Monday, January 31, 2011

New posts

I've just put new posts up on my other blogs.  There's a recipe for Sweet potato Biscuits on PennyRecipes  and a new post on Blue House blog titled "Hungering for Him":

Menu Monday - Weather Musical Chairs

The weather is meant to be all over the place this week.  Warm and sunny, rainy and cold...Pretty much typical for this time of year.  We'll be at least two months now with this musical chair weather, opening windows to cool down one day and lighting heater before the day is out to warm up again.  It's very unsettled, always has been.   Choosing suitable meals is a challenge but I think after viewing the weather reports I've got the week's menus pretty well matched with the weather. 

Monday:  Sweet and Spicy BBQ'd Wings, Coleslaw, Potato Salad
I always start with an inexpensive, bought on sale, doubled coupon BBQ sauce for this dish.  I add in flavor with honey and Tabasco sauce, so there's a bit of warmth hidden in the depths of the sweetness.  I don't go to any great trouble with the chicken wings, just put them in a pan and bake at fairly high heat (425F) for about 20 minutes, add sauce and then heat for 10 minutes more. 

Tuesday:  Meat Loaf, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Corn Muffins
I've found the secret to a small meatloaf: 1 pound ground beef, 1 egg, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and whatever additions you prefer.  Then I pack the meat into a small round bowl, loosen sides with a knife and turn out into my Pyrex deep pie dish.  It makes a perfect little round load that is thick enough to require cooking a longer cooking time than hamburger and keeps the meat moist and tender.
Wednesday:  Chicken Paprikash, Noodles, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage, Rye Bread
One of my Sunday guests mentioned this dish.  After she left, I wrote it into my menu, it sounded too good not to include.  The long slow cooking will be well suited to a cold rainy day.
Thursday:  Cream of Tomato Soup, Open Faced Meat Loaf Sandwiches, Apples
Even with a small meatloaf there are leftovers.  I love warm meat loaf sandwiches so no hardship to me to have leftovers.  If there is still more meat left, I'll package up in chunks for soup or spaghetti later in the month.
Friday:   Split Pea Soup, Homemade Bread, Banana Pudding
I'm thinking soup will be a good meal again...Chance isn't home and I can freeze leftovers in individual portions, so he can take some in his work lunch, or we can thaw and eat one evening for supper.
Saturday:  Meat-Macaroni Casserole, Broccoli, Pineapple Salad
A 1950's recipe.  I'll use the turkey Spam luncheon meat in the casserole.  It's a little heartier than plain old mac and cheese.  I'll divide the recipe into two casseroles.  One for now, one to freeze for later.

Sunday:  Sherried Chicken, Rice, Green Beans Almondine, Rolls, Pineapple Upside Down Cake
This recipe was strictly an accident, one of those happy accidents related to not having all ingredients on hand to prepare another dish.  It was meant to be an oriental flavored meal but I had no soy sauce...and so I used dry sherry and ended up with an elegant, delicate dish that is a wonderful 'dressy' meal for Sunday.  The Pineapple upside down cake will use up the leftover pineapple rings nicely. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Frugal Friday - Living Well

Another week gone by and January at a very close end.  It's been a wonderful start to the New Year for us.  If the rest of the year goes as this month has we shall be assured of 'something different' all through the year, lol.  Good thing I wanted to be more adventurous and spontaneous this year.  It just suits what this month has been.

Let's start back at Saturday and see where I've made savings and misses this week...

Saturday:  Breakfast was a microwave meal of waffles and sausages.  I find that even the smallest of the pancake/waffle recipes makes far too much for us two to eat in one sitting though we are hearty breakfast folks.  So I put extra waffles on paper plates along with a serving of cooked sausage and then slip the whole plate into a gallon zippered bag and freeze.  It takes only moments to thaw and heat in the microwave and is a good way to make quick breakfasts for Chance on his workdays.  Convenient for me, too on those mornings when a good breakfast is a necessity but the busyness of the day prevents making a substantial meal.

After synagogue I planned to go to Hobby Lobby to look over arts and crafts supplies.  I've had a real longing to pursue another creative outlet and thought I might gather a few supplies, which have been very depleted of late in my home.  I set a limit and bought only those items I knew I'd use for right now.  I also noticed lots of new items and noted prices and frugal minded soul that I am determined what I might use that I already have rather than buy new...It was a successful trip I think. I stayed within budget and felt qualms about only one item.

While out I bought dog food and coffee.  You know how I love to combine trips with errands so that I won't waste gasoline needlessly.

Came home to find the electric bill had arrived.  As I looked it over I noticed it was considerably higher than last month's bill though not alarmingly so.  Reading the bill more carefully I noted three things: it was for a longer billing period (34 days instead of the more usual 29-31 days), the meter reading was guessed at rather than actually read and the cost per day was a nice round figure that I can easily attempt to bring down in the next month.

It was quite cold this past weekend, but I kept the heat turned down to 60F while away from home.

Sunday:   Combined a visit with Granny to pick up a Sunday paper...Even though I didn't get the capitol's paper as I wanted, I did get the usual paper.  There weren't many coupons, but enough to offset the cost of the paper.

Mama asked me to lunch.  We were each looking over the menu and mentioned what we wanted to one another.  I remembered seeing a note on one of the menu pages that both those items were available as a special, Two for $20 and included an appetizer and drinks.  Well that was a much better deal than each of us ordering an entree and drink. 

With an appetizer my meal of Chipotle Chicken fingers was just too much to eat at one sitting.  I asked for a takeout box and brought home a good portion of the plate. Back home, I divided that portion into two, and made a chicken salad for my supper and another for Chance's lunch.  Keeping score?  That's just  $3.33 per serving  for my $10 lunch.

The afternoon was very warm...I came home and opened the windows for a couple of hours to let the house air.  When it began to cool, I shut the windows but made certain the shades and curtains were open on the west side of the house to let the sun warm the rooms.

Found a sweater I'd planned to wear needed mending.  I started a mending pile with one or two other items that also need a little help.

Looked over the items bought the day before.  One item just wasn't me...and I knew just when I'd failed in my resolved and why I purchased it.  I put it in my purse along with the receipt for return later.

Monday:  Chance needed my car...and I seriously contemplated what life would be like with just one vehicle.  It bothers him that I am so far from town and alone without a car, but you know I remember well that Granny and Grandaddy managed with just one car (and a very rattletrap sort of truck they used for farm work).  We don't have anyone for Chance to commute with, but with his every other week schedule if it were necessary we could make do with just one car.

Alan came down and repaired Chance's car.  Cost to us: $45 and one meal for a hungry young man.

When Alan asked if I'd make him something to eat, I felt momentary panic...I hadn't shopped in a month and was scraping barrel for ready to eat things.  I had eaten leftovers for my lunch and packed up the last of the sandwich stuff into Chance's work lunch.  Then I remembered a container in the freezer that contained roast beef/gravy and potatoes.  Hash!  Alan's favorite meal and all I had to do was to thaw and heat over low heat while he worked on the car. 

Sorted coupons, matched to sales in grocery ads, organized them and made up a neater, more easily read main shopping list.

Took time throughout the day to go directly to that shopping list and add items I'd forgotten we needed as the thought occurred to me, rather than rely on my faulty memory.

Realizing that my list was a lot longer than my budget, I went back over it and noted what items might wait, what items I really should be certain to get.

I didn't have enough decaf coffee to make a pot.  I decided a 50/50 pot of coffee was a good way to extend what we had on hand, so I used half regular, half decaffeinated coffee.

Tuesday:  My first Big Shop in a month.  I had no less than 8 planned stops to make.  One stop was to make a return to Hobby Lobby.  Three stops were not grocery stores but they had certain food items on sale that considerably boosted my spending power.  I spent a sizable chunk of money this day BUT my car in gathering coupons and seeking out sales meant I bought half again as much as I'd spent.

Watching the register helped me catch a ridiculously high price on an item that shouldn't have cost even 1/3 what the grocery was charging.  Now I know why there was no price on the item in the produce department!  I asked the clerk to remove the item and bought it at another grocery for a price better suited to my budget and the value.

I spent about $6 on myself in this long drawn out shopping day (miserable too as it was cold and rainy).  I stopped and got a hot lunch at a fast food place ($3) and at the end of the shopping treated myself to a medium Cinnamon Latte ($3).  I credit both with giving me the stamina to do my job well.

Wednesday:  Lowered the heat and put on a third light layer of clothing. 

Following medical experts advice I've added calcium to my daily vitamin regimen.  The calcium will help my body better absorb the vitamin D I've been taking.

Re-purposed a sour cream container and a pint sized glass jar for storage.

Checked the refrigerator for items I needed to use before week was out and put them on a shelf together.

Printed out the list of food/household items with shelf life dates for my Home-keeping notebook.  I need to know this information as should any homemaker.

Ran a full load of dishes in the dishwasher.  Sometimes this means waiting for a cup or glass or one more plate.  I wait until the dishwasher is fully loaded before I run a load.

I've been watching a good bit of "Living With Ed" on PlanetGreen.  Again and again they report that it's more efficient and less wasteful of water to use a dishwasher.  I'm trying to do less hand washing.

On the other hand, I hand washed bras and hung to dry.  Friend Rhonda says it is recommended that a bra not be worn two days in a row.  This preserves elasticity of the fibers.

For one reason and another our dinner was a "Miss".  Substitutions were necessary for a main ingredient and overall the recipe just wasn't that good.  It was decided that it was best to feed the leftovers to the dogs and skip their usual dry food feeding. 

Thursday:  Combined errands while we were out.

