Friday, July 30, 2010

Budgeted Fun!

Hey Bluffton Moms,
The weekend is upon us and the question remains, "What do we do with the kids this weekend?"  In keeping with the money saving theme, I have devised a list of cheap or free things to do with the kids. A large portion of my monthly budget seems to fall into a category that I affectionately refer to as Entertainment, but the label that it really should have is, "Anything fun and exciting to keep my toddler's attention for at least 15 minutes!"  While I wish that I could spend endlessly in this category, the truth remains that this part of my budget is pretty much nonexistent lately, and with each dollar spent I hear the sound of my credit card bill going up . . . cha ching!

So here are some ideas of local activities to keep the kids engaged and entertained without putting added stress on the family budget:

  • Drop-in Story time at the Bluffton Library
    • FREE
    • Saturday (10:30am - 11:15am)
    • Sunday (3pm - 4pm)
  • Island Gymnastics Open Gym
    • Friday night (approx $6.00/child)
    • Ages 6 and under (5pm - 6:30pm)
    • Over 6 years (6:30pm - 9:30pm)
  • The Sandbox
    • On Saturday locals only pay $5/person
    • Mon - Sat (10am - 5pm)
  • Salty Dog
    • $5.00 Sea Pines entry fee
    • Live Kids Music Fri & Sat from 5:30-7pm
    • Face painting starts @ 6pm
    • Magic shows Fridays 7pm & 8pm
    • Pictures with Jake the Salty Dog 3pm & 7pm
  • Animal Farm at Lawton Stables in Sea Pines
    • $5.00 Sea Pines entry fee
    • Let the kids visit with the animals
    • Pony rides for $10/child
  • Harbour Town Kids Zone
    • $5.00 Sea Pines entry fee
    • Sunday - Friday 5:30pm - 7:30pm
    • Face painting, hair wrapping, Yostie the puppeteer & Cappy the Clown
    • Harbour Town Playground
  • Beach Picnic
    • FREE
    • Take the kids to the beach at dinner time and let them eat on the beach
    • This is better later in the summer when it is cooler
This was just a quick list that I will add to as the summer goes on, but rest assured there is a lot of cheap and free fun to be had by all ages!  Enjoy your weekend!

Customer Service

Today I began an experiment to see if I could stretch my dollar a little more by going to 3 different grocery stores this week in search of sale items and the lowest price. After browsing the ads meticulously, making a meal plan based on those ads, and combining my coupons; I created 3 lists.  One was a list for Food Lion, one was for Publix, and one was for Kroger.  At 1:30pm, I packed up my 4 month old into her car seat and headed for Food Lion.  When we arrived I was reminded of how far away the parking spots are from the door at the Okatie Food Lion.  I carried the car seat across the parking lot and found that the car seat would not fit into the top portion of the cart.  I hesitantly placed the car seat into the large part of the cart knowing that I only had a small list of items to buy, and I could put most of them under the cart or in the small front part. 

After spending 40 mins in the store itself, the store did not carry 2 of the items on my list, so I headed to the checkout while my 4 month old started to cry.  I approached the cashier, and put all of my items on the belt while she casually conversed with the people in front of me.  My infant began to cry a little louder and I noticed that the people in front of me had already checked out and were now just simply chatting with the cashier.  I began to feel annoyed.  They finally ended their conversation, and the cashier began to ring my items.  She did not say, "Hello" to me or even look at me for that matter.  After she had rung up all my items, she told me that it would be $64 and change.  My infant had continued to cry and I was confused, I knew that I had added it in my head and thought that it should be closer to $50.  I handed over the money, but kept my look of questioning and confusion, while trying desperately to get my baby to take the pacifier that I was offering.  As the cashier handed me my receipt, she said, "Oh, you forgot to give me your MVP card."  That was it, "Yes!," I returned.  Thinking that this would be an easy fix, I handed back the receipt. 

A man had come up behind me with multiple soda bottles, and the cashier looked to him, then said to me, "Do you mind if I just ring him up first, then I will fix your receipt?"  As the baby cried, I nodded.  "She is kidding," I thought as I rocked the cart to try to calm the baby.  After she rang up the man, she told me that she needed me to pull out all of the sale items out of my bags so that she could fix the problem.  I nodded and took all of my sale items out, but was in total disbelief that this was actually happening.  I then watched her tick slowly through my receipt, to ensure that she had all the sale items.  First she rang up each item individually to get a refund total, then she rang up each item individually as an MVP sale item to find out that she owed me $14 and change.  I was now actively fighting back my anger as the baby continued to cry.  Could she not hear this?  And then just to end my experience with a bang, she said, "Do you think you can bag?" as she tossed the items my way.  SURE, why not!

