Tag Archives: walmart

Reviewing 4 Top Coupon Apps for Android Phones

Two months ago, I began an experiment with couponing apps for my smartphone.  I downloaded IbottaCheckout 51MobiSaveCoupons.com, and Receipt Hog specifically for their offers and pay-outs.  I also have downloaded store-specific apps (like Walmart’s Savings Catcher and Target’s Cartwheel) that I’ll review at a later date. 

Disclaimer: I am not being paid in any way, shape, or form to review or endorse these apps. I mean, I’m getting deals and offers and such from them like any other user, but the companies behind these services haven’t given me anything special to talk about them. The apps are free to download. 

Sadly, Receipt Hog notified me via email that they do not have any spots currently available and their wait list is long.  Therefore, without further ado, I present to you FOUR of the Top Coupon Apps for Androids.

App Name:  Ibotta

Google Play Rating: 4.25 Stars (209k+ ratings)

Earned in First Month:  $12.65

My Thoughts:

The set-up was very simple and similar to other savings apps’ opening procedures.  I recommend looking over what’s offered before going shopping to match the rebates with other coupons and sales.  I just discovered that you can link your store loyalty cards to “unlock” rewards before you shop; my most frequently shopped store with a loyalty card is not on their list of Preferred Partners.

When you’ve done your shopping and maybe selected other rebates, you select the “Verify Purchases” button.  This leads you through two steps:  Scan Product Barcodes and Take a photo of your Store receipt.  On some items, you will not scan a barcode, like certain produce.  But since most items need to be scanned, this isn’t something you can do from the comfort of your bed or even your desk at work.  Depending on how your kitchen and pantry are set up, it may be easier to get this app going while you’re putting your groceries away.  After you’ve scanned your product barcodes, you’ll use the app to take photos of your receipt.  I have super long receipts all the time since I do bulk shopping and use shopper cards and coupons; this has to be my least favorite part of Ibotta, which has nothing to do with Ibotta and everything to do with lining up the edges and where I left off from the previous photo.

The amount you’ve aggregated in rebates goes into My Balance with which you can transfer cash to a linked PayPal or Venmo account or you can buy gift cards to places like Target, Olive Garden, JoAnn Fabrics, and more.  Of all of these options, your balance must be $20.00 minimum.

Ibotta is all about teamwork.  The social media accounts you link will be checked for “friends” that also use Ibotta, and without you lifting an extra finger, your teammates “work” together to save and earn towards Teamwork levels.  You also are rewarded for inviting friends; currently, if a friend joins Ibotta with your referral code, they receive a $10 welcome bonus and you receive $5.

There are more ways to save, like with Bonus Rebates and completing little challenges that differ each month.  These help you move along towards reaching that $20 threshold.  Without the sign-on bonus and these extras, it looks like it would take me a long time to reach that cash out amount.

Screenshot from my Ibotta account

Pros:  Easy to use; can select frequently visited stores to make finding rebates easier

Cons:  Required to scan product barcodes; like most coupons, these rebates are mainly for name brand or new products, both of which I tend to avoid

Verdict:  KEEP USING

 

App Name:  Checkout 51

Google Play Rating:  4 Stars (47k reviews)

Earned in First Month:  $1.00

My Thoughts:

The set-up was very simple and similar to other savings apps’ opening procedures.  I recommend looking over what’s offered before going shopping to match the rebates with other coupons and sales.

There is a very long list of offers each week that can be refined by selecting categories or stores.  There is not, however, a search bar.  This makes scrolling necessary and tedious.  Frequently, I do not find any offers that suit me.  The offers you “star” are listed, you select the option to take the photo(s) of your receipt, then once you click “finish”, you wait while it uploads.  And wait.  Then you get a congratulatory screen telling you how much you’ve saved.

It says, “You can request a check when your account balance reaches $20.”  This could take a very long time, considering most offers are like coupons and for only 10 or 40 cents. Once you claim a starred offer, you most likely won’t be able to claim it again.  You don’t have to scan the individual items. The receipt-photo-taking process is similar to other rebate and savings apps.

Screenshot from my Checkout 51 account

Pros:  Many options; get a real check

Cons:  Rarely are there offers I’ll use; terminal scrolling to view all offers

Verdict:  DELETE

 

App Name:  MobiSave

Google Play Rating:  3 Stars (2,393 reviews)

Earned in First Month:  $1.55

My Thoughts:

I don’t recall how I even heard of this one, but I liked the idea that I received the benefits of selected offers right away, like if I were using a paper coupon at the checkout.  The set-up was quick and simple.  There is a short list of offers.  After photographing your receipt, you’ll “paperclip” which offers actually apply to that receipt.  Once they’re confirmed, the money saved is sent directly to your PayPal account.

I do bulk shopping so the last time I used MobiSave, I had 6 receipts that were all quite long.  The way this app is set up to capture images of your receipts makes it difficult to know where your last picture ended and your next needs to begin.  In the end, there were 4 offers that applied to me.  There were 4 deposits made to PayPal within an hour.  My first payment from MobiSave was only $.40, but I got it right away without waiting and saving up to a $20 threshold.