We set aside a little money each pay period for tags and taxes.  We picked up tags this day for our cars and had a little money leftover in that fund.  That will be a nice start for our property taxes at the end of the year.

We were away from home most of the day.  I carried along a snack, water, and sodas.

Friday:  A much milder morning meant little use of the heaters to warm the house.  About an hour was all that was necessary.  Opening the curtains on the sunny side of the house helped.

Chance's car had yet another problem so into town we went for another hose.  We were in luck.  A piece of hose had just been cut for another customer and the section left was just what we needed.  Cost: $1  This repair was fairly easy and we were very proud that it cost so little.

While out I suggested we stop to buy pet foods and any items Chance might want for weekend meals.  He went in and picked up the pet food, so no temptation to pick up more.  He also decided what we had at home would suit us very well for meals.

Discussed baking for weekend.  We opted for a half recipe of a favored cookie which suits our needs perfectly.

Made my own special BBQ sauce for chicken wings for our lunch.

Have a bucket of compost food scraps and a small trash can of shredded paper to add to compost pile.

Used a full sized sheet to dress the table this evening.  Tying the corners makes it look neat and fitted.

Living Well

It's been a lovely week. I've taken time to admire the sunrise and sunsets, watched robins bathing in the puddle in the middle of the driveway, watched Maddie at play, spent time doing things just for fun and enjoyed a beautiful Sunday ride.  I've taken time away from my 'must do' schedule to accompany my husband and slept a full 8 hours more nights than not.  I've taken a much needed nap and treated myself to a hot cup of cocoa on an especially cold night and a hot cup of coffee when I was out shopping in the cold and wet.

I've learned to use a new feature of Power Point that I hope will enhance our song service, found a new recipe for yogurt I mean to try, attempted a new recipe (failed but I'll try again), and combined a few pieces of clothing into a new outfit, simply by mixing and matching.

The week has seemed to fly past and there are many things I didn't do...But the things I DID do I thoroughly enjoyed.  That is the way I want to live my life, one moment at the time, fully enjoying every bit that I can.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Woman at Home: The Basic Five Homekeeping Tasks

The Basic Five:  A Homemaker's Duties

Home is never stagnant.  Children are born, grow up and leave home, and  some return to the nest after years away.  We, the parents, age.  Our duties and interests and focus changes depending on the various stages of life we might be living in at the moment.  As our parents age, we may find ourselves moving them into our home as their care becomes our responsibility or we may find ourselves caring for grandchildren. 
The number of duties a homemaker can attend to daily really depends upon her circumstances.  A new homemaker, without a working knowledge of a household, is going to accomplish less than a seasoned homemaker.  A homemaker with infants and toddlers underfoot is not going to do the same amount of housekeeping, nor keep house as well, as a homemaker with teens who can share in the responsibilities. A homemaker who has a cottage industry is going to have other responsibilities to attend to daily in addition to the home duties. But every homemaker's goal should be to do the best job she can while in her current season. 

There are basics duties to which every homemaker should attend. She should provide meals for her family and a clean, reasonably neat, and orderly environment in which to live.  How much time is devoted to the accomplishment of these goals will depend upon the circumstances of the household. 

In my home, I spend about 30 hours a week on housework, meals and home specific tasks outside the home,(shopping, running errands,and such). Our home remains neat most days and I generally prefer seasonal deep cleaning sessions.  I devote about 25 hours a week to my writing.  This time line roughly follows about the number of hours per week that my husband works. 

I personally feel very strongly that my time in my home should be productive and that I work roughly the same number of hours that my husband does at his work.  Remember, I've said time and again that this is a vocation not a vacation.  Still, at this stage in my life, I have plenty of room for leisure activities and personal pursuits.  That one of my hobbies has become a second vocation has been a happy coincidence.  When I had a toddler in my home, it took me about 60 hours a week to accomplish the basic household tasks.  Deep cleaning wasn't even thought of at that time.  When I cared for my father each day, during his last months, I often managed only about 5 hours a week for writing and 15 hours of housework in my own home weekly. 
I'd like to next address the duties I feel are mandatory for my home to run smoothly and look halfway decent.  It suits my family and your views may certainly vary, but these are fairly basic tasks that promote the clean, neat, orderly environment that will suit most families.

Meals:  I love to cook.  I mean it, I really love to cook and I find that this task for me, is one that seldom seems odious. I love planning meals and spend time perusing cookbooks for fun. I know not everyone feels this way.  But whether you love to cook or hate to cook, your family likes to eat!  That is a given fact. 
I think that routine is like the oil that is used to keep a machine running smoothly.  Regular mealtimes and a regular place to eat them will do more for drawing a family together than any counseling session. 
If you loathe cooking and feel stumped when it comes to menus then try making up a set of menus and never varying from them.  Suppose you have a roast beef dinner on Sunday and shepherd's pie on Monday, hamburgers on Tuesday and spaghetti on Wednesday, Fish sticks and fries on Thursday and pizza on Friday and you reserve Saturday for a night of take out? 

Make breakfast and lunch menus as well.  You can most certainly give less variety for those two meals in the interest of saving thinking, time and budget.  A friend of mine grew up eating oatmeal every single day for her breakfast.  It was cheap, easy and required no thinking on the part of her very busy mom who was providing an early morning meal for 12 day in and day out.

I have a group of menu ideas for breakfast that rotates over about two weeks.  I seldom introduce a new item in this meal and I make only one change seasonally: substituting hot cereals for cold in the winter months. Lunches tend to be largely based on leftovers during the school year and are actually only planned meals for a few weeks during the summer or over long holidays. 

There are a few women who find it helps to have a month of dinner menus that they rotate on a seasonal basis for a little more routine.  My family has long been accustomed to a few old favorites mixed in with a lot of new recipes and a more or less seasonal approach to cooking.

Once a month cooking is another option for someone who doesn't care to have to think about meals. 
If you absolutely loathe cooking and prefer to pick up things from the freezer section at the grocery or from the deli, then do so.  While I think every homemaker should be careful and work with her budget to provide the best value how a meal is prepared (or by whom) doesn't matter.  You aren't less of a woman nor homemaker if your cooking isn't a strong point.

Setting aside a place in your home to eat on a regular basis is of vital importance to your family's emotional health, far more than what meals you put upon the table.  For years, when I was raising the first portion of my family, we ate in front of the television day in and day out and rarely spoke except to say "Be quiet, I can't hear the t.v."  It wasn't until I was raising my second stage family that I had a proper dining area.  No television allowed.  Soft background music and conversation are the accompaniment to our meals and much preferred, too, to the old days.

In the early days of that second stage family we ate breakfast and dinner together every day.  Now it's usually just dinner that we all eat together.  Let me encourage you, as the seasoned homemaker I am, to incorporate a dinner table into your home if you don't have one.   If the living room coffee table is your only table, then by all means use it as a dinner table.  But do turn off the television and make every effort to make routine meals, eaten as a family, not as a viewing audience, the norm.

I admit it.  I love keeping my home neat and orderly but it took many years to learn a basic routine that works for me in all but the very worst of circumstances.  There are all kinds of systems from the Sidetracked Home Executives method to Flylady and more.  My goal is a neat, clean, reasonably orderly environment.  These are the tasks I find it best to do daily and these tasks sometimes suffice to provide the desired result:

Laundry: I do a load of laundry nearly every day.  Just one load, and on rare occasions I might do two.  I used to save laundry day for one day a week.  That was too big a task to accomplish in one day's time and got very tedious.  Then I tried doing laundry in separate loads but only when I had a full load of  whites, or towels, or jeans.  That too proved tedious.

With help from my husband I found that the majority of our clothing could be washed on a daily basis in a bundled load (mixing white, dark, lights) without damage to any article.

We also eliminated some of our loads.  I do towels once a week now and we use only one towel each all week long.  If you have a large family,  hang the damp towels on the line (or run through the dryer) after use.  Remember that this is essentially clean laundry, used to dry a clean body.  Now that our family is a smaller one I often combine towels and bed sheets in a single load.  This works well for our small family.
One thing to keep in mind is that the single load every day method means only one load is dried and only one load must be folded and put away on a daily basis.  It proved an incredible time saver for me when I was a working mom and I saw no reason to change it when I became a stay at home mom.

Making beds: Even a 5 year old can make their own bed.  Not as expertly as you might, but it can be made all the same.  It's amazing how much neater a bedroom looks if the bed is made.  I used to put off making my bed everyday, until I decided to time myself.  Starting with a bare mattress, it took me exactly four minutes to make my bed.  I figure it can't take any longer than that to pull up the sheets and spread any morning.

Dishes:  A sink piled with dirty dishes is enough to send any woman round the bend.  And believe me, if scientists could harness the same energy that creates dirty clothes and dirty dishes, the world would never have an energy crisis. 

This task was generally a chore that the older children performed in our home.  When we were down to just three, I finally had a dishwasher in my kitchen.  I use that 'servant' as Laine refers to her appliances, to it's fullest.

It takes less than fifteen minutes to clean up the dishes after a meal is over if you wash pots and pans and bowls as you are cooking (or rinse and load if you have the blessing of a dishwasher).  Before you start preparing a meal, fill your sink with warm soapy water.  Wash and rinse as you go and at meal's end you'll be left with only the plates and glassware.
Let me share that my friend and mentor, Mrs. Harris, often serves Sunday dinner to no less than 20 and often as many as 35.  Her daughters and I share the responsibility of doing the dishes after a meal, each of us taking on a portion of the labor.  It's never taken more than 30 minutes to do all those dishes, including pots and pans, with one washing and rinsing and another drying. While the washing and drying are going on Mrs. Harris puts away all the leftover foods and another takes a damp cloth and wipes down chairs and tables in the many dining areas her home affords, as well as the kitchen counters and appliances.