Now here's the thing that gets me more than anything else, where the heck was the customer service here????  In this type of economy, I really expect to go into every store and feel like I am at Disney World.  With people spending less, wouldn't you think that every store would be fighting for your business?  I would.  It's hard for me to believe that with all the layoffs and unemployment that any rude people still have a job, and I find myself thinking that there could be such a great employee out there looking for work and this person has a job.  It amazes me. 

But with all of that, I spent $50 at Food Lion, $47 at Publix, and have not yet made it to Kroger yet.  Will update with my findings as soon as I make it to the last grocery store, but be assured that this is now becoming an Economics problem, because at this point, how much is my time and effort worth too???

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Before you Shop

Dear Big Giant Enormous Grocery Store Chains,

I'm on to you; I know that you intentionally put your milk and eggs all the way in the back of the store to make me have to go by absolutely everything on my way to the necessity items that I have to have in my house. As I think about it, Publix keeps them in the back left corner of the store, Kroger in the back middle for milk and back left for eggs, Food Lion in the back middle. Wow, they were talking about this on the Today show yesterday and I had no idea. Now, don't get me wrong I remember studying the marketing strategies that stores use in college and I remember the placement on the shelves, the impulse buy items that are there when you check out, but it never occurred to me that when we are out of milk and my husband and kids are in the car, I am jogging all the way to the back of the store to get a quick necessary item. Thankfully I normally have my running shoes on in these situations, and I literally jog to the back corner of the store with my small green basket, but that just irks me that this is a ploy to get me to spend more money. Well guess what Publix, I've got your number!



Now that you are aware of that too, take notice of store placement, and the other gimmicks that are set by the highly paid marketing executives of these chains to help that money come out of your wallet a little more quickly. Here are a few things to do and know before you do your weekly shopping:

1. Always buy the Sunday paper and clip the coupons, you are buying the items anyway - it's free money
2. Browse the weekly ads, usually you can get most of them in the Sunday paper, but any that you don't have are readily available online
3. Take an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. This is a good way to control wastefully spending on something you already have or it helps you to use those items that might be expiring soon
4. Create a menu for the week based on the food in your house and the sale items in the weekly ads
5. Go through your coupons and see if there are any items that you have coupons for that are also on sale (Double Bonus)
6. Make your list and check it twice; by this I mean go back through your menu recipes and make sure that you have everything you need on your list or in your house, you don't want to go to try to cook the meal only to find out that you are missing an ingredient. Rest assured this has happened in our house many times, and somehow we always end up eating out on those nights.
7. Know your grocery budget for the week; Go to the ATM and only withdrawal that amount. If you are strong enough, only bring the cash into the store with you, that way you will be forced to stick to your budget. No running out to the car for that wallet with the credit cards!

I can tell you that as I breeze through the Publix ad that we will be having homemade pizza for dinner once this week, with the cheese at $2.00 for the bag, sauce at $0.75, and dough at $1.79, that could easily feed the whole family for $4.54; but you know that I am a Farmer's Market pizza dough advocate so my pizza dinner will probably cost more like $4.75 this week. And here's the other bonus, I normally look for my toppings from leftover items from my other planned meals, for instance tomatoes are on sale this week so I am bound to include them in something I cook, so I definitely have leftover tomato and I already know that there is ½ of a green pepper in the fridge.

Now just from looking through the ads this week, I will most likely be visiting 2 different grocery stores to get the most for my money this week. With all the back to school savings and sales that are starting, I will be stocking up on those sale items that I also have coupons for. I also only need one package of diapers this week which leaves me with $100.00 for my grocery shopping.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dollar Stores

If you haven't been in a Dollar Store in a while, now is the time to go back.  Find your local dollar store, in Bluffton, my favorite is the Dollar Tree store in the Best Buy shopping center located next to Petco.  I swear by it.  Now I'm not advocating buying all the items in the dollar store because let's face it, there is a lot of junk in there.  But if you can sort through the things you don't need, and go in with a purpose, you can save a lot of money.  The main item that I am constantly going to the dollar store for is bread.  At my particular Dollar Tree, they sell Natures Own Whole Wheat bread, obviously for $1.00.  At my local Publix, this same bread is $2.50 so I am saving $1.50 a loaf, and guess what?  Bread freezes wonderfully.  So I normally will clean the dollar store out of their bread to stock up and save money.  They also tend to run out of the wheat bread first so I know that there are times that I will need to buy at another store, but when they are stocked, I am ready and waiting.

