Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gorceries for the week of June 11, 2011

We're trying to work out some new eating patterns. My daughter, who's done most of the cooking and kitchen cleaning, started a job in addition to the class she's taking this summer that requires standing on her feet a lot. Some of the more labor intensive menu items just aren't practical right now.

So, the total for this week was $61.57. We spent $16.45 on meat, $7.98 for dairy, $16 for produce, $7.46 for breads and grains, $11.18 for spices and sauces, and $2.50 for snacks. A little higher than our long-term average (about $55), but not bad at all.

There was a lot of meat out in the bargain bin, so we stocked up on some good ground chuck and some brats. Without these sales, we'd have kept our spending closer to $50. We got a package of ripe bell peppers for $.50 a pepper, and I love the ripe peppers which are usually too expensive for me. Blackberries for $.99, and strawberries for $1.97 mean we'll be having berries in milk for dessert several nights. We still have some salad makings left from last week too, so we'll have lots of fruits and veggies this week.

Our most expensive purchase was garlic powder, $7.99 for a large jar. This will last us for a while, though.  Right now, I expect next week's grocery bill to be $50 or less, but that could change if there's a good sale...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Clever marketing

I think "hot wings" have to be one of the great marketing campaigns of all time. Chicken wings, which are mostly bone, were always the late piece of chicken anyone ate, and had so little meat that they were hardly worth bothering with even for soup.

Then here come "hot wings," a bit of chicken with maybe two bites, and that take a lot of work to get even those two bites. For the amount of meat you actually get from them, they're probably charging more than I pay per ounce for sirloin. And in the grocery store, instead of being priced cheaper even than drumsticks, they often run almost as much as chicken breasts...for mostly bone, because people buy and make their own now.

I've had them a couple of times when other people wanted them, and OK, the sauces are pretty good. But really? I can only explain it as a really remarkable piece of marketing, creating the market for the piece no one wanted. And I must have missed the marketing, probably because I watch so little (now no) TV because I still look at them and see the orphan piece of chicken sitting on the platter. The sauce would be as good (probably better) on other, more edible pieces of chicken, after all.

Even if I didn't buy into the marketing, I do have to admire the talent involved in creating an appetite for something no one wanted. But if you want to keep your money in your wallet, stop and think about the marketing before you buy things.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thinking about the things that really matter

This post isn't strictly frugal living, but I felt like laughing about it...

I survived another birthday recently, one of those big ones, so I kept it kind of quiet. Not because I'm embarassed about my age (I'd say how old I am except for concerns about identity theft), but because I'm superstitious about it---my last big one involved a natural disaster.  I decided to work all day on my birthday and just go out with my younger daughter for supper.

So, it's not surprising that the only person who remembered my birthday on that day was my younger daughter. My other daughter did very nice things for me on our earlier visit and wasn't awake and at home at the same time all day. My father sent me a very sweet card the week before. I don't allow my birthday on FB or anywhere else for privacy concerns.

What got me was who, or rather what, DID remember. Computer programs. My morning started with an e-mail from my insurance company, I got a second one from from another company, and when I logged in to my student Web page, I discovered that there was a big birthday message...from the computer system.

I guess it's one of those signs that I'm just plain old, because having a computer remember my birthday is just bizarre. I love computers, don't get me wrong, but the idea that companies put that kind of programs in place (which also makes me worry about the security of the software involved) just creeps me out a little.

However, on the subject of birthdays, this can be a traumatic time if you're trying to buy a present for someone. But I can say that my younger daughter did more to make me feel very loved and important just by doing a few small, thoughtful things. The morning starting with a hug and a "good morning." Going out of her way to be early to go out for dinner, and surprising me with ice cream for dessert (and a completely unnecessary apology that she couldn't make a cake this year between her class and her new job.) And when we got home, she had installed a computer game that she knew I liked on my computer for me. Just little things, but thoughtful ways to tell me that I was important enough to her to go out of her way a little.