Screenshot from my MobiSave account

Pros:  Immediate deposit into PayPal; frequently offered “any type, any size” deals

Cons:  Not many offers; can’t see previous pictures in series when photographing long receipts

Verdict:  KEEP USING

 

App Name:  Coupons.com

Google Play Rating:  4 Stars (18,800 reviews)

Earned in First Month:  $0.00, but I may have saved some by loading deals to my Pay-Less card

My Thoughts:

I have used Coupons.com in the past to select deals and print coupons to present at checkout.  This app allows that as well as linking to your store shopper cards for automatic digital coupons.

You *must* visit the app prior to shopping, not after.  They don’t want to capture your receipt if you have a store loyalty card; they want to provide coupons directly to the card.  Part of the set-up for this app is typing in the numbers on your loyalty cards.  If you are like me, you don’t even have these because you provide your phone number to the cashier.  I use my Kroger Plus card and I frequently use their digital coupons option, so I logged into that account to access my card number to copy-and-paste into this app.

For stores you frequent that do not use loyalty cards, you will submit your receipt after shopping.  When you’ve submitted receipts and they’re accepted, you receive cash back via PayPal.

Coupons.com has a whole slew of other money saving options, like printable coupons and online coupon codes for sites like Overstock and Guitar Center.  I’ve used their printable coupons in the past, from their website and not this app, and can attest to the safety of the printing software they need you to use.  If you use the app to select coupons, you have the option to print or email them.  I do not have a WiFi compatible printer but have emailed myself the link to print directly from my computer.  Check your library for wireless printing if you’d like to use this option.

Although I downloaded and accessed this app the same as the other savings apps, I have yet to use anything off of it.  I don’t use the products they have presented in the time I’ve been doing this little experiment (seven weeks at the writing of this review).

Screenshot from my Coupons.com account, showing what I could redeem with either loading to my loyalty cards or submitting receipts.

Screenshot from my Coupons.com account

Pros:  Many ways to save

Cons:  Lots of offers to scroll through only to discover I won’t use any of them

Verdict:  DELETE but keep visiting the website on my laptop for paper coupons

How to Meal Plan to Save Time and Money

(More Free Printables!)

This is my current project:  simplifying our lives by removing the stress of deciding what is for dinner each night as well as working on our biggest budget-buster by making grocery shopping less costly and time-consuming.

I have read so much about saving money on groceries, so many blogs and books about how to spend less at the store, so much that I feel I’ve read all that can be said about meal planning and couponing.

Now I’ve got my own way of doing things.  Here’s how you can simplify and save, too.

What You Eat

First, decide what dietary requirements you and your family have.  For instance, we prefer few processed foods, organic foods, low wheat and low dairy meals, and to use meats sparingly.

Next, decide which meals you really enjoy eating as well as making.  I made a list of about 8 meals that every one of us enjoys to eat that takes me no more than an hour of active cook time.  I asked the BHE what he likes, too.  Given the way some meals can be varied by switching up the sauce used or selecting chicken instead of beef, we ended up with a list of 14 meals.

Also, determine how often you want to cook.  WE LOVE LEFTOVERS!  We save so much money by making enough food each time we cook dinner to utilize the same stuff as lunch the next day.  I wanted to take this a step further:  I want to go a full day without cooking!  My time should be spent WITH my family instead of rushing to make dinner in the other room FOR my family.  I want to be a part of the action, not on the side as a cook or maid.  The less often you cook, the less dishes you have to do, too.  Win-win!

I decided each time I make a meal, I need to make at least 9 servings if not 12. One “meal” should provide:  2 adult and 1 toddler servings for dinner, lunch the next day, dinner that evening, and possibly lunch the following day, at least for the BHE at work.  So, 12 servings.

This is just a snapshot of what I came up with! I typically print these to write on them, but I’m sparing you my terrible handwriting. 

The next step for me was to write out the chart of meals on the printable I made (and will share with you for free).  I wrote out the few variations we want for breakfasts 6 days a week, the plan for Sunday brunches, that lunches will either be leftovers(LO) or something easily toddler-friendly, and then the meals on every other day of the week.  The days in between are marked LO since we’ll just be heating up what is already cooked.  When all was said and done, I had SIX WEEKS’ WORTH of meals planned out.

Menu Printable

Print the free Meal Chart, talk it over with your household, and start to fill in the blanks.  Challenge yourself and print 4 pages so you can take care of a whole month at once!

What You Buy

Now that your Meal Charts are filled out, you need determine what groceries are necessary to make these meals happen.  Consider how often you’ll need to buy the things on your list.  The organic canned beans go on sale for $1 each at Kroger/Payless roughly every 6 weeks, so I’d like to buy those in bulk.  But bananas can’t last that long!  Produce goes on my “weekly” list.  Open the free Planned Pantry printable and fill that in as you review your Meal Charts.

Here’s a sample of what I’ll need and how often I should be buying groceries. The real list is a little longer and includes “incidentals” like candy, chips, ice cream, and alcohol. Oh, yes, alcohol. 