The other great things that I normally buy at the Dollar Tree are cards (birthday, holiday, whatever), party decorations, mylar balloons, bags for presents, candy for the movie theater, and pool toys.  All of these items go for double at your local Target or Walmart and are pretty much the same product.  Mylar balloons that sell for $3.00 a piece at the grocery store are  . . .  yup you guessed it $1.00! 

And for those of you that don't know me, I am a self-confessed shopaholic when I'm having a bad day, but a trick that I learned in College was to go to the local dollar store.  It appeases my shopping needs while not breaking the bank and curbs that guilt that I would ultimately feel by spending a ton of money at a department store somewhere.

So my tip today is "Find your local Dollar Store and save, save, save!"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grow Your Own Herbs

I know this may sound a little far out for some of you, but believe me when I tell you that I have absolutely no gardening skills what-so-ever. Even as I write this, I realize that there is a plant in my living room that has not been watered in over a month. So I am obviously not the gardening type, but I am extremely envious of those that have the patience and experience to grow their own food, herbs, and beautiful flowers. I however, stick to the basics. I grow herbs. My favorite ones to grow and use are basil, cilantro, and mint. The other key to growing your herbs is to USE THEM! They are such a good fresh ingredient that can make your bland cooking have that WOW factor. The other upside is that it can cut your grocery bill down by anywhere from $2.00 to $10.00 per week depending on which herbs you buy and when you buy them. I normally would buy at least an herb a week and during the warmer months when I am growing my herbs outside, I save on average $75.00. Seeing how I pay $2.00 for each plant at the local grocery or hardware store (Publix sells potted herbs for $2.00 each but the packaged herbs are closer to $3.00- go figure), I can use them all summer long and never have to budget in my herbs when making meals. You may not think that $75.00 is a lot of money, but for me that's equivalent to the following:

1. 2 tanks of gas for my car
2. At least 2 dinners out of the house that I don't have to cook or clean up
3. ½ of my infants daycare for a week
4. A monthly water bill
5. A week's worth of groceries after diapers and formula

I think you get the picture, that $75 saved can have unlimited possibilities and put you closer to a life free of debt

Basil can be tossed into almost any pasta dish, it's great with chicken, and chopped in pizza is such a winning combination. The local farmers market in Bluffton has its famous pasta guy that comes weekly, he sells frozen pizza dough for $2.00 and it is the best around. Combined with your grown herbs, some olive oil, and mozzarella and you have such a great, and extremely cheap meal that kids just adore! You can even be a little health conscious and buy his whole wheat version and use the part skim shredded mozzarella. My husband has perfected the art of grilling pizzas on the outdoor gas grill, and when we do this, it's a dinner not to be missed!

Cilantro has so many uses, some of my favorites are in tacos, my favorite guacamole dip, black bean salads, salsas, and really good with lime and seafood. I found this to be the easiest herb to grow, and I just love the smell. Obviously mint smells wonderful too, and if you are a Mojito lover, mint is for you. Mint can be used to spice up any iced tea (another cheap and easy drink to have in the house or serve at parties, boiled with a little mint puts this over the top). I just found this recipe recently that calls for a sauce of plain yogurt, minced cucumber, and fresh mint. It's a form of Tzatziki sauce, and used with cous cous or pita bread, it is really good and a really healthy side dish or snack.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cooking Dinner

So last night we had the Rotini w/ Sausage ragu that came out of a 30 minute suppers cookbook that is published by America's Test Kitchen.  I changed a few things to make the dish more healthy, for instance I substituted Turkey Sausage for regular sausage and used whole wheat pasta.  The Rotini says it serves 4, but I served both Ben and I for dinner and was able to have 3 more servings leftover to eat for lunch.  This has helped immensely in our lunch savings as my husband prefers to eat hot leftovers over a cold sandwich for lunch! 

Tonight we had Shrimp with ginger orzo salad which came out of the Publix Weekly Ad, which was their Apron's Simple meal of the week.  I am posting the recipe below, it was really yummy and I already had some of the ingredients.  They purposely put some of the ingredients on sale to make it affordable.  It is also a very healthy meal.  While they made the meal with scallops, neither of us like scallops so I substituted shrimp for the scallops.  SO YUMMY!! 

Shrimp with Ginger Orzo Salad


1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped

1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped

1/2 cup sugar snap peas, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1 lb Shrimp

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

3 1/2 cups water

1 cup orzo pasta

3/4 cup Asian ginger vinaigrette

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)


Chop pepper, onions, peas, and cilantro.


Preheat large nonstick sauté pan on medium-high 2–3 minutes. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Place shrimp in pan; cook

Stir in pasta and reduce heat to medium; cook and stir 8–10 minutes or until tender and water has been absorbed.