As far as presents go, if you ask my daughters which Christmas they remember the most, they'll tell you it was the one when they woke up and discovered a piece of yarn tied to the bedroom doors for each of them, leading them through a Twister-like maze of two intertwined spider webs that they had to follow around the living room (and each other) to find their presents. It was a morning of giggles and laughs, more than a reward for the hour or so I spent setting it up the night before. None of us remember the presents that year, though the reason I did this was because we'd agreed on a single big item---a TV or DVD player, I think (notice we don't even remember what that one was). So there were only a few other small gifts, which I felt would be a bit of a let down on Christmas morning, and came up with the maze to make sure they had some fun in addition to our other traditions.

There are times that a gift is just so perfect or amazing that you remember it. But that's because it DOES only happen once or twice. A friend's son recently gave his younger sister a laptop for her birthday, an extravagant and loving present. Everyone in their family will remember that unique present. At the same time, both of those kids, and both parents, do little things every day that tell each other how important they are, and those are most of the things that people remember in the long run. When you start planning for someone's birthday, even your own, think of it in terms of "what will they remember?" Most of the time, it isn't the expensive gifts, it's the fun.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quick Ideas to save a little

Just a couple of quick ideas tonight...

I used to be able to find inexpensive little note pads and mini binders at the store, but most of these seem to have been replaced by much more expensive "planners" and fancy "blank books". My solution was to buy a bunch of blank index cards ($.44 for 100), punch holes in one corner, and put something through the holes to hold them together. These are actually a lot sturdier than the note pads I used to buy. They take less than 5 minutes to make, and cost less than the ones I used to buy; they probably save me at least $2 over anything on the shelf now. 

And they're more versatile as well, honestly; I can take a few off and make instant flash cards or study cards or fold one in half and leave a "tented" note for someone. I have rings that can be put through them that open and close, but I used an old fashioned brass paper brad. These items are hard to find now (too versatile, cheap, and "old-fashioned" I guess), but I still have about 20 or so. You could make a more attractive one with a piece of pretty ribbon.

Extend this further to your own blank books and planners using larger index cards. Take a little time with them, cut out cardboard covers from the backs of notepads and cover with fabric and create really special blank books for kids.
Keep extending this idea. If you have a young girl or boy who has a color or hobby or cartoon character that they're crazy about. Get a yard of fabric in that color and make a simple tote as a book bag with it, and use the rest to make book covers or a binder cover. If it's a cartoon character, and the fabric is expensive, get just enough to use as accents and pick a solid that coordinates. Make the book bag in that solid with a top border in the cartoon fabric, then make only the front cover of the blank book or binder cover with the cartoon fabric, and the rest out of the solid. If you're handy with a sewing machine, consider a matching "roll" for school supplies---a long piece of cloth with pockets for pencils, erasers, ruler, and crayons. Put the supplies in their pockets, roll it up, and tie it (or use a bit of velcro). Then find a magazine picture of the character or hobby or even a photo of the family pet and carefully glue it onto an old lunchbox and cover it with clear contact paper.

Instead of thinking of this as cheap and homemade, think of your child as the only one in his school with a matching book bag, notebook covers, supply roll, and lunchbox with John Deere tractors or race cars...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Obsolescence or overcharging?

One barrier to being frugal is the tendency of either manufacturers or stores to decide something is too good and replace it with something more expensive/less durable.

As recently as 7 or 8 years ago, you could get a really sturdy square white freezer container, sold in packages of about 10 for $4 or $5, I believe. They held almost exactly one pound of meat and stacked well in the freezer with little wasted space. About that time, they came out with the "disposable" containers (I don't know about you, but they're way too expensive to be disposable to me). They're brittle plastic, so they don't hold up as well, and "interchangeable" is apparently not a word in the manufacturers vocabularies. I have 2 containers from the same manufacturer that are so close in size that the only way to tell if you have the right one is to try it on the container (and then wash it when it turns out to be the wrong one). This means unless you buy a lot of the exact same thing on the exact same day, if you lose a lid, the container is more or less useless, forcing you to buy a new one. Sadly, my local stores stopped carrying the much better (and cheaper) square freezer containers, I assume because there was more profit in the cheap disposables that had to be replaced constantly.