I reviewed my list of meals and wrote down the necessary ingredients for each, including side items, and made hash marks next to each meat, veggie, spice, etc., keeping portion sizes in mind.  That is how I determined what I would need for 6 weeks.

But I go to the store more often than that!  Sure, I would save so much money if I only stepped into a store once every six weeks (less likely to buy impulse items and stuff we don’t need/use/want).  But I like fresh produce, I get a kick out of finding marked down goodies, and I really need to get out of the house more than that.  That is why I must have specific lists and know how much I need of what so I can make these trips successful, saving time, money, and sanity as I drag my littles around town.

Planned Pantry Printable

A big part of saving money with meal planning is buying what you need, and want, ahead of time.  And preferably in bulk. No extra trips to the store, no using the ingredients needed for another meal because you didn’t buy enough for the one you’re making, no staring at bare pantry shelves with a blank mind.

Don’t forget to review your weekly sale ads and check on your coupons before you head to the store, either.  Look over THIS post and use that free printable to keep your shopping streamlined and as cheap as possible.

What You Do

Now that you’ve filled in your free printable lists, you’ve got a good idea of what you need to do next:  put it on the calendar!  Go ahead and mark on the calendar you’ve got hanging in your kitchen*, the small planner in your bag, the desk set at work, and anywhere else you regularly look to see what you’ve got going on in life.

Not only do you want to write in what meals are on what days (and which days you have off from cooking thanks to LeftOvers!), you’ll want to write down which days you’re going to go buy the items you need from the stores you wrote down.

Take note which days the sale ads switch over, too.  I’ve learned that my preferred Kroger puts out their sale ads on Thursdays, but they mark down their produce on Fridays.  I have also learned that the meat market has a fantastic special on ground chuck the week starting the second Tuesday of each month.  Knowing these factoids can go a long way to saving you time and money.

Once you have your printables filled out and your calendar filled in, take a deep breath.  The first time you do this may take a good 30-40 minutes.  Now that’s a small chunk of time for a month or more of planning and an even smaller price to pay for a load of stress off your mind.  But it also won’t take that long the next time you need to do it, as you’ll be a pro at handling the groceries and meals.

How Did It Go?

Come on back to comment and let me know how it worked out for you. By then, I ought to have my post and free printable for bill-paying and creating a personal spending plan**.  Stay tuned!

Here they are again, in case you wanted to finish reading before opening the PDFs:

Menu Printable 

Planned Pantry Printable
* You don’t have a calendar in your kitchen?!  I don’t understand.  Go get one and hang it up. You’re welcome.

 ** Because no one likes the word “budget.”

Shopping with Purpose (Free Printable!)

I get asked all the time how I do it:  how I save so much on groceries, how I only shop each store only once a month, how I manage my fridge and pantry, how we have the money to host and feed people all the time, how I make it all happen for cheap.

Well, I’m going to tell you how I do it.  Then, I am going to let you try out my method for yourself.  That’s right, honey:  FREE PRINTABLES!  Everyone loves ‘em, lots of people use ‘em.  I made a pretty one just for you.
image

My Method, with You in Mind

First, write out your NEED list.

Example:  I NEED paper towels soon, so even without a coupon or a sale price, I will have to buy a package.  I NEED fresh produce so I’ll look at what’s in season and on sale at each store.

Next, write out your WANT list.

I WANT my husband’s favorite chips, breakfast sausages for the Angel, and yogurt to make frozen treats in this crazy heat.

Third, if you coupon, coupon now.  If you don’t coupon, start.

Since I am a member of Inbox Dollars , I like to go to their site and access Coupons.com through it.  All the same coupons PLUS the bonus of ten cents added to my ID account for each redeemed coupon.  It’s great. 

Once I have all my coupons selected and printed, I sort them with the coupons I may have received with a receipt or in the mail.  I have an accordion folder that’s about 4″ tall where I have the coupons sorted by store, and I put them in by date.  I also have a slot for “manufacture food” and “manufacture dry goods” for the coupons that don’t have to be used at a specific store.  (The other slots in my accordion doohickey that I bought years ago in Target’s Dollar Spot hold rewards cards, receipts, and post-its and a pen if I forget my list at home and need to make another before entering a store.)

Then, check the advertisements for the stores you go to most frequently.

I have an app on my Android phone called Flipp that shows me most of my local sales ads.  I have marked which ones are my “favorites.”

Not all of the stores I like to go to have their ads available through Flipp.  Maybe you get a weekly newspaper, maybe you use a different app, or maybe you turn to Google each week to find what you’re looking for.

Personally, I use Flipp for Kroger, Aldi’s, WalMart, Target, and Fresh Thyme.  There’s a local meat market that I have pinned their website to a folder on my phone dedicated to saving money.

Finally, as I go through each ad, I write down what is on sale that I am interested in.  I mark down next to the items on my NEED, WANT, and COUPON lists which store has the best price.