Stir in peppers, onions, peas, cilantro, vinaigrette, and shrimp; reduce heat to low and cook 1–2 minutes or just until shrimp are no longer opaque (veggies will be crisp-tender). Remove from heat; top with sesame seeds and serve.

Little Things

One thing that has been the hardest for me on this journey is cutting back on the little things that we love. One of my big downfalls is Starbucks Coffee. Going through the Starbucks drive-through is my happy place, it can change my mood in an instant, and is almost a spiritual thing for me. My Starbucks drive-through attendant knows me, knows what I want and I have yet to have a bad experience. BUT . . . . it costs me $4.20 every time I drive in. And Yes, there are some really bad days where I have visited twice and upped my daily total to $8.40, those days are bad and we won't speak about them anymore. But the fact is, in order to go to my happy place every single day it costs $29.40 a week, $127.40 a month, and $1,528.80 a year. That's a lot of money, and I don't know if you have heard about it, but there is something called the Latte Factor. Now for me, it happens that my Latte Factor is actually a latte, but for my husband it's a sausage biscuit at Bojangles or a Diet Sun Drop soda from any local convenience store. Most everyone has something; it's those tiny little items that we get almost regularly that if we took that money, and invested it, instead of spending it on our lattes, sausage biscuits and sodas, would be worth so much more money.

When put into the Latte Factor calculator, if I invested my $4.00 at an annual interest rate of 6%, in a year I would have $1,527.60, in 5 years, I would have $8,723.97, and in 20 years I would have $56,929.38 - You get the point. So when they say, "A little bit goes a long way," . . . It's Totally True!

With that said, I have not had a Starbucks Coffee drink since July 12th, and while I will probably allow myself to indulge once a month, for now the daily coffee drinks are coming directly from my home coffee pot into my beautifully eco-friendly stainless coffee mug, and I'm saving gas too!

Use this link to determine your Latte Factor and how much money that you could be saving:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Follow my Blog

Throughout this week I will begin posting the recipes to the meals that my $76.00 bought from Publix, easy ideas to save money while shopping, and for those who live in my area I will be talking a bit about using our weekly ads to plan your meals. I will also be exporting a sheet that can be used by any family to create a budget you can stick to or at least one that can tell you where you are in your finances.

In addition to saving money lately, I am also taking on the challenge of eating healthy too, so instead of eating peanut butter and jelly and hamburger helper, the meals that I am making will be healthy cheap, and quick to make. Clipping coupons, making lists, and taking a little more time can take you back to a debt free lifestyle. Follow Me!!

Start today, go buy your local newspaper and clip out the coupons! Spending $1.50 today on a paper could save you tons of money over the coming weeks!

It Begins

Today is the first day of my blog where I begin by telling you about me and my family. While neither my husband nor I have been the victim of layoffs and unemployment we, just like so many others, are suffering from a tighter income and a little less wiggle room. With this in mind, it is absolutely imperative that we keep to a budget that I revisit almost daily and ensure that we don't overspend. For now, I am setting our grocery money at $120.00 per week. But . . . . . you need to know that this includes diapers for both of our children and formula for one of ours. So yesterday, I went to Target first knowing full well that our youngest child who is 4 months old, has been on Target brand formula since her 2nd week of life. I chose Target brand for a few reasons:
1. When we travel, I can be assured that I will be able to find a Target nearby to buy formula.
2. This is normally where I buy diapers, so I almost always visit Target once a week
3. I would chose Walmart brand, but I find it to be so much busier on the weekends and more hassle
4. I also found that Target prints coupons after you have paid, so you can use them on your next visit
My target trip included 2 cans of Target Brand Formula and 1 box of Pampers Easy Ups. My total for my trip was $50.47, the formula was $14.89 each, and the diapers were $19.99, I used a coupon from a previous trip for $1.00 off.

So before I even went to the grocery store, I only had $69.53 left for the grocery store. Luckily I had $7.00 in my car that I added to my cash before I headed in the store. So, I headed into Publix with $76.00 and some change in my wallet. I should also let you know that I now always go to the ATM before my shopping trip and withdrawal $120.00. The reason that I do this is simple for me, "I cannot be trusted with an ATM card or a Credit Card to pay any attention to the total." Whenever I use a card of any kind, I pay absolutely no attention to the total or how much I spent. When I hold cash, I count every penny and I know exactly how much the groceries in my cart are adding up to. I know that if the cashier says any amount higher than $76.00, that I will need to put items back. I keep a tally on my list of how much my groceries are adding up to; if you are unable to do this, bring a little calculator in your purse. You will be so surprised how you find errors in your checkouts if you commit to doing this in every shopping trip.