I like to let the dishes I wash by hand air dry, but I take time to empty the dish drainer as soon as the dishes are dry.  Putting dishes away makes the kitchen look neater right away.

Floors: We sweep or vacuum our 1100 sq ft. home everyday.  It takes less than 15 minutes to do.  Often when I'm vacuuming I don't bother to sweep.  I just run the vacuum over the tiled floors as well as over the carpet.  I'm making good use of another of my 'servants' when I do that.

If you spot clean floors, you do not need to mop them nearly so often.  Typically I mop my kitchen and baths once every two weeks.  In the meantime, I look them over at the end of each day, when I'm ready to put my dishcloth in the dirty laundry.  That damp cloth has removed many a drip or smudge before going to the laundry.

These are just a few of the many tasks in a home but doing these basic five will make a huge difference in the comfort your home provides to your family.

Warm Sweater Wednesday

Since we got that electric bill the other day, I thought I'd try to see if I could lower my day to day costs a little bit  more...And so I'm reverting back to an old habit I'd let drop.  Each Wednesday, I will cut back my thermostat from 68F for 63F, and each time we leave the house, I'll turn it down to60F. 

However, each Wednesday, I'll don another sweater or a light jacket in the house to keep warm and toasty.
Won't you join me, too?  I'll send out a reminder each Wednesday...

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Coffee Chat, A page worth viewing and such...

Hello there!  I've had the most spontaneous week I've known in many years now and I shall tell you all about it, though it may well seem tame compared to most.  However, being the country mouse that I am, it's been quite out of character for me and fun and well enjoyed.  I shall confess this is very out of character for me, all this going about without the day and the way all planned out before hand.  What freedom there is in scrapping all my plans and simply flowing along, lol!  
I'd planned on Saturday to make a trip to Hobby Lobby, set myself a spending limit and was set to go after synagogue.  Then my friend, upon hearing my plans as we chatted after service, asked to come along.  How lovely and unexpected that was!  It's been almost a year since we were last able to take off together for a fun day and since she is a crafting person it was doubly enjoyable.  How sweet she was in the offering of some items I'd meant to buy and of which she had a great many. 

We walked and looked and discussed and she being as frugal minded as myself simply laughed whenever I would say , "Oh but I won't spend on that, I can make do with something I already have..."  I was, to be honest, a bit stunned by prices of some things and very pleased with prices of others and came away with a bag full of things to begin to have fun with very soon.  We picked up pet food and then she treated me to lunch and we headed back home.   It was late afternoon, almost evening that day when I returned home, just as it had been earlier in the week when I was off to the city.

Saturday night I had one of those deep 'naps' after going to bed and then woke and found myself staring at the ceiling unable to go back to sleep.  After prayer, I began to think over the purchases I'd made and what crafts I shall enjoy doing with them and what materials I have on hand and what I shall make note to buy later...Well that did the trick.  As I lay there planning out a lovely time of crafting, I went right back to sleep.

Sunday I did a bit of housework and then dressed to go visit Granny.  Gracious that was just yesterday wasn't it?  It seems much longer ago, somehow.  I went over and found Mama there visiting and after the visit was over (Granny determined it was time for us to go and saw us to the door), Mama asked if I'd go with her to eat out.  Added enticement was the city to the north that lies among deep rolling hills, a highway that has extensive long range views and the beautiful day.  I thought of the plans I'd made and then decided to just embrace this cycle of new plans replacing the old and agreed to go.

It was a lovely ride and well worth the trip up.  It was a very pleasant time, the meal was good, and we had a beautiful ride back home again.  However, it was late afternoon when I returned home and by the time I'd made Chance's lunch, planned my supper and done the last of the housework, it was evening once again. 

Now you shall laugh, because I am convinced there is a test in all this planning and changing.  Chance came in and told me his car was in disrepair.  He claimed it a 'mechanical medical emergency', an aneurysm of a radiator hose, lol.  However, the mechanical ailment meant my car was needed for the next two days...and that put off the Big Shop I'd been planning for all weekend long.

Yes, I do believe it was a test...But I decided it didn't matter in the least, all things would work out just fine.  Chance took my car this morning and I planned out what I should do tomorrow instead of shopping.  And as I set my plans, he called to suggest perhaps I might take him to work and then pick him up that evening.  It was a lot of extra mileage to be sure and would require a good bit of time as well ,but the Big Shop could be done.  That, I thought, would work nicely so I made my plans.  And then at 3pm Alan called to say he was a half hour away, was bringing parts to repair the car and please would I fix him dinner so he could eat before returning for evening class?  And yes, that meant my plans changed again, not only for the afternoon nap I was now missing that I'd felt most in need of this afternoon,  but for tomorrow because Chance shall now have his own car.

I managed a meal for Alan, though I'd no idea at the moment I agreed to feed him what on earth he should eat.  When he arrived I went outdoors.  It was lovely out today, nice enough to warrant hanging out laundry and opening windows to air the house.  I took out the big clippers and pruned the rosebushes ruthlessly, just as I'd seen they had done over at Lane's Packing Shed.  Their roses are glorious each year and I am certain that mine shall have come to no harm since they grow wildly here for some reason.  I did smile to myself, pruning roses when I'd meant to be lying down to rest instead. 

Roses pruned, I came indoors meaning to really lie down and stretch my back but Kay called and we chatted until Alan was done with the car and washed up and then he chatted to her as he ate his dinner.  And when Kay had hung up and Alan was away the afternoon chores needed to be taken care of and then it was evening all over again.  A full day has been lived and it has gone by so quickly.

Here is a yahoo news item that I thought most interesting.  I've condensed it in word processing and plan to print it out for Mama, Alan, Doug's wife, Susan, Kay and myself to keep.  I was quite surprised at the information it contains and it shall prove very helpful.  My copy is going right into my housekeeping journal in the food section for future reference.

It is Harvest Night here and we will settle our few bills over coffee after prayers.  I can well remember the days when this evening was much dreaded by us both and tears and upsets were the most common reaction.  Our determination to end our debt and make the sacrifices that led us to living debt free have certainly been worthwhile.  I don't believe we missed a thing not eating out twice a week nor spending money we didn't have on things we shouldn't remember in a week's time.  We certainly do remember what it was like to watch those debts come to a -0- balance however.  And while we are not totally free (we do have our car loan) that too is being paid off a little bit more with each pay period.

I double checked my grocery spending for the past month, with all those unplanned hindrances to the shopping, making do with what we had on hand and a quick shop for basic needs.  We really did do very well. Not as much savings as I'd hoped but some savings all the same. 

I stood at the window this evening as I went about the house shutting blinds and curtains and there was a lovely sunset despite the clouds moving in.  One section to the northwest looked very peculiar, almost like a harrowed field.  I couldn't help but smile at the idea that a heavenly crop had been sown in that field in the sky.

I was reading a blog post late last week on how to make up a winning blog...It was suggested that politics nor religion be mentioned in order to avoid offending anyone.  I have to be honest here.  I'd love to see great numbers on my blog.  I'd love to have it be wildly popular and much subscribed to and yes, even see it earning a bit of income after all these years spent writing.  But my faith is intrinsically a part of who I am.  Not the denomination, because heaven knows I've tried on several hats in that area,  but my relationship with Christ and my beliefs over all.  If they are offensive I beg your pardon but please reconsider what you are reading.  I shall not refrain from talking of heaven or revelations I've had (and I have recently had two very provoking revelations that I plan to blog about on my Blue House blog), nor of mentioning my great joy and gladness in my faith walk.  I came to Christ later in life and I've lived without Him and I shall not do so again in this lifetime, nor will I deny Him because someone else feels 'uncomfortable'.  I pray that each of you who visit here are familiar with my stand on this matter and continue to return simply because you like what you see here and it touches your life when I share my own.

Now that said, I must end and do one or two things before Chance comes in which should be any moment now.  I just remembered he's driving my car, which I cannot hear as I can his own sports car and I shouldn't like to have dishes in the sink when he arrives...

Talk to you again next week!

P.S.  I know I've not posted menus yet.  I am absolutely bored to tears with the usual fare and meant to spend the day going through cookbooks...well you know how my plans keep changing, lol.  I've not had a moment to look for anything to inspire me yet.  I shall certainly try to have it up by tomorrow, but that's not a

From the Past: January 24, 2003

Found this in 2003 archives and thought since it applied to the same date I'd send it out.  It was lovely today outdoors, a bit warmer than we've been having.  I opened the windows and let the house air out and then went outdoors to prune the rose bushes...A lovely way to spend a winter afternoon.

Final Thought from Penny

We live in a mild climate. Seasons are not as clearly marked as in
other regions. Here we have about two weeks each of spring and
autumn, two months of winter, and 9 months of heat. Seasons are more
easily denoted by what's available fresh in the markets greengrocers
section, than by the way the climate.

Another sure sign of seasons is more subtle. The slant and color of
the sunlight changes. Fiercely hot and white in the summer months,
it mellows and becomes more golden in the cooler portion of the
year. In winter we can count on incredibly colorful and vibrant
sunsets and sunrises.

We had such a sunset the other evening. My husband, on his way to
work for an extra shift, looked up at the sky and said, "It's a
dreamsicle evening", and it was indeed a study in creamy orange. The
breeze was warming, no doubt heralding in the clouds that cover the
sky today as I write, and it gently lifted my hair, almost like a

I find that the more I live, the more incredibly satisfied I feel in
simple moments like standing on the back deck looking at a dreamsicle
sky, feeling safe and secure, and happy in the moment.