I also write down things of interest that are on sale but that I don’t necessarily NEED but could possibly WANT in the future.  Or maybe I don’t NEED it now but will someday NEED it.  For instance, I buy cat litter when it is on sale and I buy as much as I can at the time.  Yes, I’ve marched through Target with almost 100 pounds of Tidy Cats in my cart.  It doesn’t go bad, every last grain will be used, and I NEED it so will buy it in bulk to save myself an emergency full-price purchase.

That is how I shop each store once a month; that is how I save money and have extra food and supplies for hosting and donations.  THAT is how you can simplify your shopping and boost your savvy ways.

Typically, I hand-write everything, but since my penmanship is quite sloppy these days, I typed it up just for you.  Yes, you, dear reader.  Check out this handy-dandy PDF for an example of how I do it:

Shopping with Purpose Example

Notes on My Method

To really save with this method, make this into something you do only once or twice a month.  I mean, keep your eye on the weekly ads, but also build up your pantry and freezer so you won’t have to go shopping each week.  You’ll save even more!

Always consider what works best for you, too.  If you have only one item on your list for a certain store, it is not worth the time used and money saved to go to that store.

For instance, we buy our cheese at Walmart.  They carry two pound blocks of Cabot for an unbelievably low price.  It is always on our Walmart list, yet rarely is there anything else we buy there.  When we go to Walmart, we buy as many of those two pound blocks as we can.  No joke.  I’ll spend more than $30 on cheese.  That is so I don’t have to return to Walmart for another month.  In that month, there may be things added to the Walmart list, like Aveeno body lotion (not needed to be purchased too regularly but still best price around for something used almost daily around our house).

Sometimes, Fresh Thyme has a great deal on certain organic produce items that I would really like.  However, if I can get the majority of the produce we regularly eat at Kroger for a better price, I’m not going to a different part of town just to get those pears or whatever. I’d rather (a) go without or (b) buy the darn things for an extra 19 cents per pound.

REMEMBER: The money saved and the time spent sometimes isn’t worth the extra trip.  Don’t drag yourself all over town to save 19 cents per pound.

Especially when we’re talking about loading two kids into car seats and dragging them through stores and making them spend at least an hour and a half in the car since we live in the middle of nowhere.

NEVER FORGET YOUR LIST!  You may forget to put things on your list.  You may not buy everything you did put on your list.  But you will stick to your needs (both at the grocery and in life in general) if you have a list to keep you on track and saving time and money.

Don’t we all want to save time and money?

Now, I have included a lovely little spreadsheet to illustrate what I’m talking about above as an example.  I don’t always have the luxury of sitting down at my computer to type up a clean-looking list like this.  So I print out a bunch of blank pages to scribble on when I have five minutes here, five minutes there to check my pantry, look at my ads, think about our needs and what we have coming up, and calculate if my coupons are worth the 40 cents I’ll save.

For you, you wonderful Thoughtfully Sought path walker, I am including a pretty PDF for you (Yes, YOU!) to print and use at your leisure.

You’re welcome.

Shopping with Purpose Printable

Healthy Eating, part 3: Where to Shop for Organic

I’m going to share with you a few of my favorites, why I shop at a handful of stores instead of just one, what I look for in each of them, and which ones have the best non-sale prices.  I also have some tips for you to get good coupons for the foods you actually eat.

Location Location LOCATION

You may have learned from previous posts that we live in the middle of nowhere.  The closest grocery is 12 miles away, but it isn’t one we frequent.  It is a very small, high priced, kinda unclean chain store like you’d find in any small town in a low population county.  On top of that, because this is a rural area with many farms and old homes with large yards, there isn’t much of a demand for farmers’ markets.  Our best bet is to drive the 40 minutes into the closest city to find the large chain stores and high-traffic farmers’ markets.

Luckily, I am a stay-at-home mom who has the time and inclination to prepare for a day of major shopping.  I take the time to go through all the sale ads, seek and cut all the coupons, plan out a whole day of leaving the house with Angel Baby and hitting all my stores, and stocking up on everything we need in just two or three trips to the city per month.

Not everyone has this luxury.  Not everyone needs it, either.  I mean, if you live in town with a decent (or 3-5 decent) store, you don’t need a whole day like I do.  Well, a whole two days:  the nap on a Thursday for ad-checking and coupon-clipping and the bulk of the day Friday to drive to town then visit three or four stores, including stopping somewhere for lunch.  This is an outing for us, people!

The Stores of the City

The places I regularly shop in my nearby city:  Payless (Kroger)*, Target Supercenter, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, D and R Meat Market, Aldi’s, and yes, WalMart Supercenter.  There are some little “nature’s markets” that I pop into on rare occasions, but they tend to have great local produce options during peak seasons.  (Sometimes Kroger has little signs up around their produce department to inform shoppers that those items are grown by local farmers.)

Online Sale Ads and Coupons

Before you really, truly begin your shopping excursion, take the time to think of all your favorite brands.  Then find their websites (yep, they all have one).  If they have an email list or club or any sort of program, sign up for it.  I regularly get coupons in my emails from Horizon and Kashi**, among others.