I actually started thinking about this subject after a visit to our local department store. One of the items on my list was an ordinary bottle opener (ours vanished), the kind with one end for opening bottles, and the other for poking nice big holes in those large cans of tomato juice to pour, something that's usually only $1 or $2. To my shock, they didn't have one. They had something similar, at $7, but the part that is supposed to poke the hole in the can would make one so tiny that you'd spend 10 minutes pouring a glass of tomato juice. At that price and for that kind of result, I'd rather take the entire lid off with a can opener and buy a pitcher (probably more cheaply) to put it in. Which is going to be messier and more annoying than simply poking holes on opposing edges to pour.

Even more annoying, when I asked a store clerk about it, I got the "Oh, you mean the OLD-FASHIONED kind." I'm dumbfounded at the implication that there's something wrong with wanting the cheaper, better-performing, more durable item...because it wasn't designed last week? I'm not exactly adverse to new things, but I do expect them to be an improvement for me, and not just a way to make more money (and probably buy multiple items at different stores trying to find a replacement that doesn't make me tear my hair out).

The idea of this kind of obsolescence may appeal to stores, but what it often does is send people other places to find the goods they really want. Something to think of...

Monday, June 6, 2011


My thought for tonight is, why does our culture often punish those who handle their money well, but reward those who are spendthrifts? I started thinking about this today after I  realized that one private "need based" education program used actual expenses to determine need, not the average expense for the area and family size. So, people like me willing to put two people in a one bedroom, cheap, rundown apartment has $500 less in financial "need" compared to a single person renting a pricey two bedroom for one person because he or she "needs" a study/computer room. Or replaced a paid-off three year old car with a new one and a new car loan has a greater "need" than someone like me who is nursing along an older car that's paid off.

Several times at past jobs, other people were given raises when everyone else was being told merit raises, even for the people who'd been put off for several years due to tight money, were out of the question. Worse, all of these people were average performers at best who were often already overpaid for what they did, while people who did much harder jobs were paid less for much better work. The reason invariably was that the person wasn't "getting by" on their income and they needed help. Those who were paid less weren't complaining or didn't have a "crisis," so obviously they were fine.

None of these people had a real crisis such as their house destroyed by a tornado and wasn't covered by insurance or a family member with major medical bills that weren't covered by insurance. No, every one of these people took expensive vacations and ate out constantly and ran up their credit cards until, voila! they had a crisis just to pay their normal bills. If any one of them had cut back their expenses, the crisis would have vanished.

To me, this is punishing those who live within their means, and worse, rewarding mediocrity and whining. 

Hmmm, guess I'm whining a little myself. Time for a piece of chocolate...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Groceries-week 06/04/2011

Sorry, forgot to post yesterday, lots going on (mostly good, but I forgot I didn't have one set up yet).

Our grocery bill for the week $69.94, good when you consider we haven't bought in a week and a half. Dairy was $8.96; breads and grains were $5.81; produce was $28.72; meat and eggs were $7.27; oil and sauces were $15.30 with about $3.88 in some miscellaneous items.

Produce was unusually high, but since my daughter started a job and our summer classes have started, we're experimenting with steamed vegetables, chef salads, etc. Some of that was also for frozen and canned fruits and vegetables that store well. We also replaced several bottles of sauces we use for stir fries and enchiladas, pushing that up some for this week.

Our best deals were on strawberries ($2), carrots (5 lbs for $1.99), rice ($.47 a pound), eggs ($1 for a dozen large), and enchilada sauce ($.79). We didn't really have a bad buy this week, unless it was for the stir fry sauces.

Going back to our favorite new toy, the rice steamer, I'm finding that steaming vegetables at the same time rice is cooking doesn't work very well-the rice tends to foam up into the steaming basket. But I cut up a raw chicken breast to steam while rice cooked one day this week, and it came out beautifully cooked through, moist and tender. I plan to try steaming vegetables and meat in the basket and serving it over bread, baked potato, or couscous which can be made on the stove top quickly and easily. The second option is to cook up enough rice in the steamer one night when having a stir fry to have leftover rice for steamed meat and veggies the next night but I don't usually want rice that often.