May you too have dreamsicle moments this week.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Re-Post: A Woman At Home...What is a "Homemaker"?

Homemaker:  What's In A Name?
I won't go into a detailed account of my further adventures in homemaking over the course of the past ten years, except as it illustrates any points I may make.  Suffice it to say that after ten years I've discovered the home is like a kaleidoscope: the focus is continually changing.

Homemaking as a vocation requires any number of skills and activities on a daily basis.  Anyone who thinks that this job is dull hasn't attempted homemaking as a career.  If you like a little routine mixed in with a lot of spontaneous combustion, welcome to the world of homemaking!

What does a homemaker do?  She creates a home.

Here's what the American Heritage Dictionary has to say about home as a noun:
1.  A place where one lives...
2.  A physical structure within which one lives
3.  One's close family and self; a persons most personal relationships and possessions
4.  An environment or have of shelter, of happiness and love 
5.  Any valued place, or emotional attachment regarded as a refuge... 
6.  The place where one was born or spent his early childhood...
7.  The native habitat of a plant, animal or the like
8.  The place where something is discovered, founded, developed, or promoted 
9.   Headquarters or base of operations 
10.  A goal or place of safety in a game 
11.  An institution where people are cared for
And there are other definitions based on the use of the word as an adjective that apply  such as:
1.  of or pertaining to a home, especially to one's household or house 
3.  of or pertaining to a base of operations
4.  going straight to the point and reaching the mark directly and accurately
5.  hosted
As an adverb:
1.  in one's own house, not away or absent 
3.  available to receive visitors. 
4.  at ease, unconstrained, comfortable 
5.  having facility in a field or skill, feeling an easy competency and familiarity...

These are just a few definitions of the word home, but just look at the variety of meanings!  And notice that each definition is rife with the responsibilities we as a homemaker must endeavor to address, although these definitions do not completely encompass the additional duties of being procurement officer, chauffeur, laundress, secretary, decorator, chef, accountant, human resources, doctor, and other duties that are entailed in keeping a house.

Today I'd like to look at the duties of a homemaker based on the definitions given.
1.  A place where one lives.  2.  A physical structure where one resides. 
I've lived in nice homes and not so nice homes.  Some were larger than others, some older, some smaller and some newer.  None of them were ideal, even though I might have thought so when we first chose to move into them.   I learned during an extended hospital stay that home is truly just where you live.  It can be one room or fifty.  It can be beautifully decorated or barely furnished.  What we require at least is four walls, a solid roof, some type of flooring and running water and electricity, although I can say quite sincerely that really only the four walls and the flooring were available in at least one of my homes!  And yes, I still felt it was home despite its great flaws. 

3.  One's close family and self; a person's most personal relationships and possessions
4.  An environment or haven of shelter, of happiness and love 
5.  Any valued place, or emotional attachment regarded as a refuge... 
6.  The place where one was born or spent his early childhood...

Throughout most of my childhood and life, I considered my Granny's farm as home.  Why?  Because it was here that I experienced a happy, normal, secure and loving environment.  Granny provided that in a house roughly 1/4 the size of any my parents owned.

Often it isn't great wealth or riches that make a house a home.  It's the people within it and a cherished possession or two.  In one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books she notes that no house felt like home until the china shepherdess was set upon the little shelf or mantle.  Then they all felt at home.  It was a single piece, a much cherished piece and their only fine possession, yet that small ornament made all the difference in giving the family a sense that they were home once again.

I recall when we were moving into this home.  We moved very gradually over a six week period from our former home.  One night, Chance and I brought up the bookcases and then emptied the boxes of books and record albums and put them upon the shelves.  We sat close on a little loveseat (the only seating we'd been able to bring up at that time) and looked about the room that would soon be our new living room.  As we gazed at the spines of my books and the filled shelves, my husband turned to me and sighed.  "Now," he said, "it's finally starting to look like home."

8.  The place where something is discovered, founded, developed, or promoted 
9.   Headquarters or base of operations 

I love these two definitions!  Why?  Because this is homemaking at it's finest.  A wonderful environment wherein we learn and grow in skills, emotional maturity, spirit, physical body, and intelligence.  I feel strongly that the proper home environment nurtures the whole of a person.  Where else can you acquire so much knowledge in just a few years time?  It is in the home that we hopefully give our children the ability to grow into wonderful human beings, well rounded and capable. 

That the second definition says 'base of operations' certainly further promotes the idea of the home as the place to send forth and promote the ideals of a family doesn't it?

10.  A goal or place of safety...
11.  An institution or environment where people are cared for

I think these two definitions pretty much say it all.  A goal or place of safety.  That certainly does describe how I feel.  When I am tired or weary of dealing with the world at large, it is home where I most long to be.  I know my husband feels the same way, and nothing warms a parent's heart more than hearing a deep heartfelt sigh from a child whose returned for a visit. 

I've chosen to pair these two definitions because if the home is not where people feel cared for they are not going to be eager to return to it.  In order to provide a true heaven, the atmosphere must be that of caring, love, respect and admiration for all the individuals.  And I feel strongly that a homemaker must do her utmost to provide that atmosphere.

4.  going straight to the point and reaching the mark directly and accurately  5.  hosted
The point of any home is to have a heart, and what better mark to try and reach?  A homemaker will find that the heart of the home is generally considered to be herself.  She is the drawing card that brings her family back together at day's end.  She is the one to whom they turn for comfort.  She is the creator of the environment wherein the family feels safe and loved and welcomed.  And not just her own family but other family, friends and strangers should all detect that she is the heart of the family.  It is because she is that heart that the next  definitions also come into play.

1.  in one's own house, not away or absent  3.  available to receive visitors. 4.  at ease, unconstrained, comfortable
You cannot be absent and create a home!  As well, you must be able to open your home to others in order to be a true hostess to all.  A woman who is comfortable in her home, who feels at ease and makes others feel the same is a truly great hostess.  And that quality has little to do with how well you entertain them but everything to do with how welcome you make them feel.  It has little to do with the fineness of your belongings and more to do with striving to make what you have attractive, clean and neat and making sure that it is comfortable.  I think of Laine's home in this definition. 

For those of you familiar with Laine's letters*, you'll recall that she frequently entertains in her home, but she also mentions that her kitchen flooring has holes in it and that the living room floor is covered with layers of rugs to hide the worn flooring underneath.  She mentions that in the kitchen she has two easy chairs where she and her husband sit in the morning, and she often describes the crowding of guests around the kitchen table.  Her home sounds like it has been well used.  Yet  reading how she entertains her guests makes me sorry that I can't just drop by to share in a cup of tea and a chat in what sounds to be a happy haven.

5.  having facility in a field or skill, feeling an easy competency and familiarity...

For me, this epitomizes a homemaker.  She may start out feeling she knows little, but as time goes on and she learns to hone her skills, she develops an easy and comfortable capability, one that appears effortless yet requires great care of thought and mindfulness.  This ability is what enables a homemaker to hug a child close with one hand while stirring a pot on the stove with the other, nestling a phone in the curve of her shoulder as she deals with a mechanic or repairman, mindful the while of where her next duty lies.
It is what allows her to sit down at day's end and sigh with satisfaction as she gazes around her home, at the family lolling on the sofa or the floor at her feet, knowing that she has completed yet another day in her home and once more achieved that delicate balance of harmony, peace, joy and fulfillment that being a homemaker can bring.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frugal Friday - Living Well

Just a few more days and this month will be over...Hasn't it been running away from us?  I've enjoyed the month thus far.  It's been a wonderful start to the New Year and a good month for accomplishing a lot of good work.  If this is the way the year shall go on, I shall call this one of the most productive years I've had in years!

So, time to see how I saved (or missed) over the past week.  I'll do as I've been doing and start way back at Saturday (which seems so long ago at the moment).

Saturday:  Synagogue and Oneg (meal) that followed.  I carried homemade lasagna, a salad and a pan of frosted homemade brownies.  Everyone brought brownies this time, lol.  Chocolate overload!  That meant I brought home a good portion of those rich brownies.  We had brownies for snacks all week long.  Not a bad thing.

I had a few leftovers, so brought them home and put them away right away.  Future meal ready to heat and eat.

I was offered, and accepted, smoked beef brisket that was soooo good.  I took just enough to make sandwiches for us.

We were on our way over to Alan's old place when he called to re-route us back home.  Chance invited him to supper.  No worries we had leftovers.  Then Alan called when we walked in the door to say he was bringing guest with him...Not enough leftovers for four when two of them are very hungry young men.  Quick thinking gathered up half a roast chicken stripped from bones to make sandwiches, the smoked beef brisket and a single packet of pastrami bought on sale.  A loaf of bread, a fresh bag of chips pulled from the pantry, hot cocoa, juice and coffee for beverages, brownies for dessert...Whew!  A meal from 'nothing'. 

Alan called again before arriving to ask if he might store some things...Certainly he could, if he didn't mind putting them in the shed.  The new apartment is smaller and he had to downsize.  Instead of storing some items he decided to give one item to me:  flat screen monitor for the desk top computer.

I'd seen a picture earlier in the week of a desk area in a kitchen that I really liked.  It was so roomy, so nice.  With the flat screen monitor I had loads more room.  Chance however, wasn't quite satisfied.  There was a rat's nest of tangled cords and with speakers, wireless router and broadband router on the desktop the little desk still seemed cluttered.  First he sorted out the tangled cords and made that look a lot neater.  Smart man, smart smart man that he is  he HUNG the routers and speakers on the wall above the desk.  Now the desktop is clutter free!  All that space for just four nails being put in the wall.  Did I mention how smart the man is?