Next, consider where you regularly shop and if they have a shopper’s program.  Be signed up for the programs or have the cards.   Then set up your account for that store/program/card online.  For instance, Kroger has their Plus card.  They also have this great benefit where you can load digital coupons to your card from their website.  No coupon clipping!

Then, go to the websites of each of the stores you regularly visit.  Find their weekly (or monthly or seasonal) sale ads.  I haven’t come across a store yet that doesn’t post their ads on their website.  Figure out what day of the week the sale ads change.  For instance, the Fresh Thyme Farmers’ Market nearby has double ad Thursdays where their ads run Thursday to Thursday, overlapping the previous ad for one day.  Target’s ad changes on Sunday and Kroger’s changes on Thursday.  Aldi’s weekly ads start on Wednesdays PLUS has “special buys” for Wednesdays only.  Check all the ads for all your stores on whatever day makes most sense for you.

Last, get your coupons together and organize your shopping list.  This is how I do it:

  1. I write down everything on our “need” list. Then I write down everything on our “stock up list.”
  2. I look through each sale ad and write down the good deals on produce and the things we usually purchase. I keep in mind all the items on the list I already made.
  3. I scan through the digital coupons on the various rewards sites. I check my email for any coupons that may have been sent to me from the companies I signed up for.
  4. I visit Coupons.com where I have an account, and select and print the coupons that correspond with all the above lists.
  5. I write a whole new list where I have the store, what I’ve getting at that store, and what coupons go with that stores’ items… this makes the actually shopping process (with Angel Baby not enjoying the ride in the cart) a heck of a lot easier and faster.

Got it?  Let’s go buy some food!

What and Where

I had a friend*** express confusion over why I would run all over town and spend a whole day going to multiple stores when she can visit just one in an afternoon and get everything she needs… without dragging her kids in and out of their car seats and burning gas and time.

Yes, supermarkets exist.  Sadly, I do not have one of those fabulous stores nearby offering all that we need and want. The first  two parts of this Healthy Eating series ought to have explained plenty about our food preferences…and probably hinted at how you’ve got to search for the good stuff.  This is why I recommend paying attention to your family’s eating habits, what’s in your cupboards, and how much space you really have; then buy in bulk.  Try to purchase at least two weeks’ of groceries at a time to cut down on time spent driving and buying.

No more confusion:  we can’t get what we want and need at one location.  Ergo, all the driving around and spending an hour one day and half of the next day to think about, research about, then purchase our food.  Note that I said “purchase” our food after thinking about it rather than just jotting down a few necessities on a list and rushing off to “shop” at a supermarket.  Healthy Eating = Thoughtful Eating.

If you’ve made it this far into my blog, you know that WalMart doesn’t carry every last little thing we consume.  It may for some people, but not for people as conscientious as us in regards to what we put in and on our bodies.  Without further ado, I present to you a short list of what we get and where I find it for the best prices.

Aldi’s

I am lucky to have two of these in The City, one on each side of town.  They do carry a pretty wide selection of certified organic products, mainly in the dry and canned goods sections.  They do not accept coupons, but their prices are quite low without them.  I like their Simply Nature Organic salsas, marinara, cereals, canned tomatoes, boxed crackers and cookies for Angel Baby, frozen fruits, and boxed pasta.  The almond milk Aldi’s carries is not organic but the best “everyday priced” in town.  Every once in a while, with sales and coupons, Kroger or WalMart has their brand cheaper, but if not, I get mine at Aldi’s.  And I tend to buy 2 to 3 gallons at a time.  If I pay attention to my pantry and fridge space, I can easily go to Aldi’s only once a month to get what I need.  Nothing against their produce in quality, I do not by Aldi’s organic produce purely on the fact that it has always been cheaper elsewhere.

D and R Meat Market

It is a local joint. We have learned their sales patterns and know which week (every fifth) they put their ground chuck on sale Buy-5-lbs-Get-1-lb-Free.  We get the same amount of beef, chicken, and pork each visit and know how much will get us through those 5 weeks until the next sale.  We are blessed with a chest freezer that I keep organized (see post about that).

Kroger

They used to keep all of their certified organic stuff in one area, but lately they’ve been moving things out to the rest of the store.  For instance, the cage free and organic eggs are now over with all the other eggs; the organic orange juice they carry is now over with all the other ojs.  The organic produce selection has been slowly getting bigger and better in the years we’ve been thoughtfully seeking healthier foods.  What we buy here all depends on what’s on sale and what I have coupons for (both digital and paper).  I like the regular sales they have on organic cereals, beverages, snacks like tortilla chips and potato chips, and eggs.  They have a great “everyday price” on their organic ketchup, too.  I recently was able to get 5 boxes of Cascadian Farms organic cereals for a little under $2 a box, between their buy-5-get-$3-off sale, one digital coupon, and two paper coupons.  Regularly, one of the major brands of boxed organic macaroni and cheese goes on sale at Kroger 10/$10.  Yes, I buy 10 boxes of it at a time.  I love it and I have a toddler.  Enough said.  (Again, watch their sale ads.  Get your coupons.  Pay attention and you can get your paper goods for great prices using their buy-x-get-x-off.  I think my toilet paper is the cheapest around…for the good stuff!)

