Finding Food Savings

Food can get expensive quickly, as many of us know. Eating out and buying groceries while trying to save money can seem incredibly challenging, so I thought I would share some tips that have helped me out.

  1. If you want to eat out, go out for lunch instead of dinner; it’s usually cheaper
  2. Share a meal with a friend or take your leftovers home so you get twice as much out of one entrée
  3. Set a budget for grocery and eating out expenses and stick to it
  4. Create a grocery list and stick to it; impulse buys add up quickly!
  5. Make more of your own food; convenience foods are surprisingly easy to replicate, cheaper when you buy the ingredients that can be stretched further or used for other dishes, and are healthier when you can control what goes in them
  6. Look for coupons & sign up for restaurants’ email lists if you go there frequently
  7. Eat seasonally– foods taste best and are cheaper when they’re in season
  8. Pack lunch during the week; buying lunch quickly adds up, and can easily become a bad habit. Pack food the night before and you’ll be all set!
  9. Buy groceries with meals in mind; if you haphazardly buy what sounds good without a plan for what to make with what you purchase, you might end up with a whole cart full of mismatched things and no real meals
  10. Check unit prices– different sizes can be confusing when you’re trying to find the best deal; do the math to compare prices per ounce or gram
  11. Buy in bulk when it’s practical– if you have room to store a larger package that has a lower unit price and will use it before it goes bad, then go for it! If you won’t use that much in a reasonable amount of time or don’t have room to store it, opt for the smaller package to reduce waste and save space.
  12. Compare prices at different stores. It may seem labor-intensive, but it could be really rewarding to save money by shopping for the right items at the right places. This doesn’t mean you have to run to four different stores every week; you can create menu plans and grocery lists based on one or two stores, and simply rotate as needed. And remember to stock up on dry goods when you visit your less-frequented stores if you find them on sale and know you are saving yourself a trip you’d have to make later anyway.

What are some of your favorite money-saving tips? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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Starting with Sustainability

Following Tuesday’s post about Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I said I was going to write a series of posts examining areas in which changes need to be made to realign my habits and choices with my purpose and beliefs. This week I’m going to explore the idea of living sustainably (also inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle).

To me, sustainability means living in a way that makes good use of my resources, a way that takes care of the world around me– the very world that our Creator made and entrusted to us. It means being a good manager of the things I’ve been blessed with, knowing I have a responsibility to care for this earth.

I took part in Plastic Free July, which was a good kickstart to living sustainably. So much paper and plastic are wasted with disposable products, and I embraced this challenge with the intention of reducing my consumption of them. Although I admittedly put the challenge on the back burner for most of the month, I succeeded in most areas of avoiding consumable plastics and paper products.

  1. I chose not to use plastic baggies except for some freezer items; we’re low on storage, and sometimes bags make more sense than sticking containers in the freezer. But I tried to stick to reusable containers for storing my food.
  2. I stayed away from plastic utensils, which I wasn’t too keen on before, anyway, but it did require being more diligent about packing real utensils in my lunchbox for work.
  3. I also was more consistent in bringing reusable tote bags when I went shopping. I had been in the habit of doing so for grocery shopping, since I frequent Aldi, which requires you to pay for grocery bags if you don’t bring your own, but I started bringing them everywhere.
  4. I also have begun skipping the plastic produce bags, since I throw them away as soon as I get home anyway.
  5. Additionally, I dabbled in the use of cloth napkins instead of paper ones and washcloths/dish towels for the kitchen instead of using so many paper towels (except in situations when the mess would permanently stain the cloths, like with curry or fruit juices).

