberry plant and a half-dozen strawberry plants.

You know what else helps save money at the grocery store? Free stuff. I am not talking about sending off for free samples, but I mean the stuff you can find in the great outdoors. I have big plans to kick up the level of my foraging this year. I highly recommend the book Foraged Flavor by Tama Matsuoka Wong. There are lots of books out there for edible plants but this one is wonderful! It has really clear photos, descriptions of the where to find the plants, how aggressive you should be with its harvesting, descriptions of how it tastes, and recipes!

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They don’t call them smart phones for nothing

I am not against spending money or buying things…just ask my husband. I just like to know that I am not leaving money on the table when I shop. A little bit of effort can support your nasty little latte habit…and loads of other bad habits.

If you shop online a lot, you probably already know this. But just on the off-chance that there are some of you out there that do not…I feel that I am honor-bound to share this information. Never, ever finish an on-line purchase without checking for online coupon codes. Ever. Even if it’s a small or local retailer. Popular (with me) sites are retailmenot and couponcabin but there are many, many more. I usually just use the search engine. For example, if I am shopping at, let’s say, Old Navy, I would type in “online code Old Navy” and see what comes up. Retailmenot and Couponcabin also have apps you can download on your smart phone. You can also use the apps Couponsherpa or SnipSnap, which I will discuss more detail below to see if deals are available for your purchase.

Now, are you ready to save some real money…or at least have your iPhone pay for itself? Then keep reading…

If you are at an actual, physical store, use an app called red laser to compare prices for other retailers on the items you are purchasing. Many stores will match the competition’s prices. If not, they may go ahead and offer some sort of discount. Many store managers are empowered to give a discount. Just ask. Most people don’t ask. You’d be shocked at what happens when you ask. One time when the manager could not come down any more on an item already on sale, my husband convinced him to throw in some batteries, just because. A reliable source told me that when he worked at Walmart one of his managers would routinely offer a 15% discount.

There are also many stores where you can upload a coupon instantly to your smart phone even if you forget it at home. For example, at Michaels or Hobby Lobby you can easily find the link to the smartphone coupon on their respective sites. However, not all stores make it as convenient. For those more inconvenient stores where you find the latest must-have, try downloading the app couponsherpa on your smart phone. Couponsherpa takes coupons from the web and allows you to access them on your smart phone. This app is my new favorite.

Several stores like Walgreens and CVS, have their own apps you can download and check for coupons at the store prior to checking out. However, deals at these sites tend to be item specific. For a fantastic blend of everything, try the app SnipSnap. Also my new favorite. On SnipSnap you and I and the rest of the planet upload coupons. Any coupons. Some may be of use to you. These could be on an item you are already buying, like, for example, Tide detergent, or for BOGO offers at restaurants, or to get a free something. If a coupon exists, people are uploading it. What this means for you on top of using everyone else’s great savings is that the moment your favorite Macy’s and Kohl’s coupons come in the mail, you no longer have to shove them in your car or purse and then forget all about them. You can put them in SnipSnap with a couple of quick photos and now you have them. Forever. Throw away the cards so they don’t litter your house, purse, wallet or car. Or, better yet, let someone else get the trash and let them upload it and just use theirs.

SnipSnap is the app I designed in my fantasies when I became frustrated with never taking my coupons with me. BUT, my dream app had one more fantastic feature. You could scan an item to figure out if you had a coupon for it, or could find a coupon for it, or could find a coupon for a similar item or category. SnipSnap stops short of that. That’s okay. These apps have come a loooong way in a short time and my perfect coupon app is sure to come.

When you first upload SnipSnap, try this: type in the word “free” in the search box. I bet you’ll find something tempting. For free. I would just recommend that you go inside and order to make sure the coupon works.

All of these apps are free. And they’ll bank you a lot of lattes.