Target

Hands down, their condiments are the best priced.  They also have the big brand organic mac and cheese on sale for 10/$10 from time to time, but more often than not, they’ve got it 4/$5 (not the same).  I make the baby wipes we use POST HERE and can say the best paper towel for the job is Target’s Up and Up select-a-size.  This is where Cartwheel comes in handy (if you have a non-Windows smartphone… you can access Cartwheel on a Windows Phone but you will get severely aggravated trying to use it).  Our local Target doesn’t carry organic produce and their other organic items are kinda few and far between.  There isn’t much I buy food-wise from Target anymore.  However, they’ve currently got the best “everyday price” on organic wheat in 5 lb packages (and sometimes Cartwheel has a code for 5% off).

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market

Oh, hells, yeah.  This is what I’m talking about.  It is small so easy to navigate without getting exhausted.  They have bulk bins of so many dry goods and a lot are organic options.  Their organic produce hasn’t disappointed me yet.  If you aren’t lucky enough to have one of these nearby, I bet you have Trader Joe’s or some such.  I don’t.  And Fresh Thyme is relatively new to us, but it’s thyming couldn’t have been better!  For real, it was being built around the same time as we started down this thoughtfully sought path.  Talk about serendipity!  Depending on their sale ads, I may or may not go straight to produce then straight to check out.  Sometimes the bulk goods are all 20% off; sometimes their frozen fruit is half off; sometimes they have my favorite chips on sale and I have a coupon.  Just know that for me, this is where I usually get my organic produce and bulk goods like raisins, brown rice, oats, and maybe quinoa or lentils.

WalMart

I’ll keep this short:  cage free eggs, almond milk if I have coupons, Wild Oats salad dressing, Cabot extra sharp cheddar cheese, and organic cereal if it isn’t on sale anywhere else.  They’ve got the best “everyday price” for boxes of Kashi and Cascadia Farms.

Ready?

I know, it’s a lot to take it at once.  Especially if you read all 3 (4) parts of this series in one sitting.  Start with the store you regularly go to, be it a grocery or a supercenter.  Learn their ropes.  Then add another store, like a local meat market or even another supercenter.  Get an idea of how you work around a sale ad then walk through a store.  Get a grasp on what coupons and locations work best for you.

You are on your own thoughtfully sought path; this series is just showing you the path we are on.  Take it slow.  You are breaking a bad habit after all.

Don’t give up.  Don’t get discouraged.  And for the love of God and your miraculous machine of a body, do not tell yourself it isn’t worth it.  It is.  Your body will thank you… and then your mind and soul will recognize how grateful they are as well.  You will be repaid in health and happiness, I promise.

Ok, maybe not “promise.”  My disclaimer:  I’m not a professional, I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not an MD, I’m not a nurse or someone who can give you medical advice… I’m a liberal arts major with a masters in library sciences who stays at home with her toddler and wants the best, most nutritious foods for her family.  That’s all I am:  somebody thoughtfully seeking how to do everything BETTER.

Good luck!

Feel free to leave comments about where you find the best deals and what you’ve learned through trial and error.  Also, I answer questions, so fire ‘em at me.

*Payless is one of the Kroger Company’s babies.  As a girl from Indianapolis, I call them all Kroger.  Most people just get it; others look at me like I’m stupid and actually correct me by saying, “Payless.”  I’m not stupid, I’m stubborn.  (No comments on that sentence, please.)

**Not all of Kashi’s products are organic or nonGMO.  Like I’ve said, READ THE LABELS!

***My SAHM-bestie, to be precise.  Every one who stays home, whether you have kids or you work from home, needs a friend who also stays at home.  This is about maintaining sanity, people, as much as it is about maintaining a social network.

Four Week Experiment: Budgeting with the exactness of February

If you want to read the back story, the tale that got us to this point, read the last Thoughtfully Sought blog post.

Exactly four weeks

After looking over the amount of money that went flying out of our wallets from September 2014 through January 2015, I was sick.  Really, that’s what we do with our hard-earned money?  We have one income, people, so the last thing we need to do is any spending on what we don’t NEED.

Of course, needs are relative.  But I digress.

I got out my handy-dandy my pocket calendar to mark the dates I went shopping in December and January.  I definitely did better but not good enough.  I flipped to February and felt like I’d gotten a golden egg.  There were EXACTLY four weeks in February 2015, the 1st being a Sunday and the 28th being a Saturday.  It was an OCD SAHM’s dream-come-true.

I wrote in the tiny boxes which days I would shop, which days we would have dinner guests or weekend guests, which days would need to see the coffee pot cleaned or the water softener refilled, and which days got which recipes for dinner and then leftovers.  When I was done, I was beaming.  I may not take meds for it but that doesn’t mean I don’t fully recognize my obsessive-compulsive moments.

I knew, just KNEW, we could stick to our budget.  However, I love contingency plans.  I plan everything to give myself the comfort of (imagined) control, and I plan back-up plans for back-up plans.  February saw the first attempt of the Murphy family using the envelope system.