Sunday: We drove to the city to help Alan unpack...Only he'd already unpacked.  He needed a ride to his old apartment to pick up his car.  He took us out for coffee.  He drove and asked if I'd noticed my car was a little hard to drive.  I told him I had.  He said the tires were under-inflated and I'd get better gas mileage if they were filled to the maximum amount of pressure.  Good deal.  I get a free tip that not only improves the car's handling but saves me gasoline as well.

Back at his old apartment, Alan announced that he had nowhere to put the stainless microwave in like-new condition nor the rolling office chair...Would I like them?  Oh yes!  The microwave was much nicer than my own and more to my taste (the other was a gift) and the desk chair would be perfect for my future work/craft space.

Supper at home?  Leftover lasagna and salad from our Oneg meal on Saturday. 

Monday:  We'd planned to go buy groceries but woke to rain.  And weariness from our busy week just past.  We decided to wait until the next day to do the shopping.  We stayed in our pajamas all day long.  Dinner was leftovers that I'd combined and frozen in a casserole.  I made a salad and side dish to go with it.

Curiosity led me to do a visual inventory of the fridge/freezer.  Hmmm...Quite a bit of foodstuffs still on hand.

The weather truly was miserable.  We kept the curtains pulled closed on all but one window to avoid drafts.

The gas man came to refill our propane tank.  Chance asked if we were using too much.  I said no, and from all I've heard about the increases friends and family experienced with their first electric bill for this year, we are going to be using that propane heater a little more and the electric heat a little less. 

Bread was running low but we had enough to manage sandwiches for supper. I warned Chance to eat crackers etc if he wanted toast for morning.

Chance looked at weather forecast online and told me it would be raining again the next day.  I am not keen on shopping in rain...He suggested I wait until Thursday.  I considered this and told him that as we had to buy a few things (bread, milk, eggs, cheese, lettuce) right away I would settle for a trip to the local grocery and then postpone any further shopping until my usual Big Shop.

Received an email from the book club thanking me for my last order and offering a buy one get one free sale...and as it just happened I'd planned to order two books the first of next month.  Why not buy now and get the second book free?  I did just that. 

A friend shared that my new bras would last longer if hand washed.  I did this and hung to dry in the spare bath.  She said the agitation of the washer stretches and twists the material, while the dryer ruins the elasticity of the fibers.  I'll follow her advice from now on. 

Tuesday:  Another dreary rainy day.  The propane heater kept the chill down and we kept curtains drawn yet another day.  I am not fond of a dark home. I am less fond of a frigid home though. 

We went to the local grocery to buy the needed items.  I went prepared with list in hand to insure we forgot none of the necessities.  Splurge for the day: three packs of cubed steak that were marked down for quick sale and 1 frozen cheese rising crust pizza.  I spent about 1/4 the budget for the pay period.  That means I'm going to come in under budget for this month!  I hadn't planned to come in under budget this month, just to use some of my stockpiled foods.  As it happened, the weather sort of prompted the savings and I'm pleased that we have done so very well.

While out we ran two other errands in the local area: one stop at the hardware store for caulking (Chance was on another minor repair kick in the house) and the post office.

Chance spent the afternoon caulking gaps and making minor repairs.  It's amazing how much neater a home appears if things are in good repair.

Pizza for lunch at the man of the house request.  Supper?  Another leftover item from the freezer: 1 pint of chili, 1 drained can of corn, 1 box of muffin mix prepared per directions equals Tamale Pie.  A side salad of thawed ambrosia (I'd frozen last month when Chance didn't help eat the big bag of oranges I'd bought) and we had a very healthy and hearty supper.  Really the only cost to us was for that box of muffin mix, bought on sale for just $.50 and 1 egg (about $.20).  Supper for two for $.70...Can you beat that?

Wednesday:  The plan: Light housework, lunch and shopping with Mama.   The reality: Chance dropped his phone which broke into several pieces.  Plans for the day changed slightly.  All of the above plans PLUS a ride to pick up the broken phone and then a ride to the city to exchange the phone...

Mama didn't want to do any shopping.  We stopped for Honeybells and shared the 1/4 bushel bag. 

A stop by my own home on my way to the city to grab another bottle of water and one of those Honeybells just in case I felt hungry as the afternoon progressed.

Turns out Alan had opted to purchase insurance on the phone when he gave it to Chance.  We had only to call the insurance program and request a replacement which they sent overnight.  Cost for the new phone $40 thanks to his foresight.  Savings about $160.  Suddenly the half tank gasoline used for all the extra running about didn't seem such a budget drain.

Alan suggested while we were near the bookstore we stop by.  He treated me to a cup of coffee.  While he looked I made a bargain with myself.  Since I'd just ordered two new books, I felt I shouldn't buy another.  Instead I walked over the magazines and told myself only if I found the favored two very hard to find magazines would I buy anything.  Well they didn't have either of the magazines.  I looked over the bargain bookshelves but kept my word and spent nothing.

Alan skipped a class to run this errand with me.  He hadn't had lunch and it was now suppertime.  I  treated him to a meal.  I told Chance I took it from the grocery budget savings.

Thursday:  Overtired from the long long day before, I had to use reward incentives to push myself to get the house cleaned...and it really needed cleaning after nearly a week of light housekeeping only.  Well it worked.  Housework accomplished and I was able to read for a couple of hours, too.

Didn't want any of the planned menu items...Thawed chicken and breaded it to oven fry.  Homemade Honey Mustard dressing was awesome: 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 2 tsps Dijon mustard, 2 tsps honey.  YUM!  I'll never buy honey mustard again. 

Three breasts in the package: one for my dinner, one sliced made two sandwiches for Chance's lunch, and 1 leftover, along with half the vegetables, put away for easy heat and eat meal Saturday when I come in from synagogue.

Longing for artwork in the guest room I opted to pin up some colored pencil pieces I'd done.  A bright spot in an a rather impersonal room.

My supper was leftover Tamale Casserole. 

I forgot to buy dog food.  I thought I'd need to go to town to buy more but couldn't leave home.  I remembered a container of food I'd set aside when the last bag wouldn't all fit in the bit container.  I have enough dog food on hand to last through Saturday.  I'll pick up more then after synagogue.

Chance came home with an armload of Atlanta Sunday papers.  Our friends sent them to me with all the coupons inside.  Lovely!   There are far more coupons in the Atlanta paper and this paper is not available for me to buy locally anymore.

Friday:  No lunch meat in the house...I pulled a roast from the freezer to cook in the crock pot with onion soup mix and mushroom  soup.  Sandwich meat for Chance and open face sandwiches for myself.

I'll boil eggs and make egg salad and tuna salad for sandwiches as well.

Baking for the weekend will be fairly easy.  I think a snack cake is in order. I'll use bought on sale cake mix from the pantry to make our snack cake.  I always substitute water for the oil required in the boxed mix, with no loss of moistness.

Big Shop next week will be a little intense after a full month of not shopping.  I am pre-planning, using the advantage of online 'sneak peek' ads to help me along.  I can go ahead and gather coupons and make a list for all but one store.  What a time savings to be able to do it today instead of having to wait until Monday to begin.

Chance took the pre-paid envelope containing the broken phone to drop in the mail.  This is part of the insurance requirement.  Delays could mean an additional charge of $50. 

Another at home day for me, so no gasoline or money spent.  We'll finish up this pay period with a bit of money left from our last check and that is definitely a bonus. 

Living Well 

While working at the kitchen desk last Friday, I looked at the cramped quarters and thought how nice a flat screen monitor would be, and how much room would be freed on that desktop.  I love that the very next day my son gave me his old flat screen monitor and that my husband figured out a way to give me more room.  It's not quite where I want it yet, but it's a whole lot nearer that inspiration photo thanks to my two guys.

Our pajama day was a huge success for us both.  It was so relaxing!  I think we may have to do that again this winter after we've had a busy week .  There's something about pajamas that just makes us naturally slow  down and relax and not work hard.  Take one cold rainy winter day, one pair of pajamas for each person in the household and earn the maximum in relaxation. 

I'm MAKING time to read these busy days and am getting back into the reading habit once more after months of reading in snippets.  I've finished two books this week, started another and am halfway through with the third book.

There's a sitcom I deeply enjoy that plays in the early evening as a 'filler' program.  It never fails to elicit laughs from me and so I'm making a point of watching it each evening in the interest of increasing my ability to laugh out loud.

Sunsets this week (at least on the clear days) have been gorgeous.  Well worth being out late to drive home with the panoramic view before me.

Moonrise on one of those late nights was equally spectacular.  The view the very next morning was pretty awesome as well.  The ground was shrouded in an icy fog but the sky was clear and the moonlight made the morning appear to be made of mother of pearl.  There are advantages to having a husband drive off to work just after 6am.

Honeybells are a seasonal treat, well worth taking time to savor and enjoy.  They are so big and orange and tasty!

It took quite a bit of time to get the broken phone replaced but it all worked out just fine.  I got to spend some nice one on one time with Alan, enjoyed a beautiful sunset and moonrise and then was rewarded last night with my husband telling me how very much he appreciated my taking care of  it for him.  Gee...I never expected that glitch in my plans to turn out so nicely.

I've been making sure to get outside for a little time each day, even though it is damp or cold and generally unpleasant.  Winter brings it's own rewards: crisp, clean air that is marvelous to breathe, an extended view with the bare trees, lots of bright pretty birds to watch bathe in the puddles, the black etching of bare branches against the sunset sky...