Abbreviated

You can learn all about the envelope system by Dave Ramsey here and here and here and here and here.

In no way, shape, or form am I benefiting from sharing these articles or Dave Ramsey’s efforts with you.  I am receiving no compensation from any of these sites.  (I know, too bad, right?)

The BHE and I decided we would start with just two envelopes:  groceries and house.  All of our bills are automated and only “fluctuate” by going down, as we are not adding to our credit card debt and our mortgage and car payments are set.  (Note:  we round these up.  The car payment due on the 28th of every month is $181.75 so I have $185 automatically withdrawn every month.  Capiche?)

Because of the hassle that is unemployment benefits with a return-to-work date, the BHE took cash from the ATM each week.  It was divided between our two accounts, since some bills come from his and some come from mine, and then we put $400 in one envelope and $100 in another.  Thus began the experiment.

What happened

The short version:  while we were WAAAAY more aware of what we’d spent working with just cash, we still went over budget.  By $30.53.  And I can show you the three empty wine bottles and consumed 12-pack that the $30-and-change bought us.

Let me be real, folks:  we didn’t NEED the alcohol but we were hosting our two very good friends and their kids for a long weekend.  Since they traveled hours to see us and were bringing lots of groceries to feed all of us, the least we could do is buy some booze.  Booze we blew through in the first night.  So had to go buy more… but I digress.

We didn’t spend the whole $100 that was set aside for the house.  In fact, we barely spend $20.  The goal this winter layoff was to work on house projects for which we already had the supplies.  There were rooms that needed finishing touches and we had the paint or trim or what-have-you just sitting in the basement.  So that was a WIN for us.

Where we lost

I went through each receipt to see what we really spent our money on.  I feel like there should be a self-help class for people with our sweets addiction.  I kid you not. We spend almost $20 on candy alone.  Haribo gummy candies and some chocolates.  Candy, people.  Processed corn syrup and good dyes and fake “natural flavors”… all ingredients that don’t fit our diet guidelines of whole, unprocessed, healthy, organic foods.

Ok, I take that back.  There’s a candy line Yummy Earth that the BHE found at Walgreens.  So SOME of the candy we bought fit our self-prescribed guidelines.  Whatever.

The alcohol was the other thing.  Including the booze bought for our weekend with friends plus the fact that we like a beer now and then (and I’ll never say no to a glass of white wine), we spent almost $60 on alcohol.  One hand is patting me on the back and reminding me that we used to spend that kind of money for one weekend in just the two of us; the other hand is giving me the finger for being so dumb.  Whatever.  I’m an adult.  If I am going to break my budget on alcohol, so be it.

We also spent $41 and change at restaurants during February.  Yes, this came out of the grocery budget.  It’s food, right?  One trip to McDonald’s for sundaes because all three of us had sore throats; one trip to Subway because we were both craving sandwiches and we were driving by one; and one trip to Max and Erma’s with family we almost never eat out with after a day-long birthday party.  I’d say “not bad” on that account.

Here we are in March

It is March 2nd.  I spent the Angel Baby’s nap calculating what we spent and where during February.  Then I pulled up every weekly ad to every store where I shop and wrote down what was on sale that we would normally buy.  While on the Payless (Kroger) site, I logged into my account to load digital coupons to my Kroger Plus card.  I would’ve done the same at the CVS site but I didn’t seen anything in the ad that would get me to go there this week.  Then I went to Coupons.com and “clipped” coupons for things we would normally buy.

That’s the trick:  what you’d normally buy.  Clipping coupons for shit you don’t need so that you buy it, even for less than its regular price, is exactly what manufacturers want you to do.  It also screws your budget.

I compared this list to my already-written list of food, drinks, and supplies.  Next to each item, I wrote an abbreviation for the store at which I’d purchase them.  Then I looked at the forecast and chose the day I’d go do this major shopping trip.  If you are following this, I may suggest you check the weather first.  See, if the weather was going to be total shit until, say, Thursday, well, so many sale ads end or begin on Thursdays.

Stay tuned.  I’ll let you know how tomorrow’s shopping turns out.

Oh Say Can You Say How You Spent Your Money

(Admit it: you read that title and made it rhyme.)

Open communication

The BHE and I have talked about saving and budgeting and just managing our money better since, oh, the beginning of our relationship (we’re talking 2005, folks!).  Sadly, as money is such a major factor in the average American’s life, it is something that ought to be regularly discussed with one’s significant other.  Complete and open communication or any monetary goals will not be fulfilled.

In the almost-decade we have been together, we have managed to pay off cars and credit cards, buy one house for cash and then mortgage it to buy another, put me through grad school, and start a family.  We don’t miss payments, we rarely charge anything, and our debt is pretty small compared to the average American family.  We have one mortgage for two houses, one smallish car payment but three vehicles and two trailers, minimal credit card debt (that we haven’t added to since September), and my ridiculous student loans.

Next step

When we decided it was time for us to try to grow our family, there were many conversations about day care vs. one of us staying home to raise our children.  No brainer:  one of us stays home.  At that time, we both made about the same amount of money per hour.  Then I started grad school, switched jobs for a pay cut, and then got pregnant.  No brainer:  I would leave my low-paying, benefits-less job to stay home with our child once he or she was born.

The hard part would be adjusting our lifestyle to accommodate halving our income and adding a whole new person.  Let me be honest here:  we didn’t change a damned thing until that first electric bill after Angel Baby was born.  The whole pregnancy, knowing we had 9 months to clean up our act and start really budgeting and saving, we were tossing out money left and right.  Y’know, we HAD to have a whole new bedroom suite for the baby.  And that bedroom needed completely remodeled before the baby was born.  And we needed the matching car seat, stroller, pack’n’play, etc.  (Thank you, Aunt Jan, for the pack’n’play!!)

First light

That first electric bill was a doozy!  We use cloth diapers, which means more loads of laundry.  Lots more.  We also had put in a dishwasher while I was pregnant.  So there was even more electricity being used to clean things.

I’ve got another blog post in the works about our indoor laundry line.  Stay tuned!

Second eye-opener

The BHE takes a quasi-voluntary layoff for 2-3 months every winter.  Luckily, he receives unemployment benefits and has the peace of mind that comes with knowing he has a return-to-work date.  Unluckily, those benefits change every year and can be so low it is almost comical.  Almost.

With that uncertainty, and knowing he will only earn his regular pay 9-10 months of the year, budgeting is a necessity in our household.  Ok, let’s be honest:  budgeting is a necessity in every household.

Coincidental moment on our thoughtfully sought path through parenting:  the day Angel Baby had her first solid food was the first day of the BHE’s layoff last year.  Yay… adding one mouth to feed while subtracting regular income.  Uff.

Third and final straw

We agreed to save X amount of dollars prior to the BHE starting his Winter 2015 layoff.  In order to do so, we had to know where our money was going.  Really, it is hard to say where you’ll start cutting back when you don’t know how much you’re spending.

I gathered all receipts I could for September 2014 and thought, “Huh, not too bad.”  But that wasn’t the whole story.  We needed to keep all receipts in one spot so that I could really and truly see what was what.  October was a different story.  Not bad, just a more complete story.

Without giving you too much, let’s just say we spent over $450 in October, $520 in November, and $760 in December.  Ouch!

Where did it all go?

When I say “groceries,” I mean anything and everything bought at:  Payless (Kroger), WalMart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Aldi’s, D&R Meat Market, and the like.  So “groceries” can be food, alcohol, diapers, toilet paper, cat litter, candy, paper plates, etc.

Knowing that, it is understandable that our December total was so high.  There were gifts for the nephews bought at Target, there was our annual Christmas party to supply, and of course more food than normal was bought to feed us through holidays and my birthday.

Still, unacceptable.  Honestly, what in the hell are we doing with $450 or more in groceries?

I create meal plans.  I do our grocery shopping on 2 (or 3) days during the month.  Typically, I do one major shopping day of four or five stores at the beginning of the month.  Then about two weeks later, I hit one or two stores to get more milk, eggs, and fresh produce.  If there’s another trip before the month is out, I kick myself repeatedly as I go get what we need.  We live in the middle of nowhere so factoring time and gas for each trip, you can understand why I don’t want to shop more than a couple days a month.  Plus, everyone knows that you buy more than you intend to each time you go to the store; going multiple times during the month means multiple times you will spend too much.  Stick to your lists (yeah, that thing you tend to leave on the kitchen counter).

Something needed to change if our monthly expenditures on groceries could fluctuate from $450 to $750 without us blinking an eye.  Something really needed to change if I had no set limit for spending.

My two favorite R words:  reading and research

Of all the books and articles, financial advice from experts to stay-at-home-mom bloggers sharing their experiences, I’d say the two most influential authors are Dave Ramsey and David Bach.

(If you would like to know the books I’ve read or at least see the authors who have influenced the way I look at and deal with money, here’s my shelf.

Both of these men are renowned financial advisors.  Both have books and workshops read and attended by millions.  In fact, if you haven’t read or attended something by either of these men, chances are you know someone who has.  Ask your librarian to reserve a handful of their books for you.

One of the ways to budget and save that I’ve read about and talked to friends about is Dave Ramsey’s “envelope system.”  I’d never tried it myself but it sounded (a) logical and (b) straight-forward…which is, in my humble opinion, the best way to deal with ANYTHING money-related.

One more try

For the month of January 2015, with the BHE on his layoff, I decided to keep on with the mental budget I’d set for us.  I decided we could live comfortably with $400 for groceries and $100 for anything for the house.  (The BHE spends his layoffs working harder at home than he ever does at work.  Our 110+ years old house has been a major project that is still going.)

I did my shopping as I always do, but I would add on my smartphone the prices of the goods I would put in my cart.  Then I kept a mental tally of what I spent at each store.  At the end of January, I tallied up the number of days we went shopping, the number of stores we visited, and the amount of monies spent overall.  We kept to our $100 house budget but went almost $120 over our $400 grocery budget.  Not cool.

Read the next Thoughtfully Sought blog post to hear about February 2015.