Trust is sometimes hard won. Alan's female cat had been abandoned twice and she's just not the most trusting creature around.  This weekend I was allowed to show her a little affection.   When I went up on Wednesday she got up on the couch and walked slowly over to me and stood upon my leg.  She wouldn't look at me, but that gesture of coming to me and standing on my person spoke worlds about where she was in trusting me.  I felt honored and told her so.

A good giggle this morning watching an energetic Robin toss leaves about in a frenzy of hunting insects.  He reminded me of myself when I've lost something in a dresser drawer and begin to toss items about, lol.

Beautiful day today deserves open curtains all around, no matter how cool it is outdoors.  The sun is so welcome after our cloudy days.

I look for signs of the season in the agricultural world around me...Peach trees are now being pruned, right on schedule and spring wheat is coming up in the fields.

The recent decluttering has left me feeling light and airy as my home's open spaces.  I love it.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Buy Groceries - Pt. V The Store(s)


Well here we are...It's grocery shopping day at last.  The first thing I do before leaving the house is to gather my tools.  They are: my lists, my coupons (my entire folder not just the ones I'm sure I'll be using) and my bags.  I have both the reusable grocery bags and those really nice insulated bags which will keep foods cold for several hours.  This is important when you are making multiple stops.  In summer, I buy a bag of ice at the first store where I stop to insure that my perishable groceries stay cool.  In winter, the bag alone is more than sufficient.  I am protecting my investment when I insure that cold items STAY cold.

Once I have all my tools gathered and loaded into the car, I pray.  Now when we pay bills on Harvest Night we pray over my grocery list and for unexpected bargains.  On grocery shopping day, I hold my list in my hand and pray for wisdom, for keen eyes to catch unexpected bargains and best prices, for favor in finding unadvertised specials and for safe travels.

Now I am ready to shop.

Let talk about the three types of stores I use for my grocery shopping.

The drugstore is one of the best places to find grocery bargains. I really look hard at those sales papers to ferret out the bargains.  At least once a month, one of the two drugstores will advertise 13 ounce cans (or bags) of coffee for $2.50 each and usually that includes decaf as well as regular.  Occasionally the decaf prices are a little higher (about $.50).  

What groceries do I buy most often at the drugstore?  Dried fruit (prunes, craisins, raisins), olives, olive oil, coffee.  Occasionally five pound bags of flour or sugar.  Personal care products (shampoo, razors, tissues).  Sometimes I buy zippered storage bags, or aluminum foil at very good prices, as well as toilet paper and paper towels.  I almost always buy my dish detergent at the drugstore and occasionally find a good sale on laundry detergent there.  And of course, candy is often better priced there than at the grocery.  Now and then cereal is a good buy.  I have seen good bargains for ice cream and frozen rising crust pizzas but they are seldom on the shelf when I arrive to buy them. 

The downside to the drugstore for grocery purchases? The grocery section of the drugstore is small, usually two aisles, in some stores only one.  Limited supply means limited quantities (per customer limit) allowed for purchase and sometimes sales are offered for items that aren't available.  Those items are useless to ask for rainchecks for too, because they are special ordered for the sale only and won't be on the shelf again until the next sale.

The Dollar Store has been touted as the great bargain store for all things edible, wearable, or used in cleaning.  For my local dollar store, I tend to buy only a few foods, usually brand name chips, and pet foods.  Lightbulbs, zippered storage bags (name brand) and trash bags go on sale for great prices, as does toilet paper.  Coffee is an occasional good buy there. 

The downside: cleaners, shampoo and most foodstuffs are a better buy than the local grocery perhaps but I can find far better bargains at the grocers where I shop. 

Another downside for me: I can easily become undisciplined and lose focus when I wander down the aisles of pretty home accessories, garden items, and kitchenware.  I can spend all of my impulse money right there in the dollar store in no time!

I do the majority of my grocery shopping at the grocers.  It's easy here to get caught up in the idea that one must walk up and down every aisle and look at every single item.  In the two major grocers where I shop this can be a huge distraction.  There's always something I'd like to have for my shelves or some lovely exotic something that sounds good even I'm not sure how to use it...

To offset this tendency I try to stick to the hard and fast rule of perimeter shopping with only the occasional foray down an aisle where an item on sale might be. 

Most stores are set up with bakery/deli/produce along the outside right wall, meat and dairy along the back wall and more dairy and breads down the left outside wall.  There is a reason for this.  It's all based upon research data and the desire to lure the shopper to spend more time and money in the store than they'd planned to spend.  For every ten minutes you are in the grocery, you can plan to spend $20.  Sticking to the perimeter of the store can help limit that time and money spent, if you remain focused.

I am human...the lure of freshly baked goods is strong.  I love to linger in the bakery and look.  However, I seldom do so!  The temptation to spend is strong.  The deli is another area where the lure to spend is strong.  However, I do allow myself to look around and see what might be on special or marked down in both these areas.  Remember my bargain priced shredded Parmesan/Roman cheese?  Bought in the deli for $1.49 a package (usually $3.99).    I often will purchase that evening's supper from the deli if whole roasted chicken, fried chicken or sandwiches are on sale.  I do occasionally buy sliced sandwich meats in the deli as well if on sale.

If your budget is very tight, I suggest following a Hint from Heloise published in 1959:  visit the meat and dairy aisles first because those items will  likley be the most expensive you'll be buying.  Keep track of how much you're spending and then go back and fill the buggy with produce, canned goods and other needs. 

I personally prefer to walk around the produce section first.  I buy seasonal foods or those which hold up well in cold storage (potatoes, onions, carrots).  What this means is that I won't be buying strawberries in December or asparagus in October.  I wait until they are in season and eat my fill then.  There are charts that abound that will help you determine what is seasonal in your area. 

How do I buy produce?  Long lasting fruits such as oranges and apples I usually purchase by the bag.  These are a little smaller in size than those I might purchase individually but are usually extremely low in price per pound compared to their larger kin.  Other fruit may already be bagged for sale, but in at least two of my markets if the bags are not sealed shut (think of grapes and cherries) then the produce manager allows the removal of the desired amount which may be placed in a produce bag and weighed at the register.  A dozen lemons is always tempting but if I'm not making lemonade I'd best buy two.  Otherwise they just spoil before I will use them.  Green beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli crowns, squash I buy only enough of to serve us one meal.  

The less an item is handled prior to being placed on the produce shelves the less expensive it likely will be.  Baby carrots are reasonable at just $1/pound...but whole carrots at $.29/pound are even more reasonable.  Slaw mix for $1.29 10 ounces sounds like a good buy but a whole head of cabbage might be bought for half that amount and will do for several meals.  Cabbage is a hardy vegetable, which will last for awhile as well.

You'll note that I said I buy broccoli crowns...This is my exception to the least handled rule.  Often the price is more per pound than that of broccoli stalks but if the end pieces are going to go into the compost why pay for them.  I like broccoli stems for stir frys and for broccoli slaw, but if I've no plans to make those things, I don't waste my money paying a per pound price for what is going to become trash.

The meat counter takes a little knowledge and experience to negotiate.  One of the few pointers Mama ever gave me related to the meat counter and these days that advice is largely ignored...Only because cuts of meat change in popularity just as styles do.  In the winter months, when you'd most likely want to eat slow cooked roasts and stews, roasts and stew beef are priced higher in cost, while steaks tend to be lower in cost.  Come summer and grilling season then steaks are higher priced and roasts are lower in cost. 

When buying roasts I look for cuts like boneless chuck (great for pot roast, cubed as stew beef, and ground for burgers), sirloin tip roast (I cube or cut into strips for stirfry, have ground for lean hamburger, or ask the butcher to cut into steaks and cube twice for cubed steaks at a bargain price), and round or rump roast (great for slow cooking or roasting, slices well for sandwiches).  I may buy ground beef, but if chuck or sirloin roast are less expensive then I'm going to buy those and ask the butcher to grind.

When purchasing steaks, I look for marked down bargains under $5 a pound.  Chuck steak and shoulder steak are possibilities as well, but marinating is necessary.  London broil is another possibility (top round), but here marinating and broiling is best, as well as cooking only medium well and slicing thin across the grain.

When I bought pork  I preferred a whole boneless loin bought on sale and cut into individual boneless chops or roasts.  Typically these go on sale for under $2 a pound and are far less expensive than bone-in chops or individual roasts.

I think learning to cut up a whole chicken should be on the list of accomplishments of every home cook.  Why?  Because chicken parts cost big bucks.  Boneless skinless chicken breasts go for $5/pound in my area, legs and wings bring about $1.29 pound, thighs usually around $2 pound .  A whole chicken costs less than $1 a pound.  Even if you don't care to cut up whole chickens, it's worth knowing how to bone a breast.  The price of $1/pound when bought on sale, bone in breasts can be quickly boned and you have the boneless of having both the tenderloin (chicken finger, anyone?) and the breast meat.  By the way, it takes absolutely no time to cut these boneless breasts into nuggets, bread them, and oven fry.  Imagine that: chicken nuggets for $1/pound!

If you are unsure how to cook a particular cut of meat ask the butcher.  If the butcher doesn't know, make a note on your list and look it up online when you get home.  Then when you see it on sale the next time you'll know just how to use it.  Usually though, the butcher is a fount of information.  I learned that trick of having a sirloin roast cut into steaks and cubed twice from the butcher.

I found this chart in the January newsletter archives.  I thought it might prove helpful published here.  I'm including the whole article as it was originally published:

Kitchen Basics:
How Many Servings per Pound?

Sometimes the hardest part of budgeting our grocery money is
determining which cut of meat will provide us with the most for our
money. Is it safer to go with a hard and fast rule based on price
per pound( I try to stay under $2/pound for most cuts), or should we
plan meat purchases based on how many they will serve per pound?

Well, I for one, have never really been able to figure out how many
servings per pound I could expect. Below is a listing that was sent
into another online group by someone who'd been checking out older
cookbooks. I've found it very helpful and it gives me a little
added help in planning my purchases.

2 Servings Per Pound :

Chuck blade steak
Chuck roast (arm or blade)
bone-in picnic pork
ham steaks
whole chicken

3 Servings Per Pound:

Boneless beef chuck roast
Beef brisket
Beef round steak
Sirloin tip
Pork blade steaks
Ham (bone-in)
Boston butt (bone-in)
Pork ribs
Chicken legs and thighs

4 Servings Per Pound:

Ground beef or turkey
Pork chops
Ham (boneless / canned)
Chicken breasts

These are not hard and fast rules. I've never allowed myself to
think I could only serve 4 from a pound of ground beef, for example,
but this guideline is helpful if I plan to make a meatloaf or
burgers as my main dish. Many recipes I've used in the past to
serve 6 were based on half a pound of ground meat per recipe, but
that was for main dishes which were extended with starches or
vegetables(such as soups and casseroles). How meat is sliced will
affect the usage, as well. If you plan to serve sandwiches it is
quite possible to extend that one pound of ham or turkey or roast to
feed 8. Remember too, to add an extra serving for the bone of any
meat you cook. Why? Because those bones have meat still remaining
on them and produce broth that can be used to make soups, which are
a great way to extend the budget and provide inexpensive meals.

Using a combination of this chart, your kitchen savvy, and a general
idea of what you're willing to spend each week, should help extend
your kitchen budget tremendously.

Now, I shall share something I learned from my daughter.  You may substitute any roast for beef roast, any type of ground meat for beef.  Do not allow yourself to get locked into the idea that only one meat may be used.   Years ago when I was teaching Kay to cook and shop, she wanted to make a pot roast.  Her budget simply wouldn't stretch to a beef roast that wasn't on sale...but pork roasts were on sale.  She bought a butt portion pork roast and made one of the best pot roasts I've ever eaten.  Not too long ago she informed me that she now uses venison roasts with equally as tasty results. 

Be willing to experiement if a cut of meat is at a particularly good price.  I loved short ribs of beef for a particular favorite winter dish, but once I'd tried beef shanks I found I much preferred them for the recipe.  I used oxtail to make soup and found it very tasty but my family balked only after they discovered it was oxtail.  Until that moment they'd enjoyed the soup just fine, lol.  Recently I purchased ground lamb on sale for $2/pound.  I've never cooked with ground lamb but I have a number of recipes that can easily me made with lamb and look forward to trying it.

My hard and fast rule of $3/pound stands no matter what I'm buying in the meat department, but I shoot for an average overall rather than an absolute $3 per pound.  If I'm buying chicken breasts for $1 a pound and find chuck roast on sale for $2.50 pound then I've got wiggle room for a pricier cut of meat, hence that is how we might purchase steak at $5/pound.

I'll touch only briefly on hot dogs and sandwich meats.  Chance made the mistake years ago of introducing us to a Kosher beef hot dog...There is no going back, lol.  I watch for these to go on sale.  Luncheon meats I find are often pricey.  I prefer to buy roasts and turkey breasts and make my own sliced meat for sandwiches at home.  I buy beef bologna in the deli.  It typically runs a bit over $5/ pound but if you price the packets of all beef bologna you'll find they also run about $5/pound.  The deli brand tastes the best in my opinion.  I count the cost of sandwich meat's per pound price into my overall average per pound costs.

The fresh pasta may be tempting but save your money and head to the freezer department for tortellini and ravioli.  It's far better priced and tastes just as good as the 'fresh'.

Now for the dairy department.  Once upon a time powdered milk was a great money saver, even if used only for cooking.  But I find that these days powdered milk costs as much or more per gallon than whole milk.  I save by making my own buttermilk and yogurt.  I do buy a small half pint of buttermilk and one of yogurt to act as starter, but I can make a quart of buttermilk (and use the homemade as starter for the next quart), and several pints of yogurt from those initial purchases.

We are big cheese eaters. I  love a variety of cheese and it's not unusual to find several varieties in our fridge.  One grocer has a very decent store brand cheddar and excellent store brand Swiss that I prefer to buy when on sale.  Fortunately their sales are frequent.  Lately the cost of shredded 8 ounce packets has matched the cost of 8 ounce blocks, and because of that I'll often buy shredded mozzarella rather than buy blocks of cheese.  Really strong flavored cheeses such as blue, feta, romano I buy in smaller quantities and use sparingly. 

It may seem I've touched only lightly on the shopping portion of buying groceries, but here is where choices must be made.  We don't eat margarine. We use real butter.  I buy olive oil for most of our needs and recently we've incorporated coconut oil into our diet as an alternative.  These items are pricey.  I make sacrifices in other areas to afford these items (like making my own yogurt and buttermilk, baking a portion of our bread), looking for bargains in the meat and produce department. 

Further tips:

I can't tell anyone how to buy snacks for their family.  My own family loved popcorn  and homemade cookies and were perfectly happy with that and an occasional bag of chips.  Where they would not compromise: soda, name brand soda at that.  Nothing but and no substitutes thank you very much.  I had to make room in other areas of my budget, and so I did by introducing two meatless meals each week and insisting that we have cold cereal only once a week.  I also limited them to one soda per day.  These days Chance and I share a 16 ounce bottle about twice a week and may have a whole bottle each once a week.  Much less expensive than the days when the kids were home, lol.  We prefer bottled drinks and now can afford to indulge that like.  When the kids were home I found 12 packs of canned drinks was the most cost effective.  Bought on sale I often paid only $.21 a can for the sodas.

Think outside the usual...That not eating cold cereal was a budget saver but what then to fix?  My kids enjoyed eggs and toast, oatmeal, hot rice...That's right, rice.  Warm cooked rice with milk and brown sugar and raisins was considered a great treat and a filling breakfast.  For convenience sake, I'd double the rice we needed for supper and set half aside.  It took moments to reheat in the microwave the next morning.

My family has always enjoyed juice at breakfast.  It was not used as a beverage to quench thirst, however.  Juice was for nutrition.  Water was for thirst.  Sometimes it is more expensive to buy frozen concentrate than it is  to be 64ounce bottles.  I look for the best buy.  I keep a can of pineapple juice in the pantry (it's great for chest colds and loaded with Vitamin C).

Meatless meals might include frozen pasta with a tomato sauce, bean and rice burritos, a meatless tamale pie (beans and corn in that dish) and black bean burgers, homemade mac and cheese or homemade cheese pizza. 

I suggest borrowing vegetarian cookbooks from the library to get an idea of good meatless meals and the ingredients required. 

Convenience is nice.  I agree 100%, it often means easy meals.  Reserve convenience items though for one night a week or one night per pay period. A little learning is all that is required to prepare biscuits from scratch and the plain dough may be adapated to sweet rolls or savory breads to serve with meals.  I've been experimenting with pie crusts the past couple of months after years of purchasing frozen or prepard crusts.  Freeze your own homemade cookie dough to prepare at a moment's notice.  Most doughs freeze very well.  Make a casserole or two to keep in the freezer for those nights when you don't really have the energy to prepare a meal, instead of picking up frozen entrees (still a less expensive option than eating out, so if this is something you fall back on, consider the savings you'd make if you picked up just one frozen entree each pay period).

If you are serious about trimming your grocery budget then figure out how to make items at home.  My kids loved those lunch kits, but boy, pricey!  I would buy them one each every now and then when they were on sale, but wash and save the trays and make our own kits for home lunches using cheese, bologna and crackers.  They loved it. 

Raw whole foods area almost always cheaper than cooked, prepared foods.  The one exception is deli roasted chickens. 

I stock up on canned vegetables and fruits when they go on sale, usually in the Fall of the year.  While I personally prefer fresh or frozen vegetables, canned vegetables come in very handy for a quick pot of soup.  Canned dried beans are convenient to have on hand, but dried beans soaked overnight and cooked for an hour or two the next day are more economical and may be frozen in recipe sized portions.

Cakes and brownies are best when made from scratch BUT the mixes aren't bad and are occasionally sold for $1 a box.  Coupons can bring the cost per box even lower.  I always make my frosting from scratch though.  Confectioner's sugar and butter is less expensive than one container of frosting and boy the difference in flavor is so worth it!  No one ever notices the cake is mix if you use homemade frosting to ice it.
And when I use the bought cake mix, I usually just substitute water for the oil, and use eggs, which cuts the cost of the cake still further. 

Introduce new fruits and vegetables and seasonings to the family slowly.  No more than one per week.  See how the family likes it before buying in quantity.  Kay was surprised to find that she really liked sweet potato fries and roasted asparagus.  She nor Chance will touch a mango though I love them. 

And that is how to buy groceries! If I've missed a point someone hoped I'd touch upon, please comment so I can answer your request.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hot to Buy Groceries-Part IV Making the Lists and Using Coupons

Now we're down to the last of the pre-shopping work: making our shopping lists.  How many lists you have depends upon your determination to save, time limitations and what is feasible (notice I didn't say convenient, because this is work not play) for you to drive in distance.   We live in a rural area.  I have one dollar store and one grocery in my local town.  I drive about 30-35 miles distance from my home to do my shopping in an area where I have access to two drugstores and two major grocers within a half mile of each other.  I do use the local grocery and the dollar store and yes, that means I make at least 6 stops almost every time I do a Big Shop.  I'll explain why in a moment.

First though let's discuss the points I made about determination to save, time limitations and distance.  I am a stay at home wife and full-time homemaker.  My determination to save is strong for two reasons.  As I stated in Part I, my budget consistently lands between 'Low Cost' and 'Thrifty'.  We eat very well on that budget, too and anyone can do it with a smidgen of cooking skill and I mean that sincerely.  We've never had a very high income and my determination to be at home means that I must do all I can to save money.  The grocery budget can get out of hand pretty quickly.  Believe me I know this firsthand. 

It occurred to me that my home is a business and that meant I had to cut the costs  in order to generate a profit or at least to break even each month.  I knew from my past work experience that if you used items over and over again from month to month and you bought those items on sale in quantities large enough to last until the next sales cycle, then you could effectively lower the costs of operation.  I apply the same principles to my grocery shopping.

Now as a side note I must mention price books and explain why I don't use one:  I have a very good memory for prices on the products I buy over and over again.  I know what the rock bottom sales price on an items is going to be and about how often that price is going to recur in a season.  Not everyone has this ability and truly I have no clue where I got it from but for some reason numbers stick where names and other details fade.  I know many people do prefer a price book and there are many resources on how to set one up.    Amy Dacyczyn's The Complete Tightwad Gazette  has a detailed account of her price book.  The Dollar Stretcher has many articles to help build a price book as well:   Do not, however, postpone trying to save money until you can build a price book.  Price books are built over time.  They are not set up in moments or even a week! Even without a price book some good savings may be made, so do not delay in trimming your costs.

Time is not an issue for me.  I plan to spend one full day every two weeks doing nothing but the shopping.  This allows me to take the time I need to drive to the stores, do the shopping (and that is more detailed than you'd think) and unload and put away.  In making out my lists, gathering my coupons, and shopping, I spend easily 10- 12 hours almost every single pay period.  Remember that I try to not only keep costs low but I also try to keep my pantry and freezer stocked.  When I shop for groceries, I am also shopping for personal care items, cleaning and pet items as well as food.

Distance is not an issue.  I have a car at my disposal and living as we do in a rural area, I must drive the same distance to purchase clothing, home furnishings, etc.  If you live in a suburban area you will not necessarily have to drive anywhere near as far as I do.  I mention distance mostly as another portion of the consideration of how much time it will take to shop.   I drive this distance because I am limited in choice here in my local area.  The local store is a little high in price, has a wonderful meat department and very iffy produce department.  Since I tend to use the perimeter of the store for the majority of my shopping (produce, deli, meats, dairy, bread) it is necessary to go the distance in order to get the best possible produce at the lowest cost.  I do this willingly.  Again time is not a consideration for me. If I worked full time and had only limited time in order to meet the needs of my household I would certainly trim both distance and the number of stores at which I shop!

So let's start with our list.   I have one sheet on which I put headers by category of foods bought: Dairy, produce, meat, beverage, personal care, staples, snacks, cleaning and household needs.  I do this list this way because those categories are also how I file my coupons.  I can easily look through each envelope to see what coupons I have that might correspond...but that comes a bit later.  First I list those items I know I must buy under the appropriate category.  I am not yet touching the sales papers, simply listing those items I've noted over the preceding days I was out of  or down to the last one of.   Now I take the menu sheet and list those items I need to complete the menu (special ingredients needed for the recipe, produce etc) under the appropriate category.

Once that primary list is complete, I take a second sheet of paper and the first store's sales ad and list every item that appears to be a good buy whether or not it is on my primary list.  I add a second header for the next store and do the same.  I do this for all six stores at which I routinely shop, three grocers, two drugstores, one dollar store.  I may not buy every single item on these lists. I may not even find a single item at one or more stores that I consider worthwhile to go on my list.  I do look over each set of sales sheets thoroughly, because good sales are sometimes not the largest or the most conspicuously placed.  

When shopping I will most likely buy every item on that primary list that is divided by category.  The second list is an elimination tool at the moment.  When I look at the meats on sale, I have a personal high of nothing over $3 a pound (because we eat beef and poultry only).  I'll explain tomorrow how steak might fit into that per pound price limit and other strategies I use to buy premium cuts and grinds.

I do not limit myself to only personal care items at the drugstore nor only food at the grocer.  I look for the best overall price on each item I need or know I could use to stock my pantry and freezer and I'll use whatever source has the absolute best price.  Over the past 8 months I've bought coffee and olive oil more often at the drugstore than I have at the grocery because the drugstore offered the best overall price.  By the same token, I've bought vitamins and pain relievers more frequently at the grocery where my coupons are doubled and they often offer up a buy one get one free sale on a routine basis. 

Once the stores are listed and each item that is a good buy is noted, I return to my primary list. I compare the prices from store to store, then I put the initial of the store where an item I MUST have is on sale next to that item on my primary list.   I compare prices amongst stores in such a way on that second list and determine where I will buy each item.  This week both my local store and a major grocer had beef roasts and broccoli on sale.  The beef roast was a better buy at the local grocer, the broccoli a better buy at the major grocer.  I marked roast off the major grocer's list and broccoli off the local grocer's list.

Now I take each list in turn and guesstimate approximately how much money I shall spend, starting with the primary list.  Often I find that if I buy every item on all lists (except those I've already eliminated) I will be over budget.  This is where I begin to trim in earnest.  I know what my budgeted amount to spend is...and I try purposely to come in under that amount by about $30 under (about 10% of my planned budget for the month) and if I'm not I make sure to note that fact because this affects what I will buy and in what quantity.  You'll see why I try to come in $30 less in a few minutes. 

Here's where that pantry inventory list comes in handy.  Perhaps I noted that diced tomatoes were on sale at grocery#1 and I planned to buy a dozen cans...but I have a dozen already in the pantry.  I might determine to buy half as many (canned tomatoes are one of those permanent items I keep on hand and use frequently) or,  because canned tomatoes go on sale about every six weeks from mid summer through mid winter, I might determine I can wait until next sales cycle and remove that item from my list.

Next I go through my coupons and pull each that relates to an item either on sale on or my primary list. If mayonnaise is not on sale and I have coupons for four different brands, I pull all four brands so I will compare prices once I'm at the grocery and buy the one that allows me the largest amount of savings.

If I have a coupon for an item on either of my lists, I note the value and how many of the coupons I have. I usually use a star to indicate a coupon next to the item, so I know to pay especial attention to this item when I'm shopping.  Say I notice that brownies are on sale for $1 a box and I have three coupons good for $1 off two boxes.  I will plan to buy six boxes, knowing that I will spend only $3 once I turn over the coupons to the cashier. Next to the item on my list I will put a star X3 $1/2.  I know at a glance that I have 3 coupons good for $1 off two boxes.

If I have a coupon for an item that will make an item FREE or cost just pennies over the original price, I note this next to the item.  I am willing to go a few dollars over my budget (I reserve that first $10-$15 of my budget for stocking upon these items).

I also like to reserve $10-$15 each shopping trip for impulse buys.  I do this because two grocers frequently have some very good prices on marked down meats, manager specials in deli, produce and bakery, and every now and then a clearance sale pops up that is too good to pass up. (Most recently that clearance price was found on grated Romano/Parmesan cheeses for $1.49/5 ounces.  Normally these containers of cheese cost $3.99 and so this was a most excellent opportunity to stock up. I had room in the freezer so bought six containers...And there was my $10 impulse buy).  I usually try to reserve at least $5 of this impulse amount for flowers.  Sometimes I find  beautiful bouquets on clearance for just $3.  There's always room in my present budget for flowers.

Back to our lists.  Take that second list and rewrite it, keeping only those items that you determined you could afford to buy, listed by store.  Not every item on the primary list is going to be on sale, and so you'll want to carry both the primary list and the stores list with you to insure that you purchase all of your items.  The neater second list will make it easier for you to stay on target when you're in the store. 

Now you should have two neat lists, your gathered coupons ( I stick in an envelope and clip to my list), and an idea of where you'll be shopping.  Part V will deal with the actual shopping trip.

About coupons:
Before I stop writing today I want to briefly go into the usage of coupons.  I clip every single coupon that comes into my home.  Why?  Because I am brand loyal in only two areas: I drink Coke products only and use only Colgate toothpaste.  For the rest of the foodstuffs and personal care items in our home, any brand will do including the store brand if it's the best buy and best product.  There are store brands I won't touch, no matter how low the price and store brands I love but will only buy if that is the rock bottom price I can pay for a product.  However, loss leaders are often name brand items which, when combined with a coupon become a ridiculously good bargain.  In my area, all but the local grocery doubles coupons.    are just two of many sites to help you pair coupons and sales at major stores for the best loss leader purchases.

Neither of the drugstores double coupons but they have their own incentive program that works in my favor.  For instance, CVS Extra Cash Bucks program often nets me free or almost free items and offers me what is essentially an instant refund in the form of store coupons that I can use as cash for any purchase.  Currently I have about $16 worth of Extra Cash Bucks on hand. I plan to go this week and buy on sale dishwasher detergent, Kellogg's cereal and laundry detergent.  I'll not only probably not pay anything out of pocket for those items, using coupons, I'll also earn more extra cash bucks to use the next time I visit the store.

Walgreens has a Register Rewards program that works much the same way.  I have not really worked with that program, but know many who do and have done very well with it.  I find the majority of my shopping is done at CVS because I do not have to take the extra time to figure out their program. 

 I do not worry if I don't use a particular coupon prior to expiration. I toss hundreds of coupons every month that are unused (or send those I know Kay will use to her for use on base).