I would, however, like to take bigger steps, as these changes were relatively easy for me to implement and stick with. I know I can do more to reduce the amount of waste I generate and make better use of my resources. Plastic Free July was just the beginning, the stepping stone to greater changes. I plan to begin doing the following:

  1. Consume more local, organic produce. This one’s going to be difficult since I’m so frugal, but I want to make progress in this area. I will shop more at farmer’s markets and eat more seasonally instead of paying for the transportation (and poor growing conditions wrought with pesticides and GMOs) of commercially grown food, but supporting local farmers and food that was grown responsibly. This means being patient to wait for things to come into season instead of giving in and buying sub-par quality out of season. It also will include endeavoring to grow more of my own food, whether in pots or a backyard garden.
  2. Encourage my roommates, family, and friends to use more reusable materials instead of disposable ones. This includes bringing out (and being willing to wash) the real plates and utensils when we have our weekly community dinners. It also means hunting for or making more towels and rags to supplement the ones we currently have to keep us from reverting back to paper. Together we can make a bigger difference than I could do alone.
  3. Learn to can my own food. I asked my grandma if she would show me how to can tomatoes, and I bought a couple cases of glass canning jars, but we have yet to actually do any canning. I want to know that I am eating food that was grown locally (and seasonally) and preserved without any unhealthy ingredients.
  4. Use refillable containers instead of disposable ones. I plan to use small refillable plastic bottles for shampoo and conditioner instead of buying the travel-size ones, use a refillable hand soap dispenser instead of always buying new plastic ones, and make sure I carry my water bottle with me instead of grabbing bottled water simply out of convenience.
  5. Use cloth napkins at home, not just at work. It’s been easy to pack a cloth napkin in my lunch bag, but I know it will be an entirely different ball game to try to institute the use (personally and communally) of them at the house.

I know these steps are still small, but over the next month, I will endeavor to adopt these new habits. I may change or add to them as necessary, but I look forward to feeling better about how my actions impact the world around me. I want to actively choose to engage in behaviors that will preserve what resources we have and protect the world that has been entrusted to us. Will you consider joining me?

Chopping Shopping Challenge

If you know me very well at all, you know I tend to be a pretty frugal person. I shop the clearance racks, even at second-hand stores. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying gently used items, and in fact, I have a hard time paying full price for things when I know I could get them somewhere else for less money.

Because I am working hard to pay off debt, my budget is fairly tight. In looking for practical ways to cut costs, there were only so many areas I could scale back. Personal purchases was an easy choice for me.

In the midst of my journey into greater simplicity, coupled with my commitment to dropping my debt, I challenged myself to an even stricter shopping lifestyle. I decided in March to not buy any clothing, accessories, home decor, music, movies, or books for the remainder of 2015. This, of course, was only restricted to buying things for myself; gifts for others don’t count.coupons-scissors-380

Why such an extensive list, you wonder? In taking a more objective look at what I already own, I could confidently say that I have far more than I need. I really, truly, don’t need any more clothing or entertainment. I have roommates I can borrow things from if I feel the need to change up my wardrobe. Between all of us, we have a vast library of books and movies, and there’s always the library and internet. I essentially limited myself to buying consumables– food and paper products (although I’m working to reduce those, too).

Although I’m less than three full months into this challenge, I feel good about my progress. I have been tempted at times to buy things, but have been able to walk away content that I have enough. It actually hasn’t been as hard as I expected it to be. I have chosen to not frequent stores that make it difficult for me to stick to my convictions, and I regularly remind myself why I have chosen to commit myself to this challenge– so that I can pay off my debt and be free from it.

I want to encourage you to consider your own shopping habits. Are you more prone to buy things when you’re upset? Do you participate in retail therapy? Do you stare at a full closet and feel like you have nothing to wear? I challenge you to rethink your tendencies and consider finding other ways to express yourself.

Here are some suggestions of things I have done to make this process easier:

1. Get more creative with your clothing, putting things together in ways you haven’t before. It will give you more options without requiring any new pieces.

2. Borrow things from friends or family members, especially if you wouldn’t use it regularly enough to own it yourself.

3. Shop at stores that don’t tempt you to defy your new standards. I have chosen to go to a small grocery store that has very little besides food because it doesn’t allow me to wander into other departments and buy things I didn’t go to the store for.

4. Keep your reason for reducing your shopping at the front of your mind; don’t focus on what you aren’t getting. Remind yourself instead that you are choosing things you want more– freedom, debt-free living, less clutter, more space, room to breathe, a more organized home.

Will you join the challenge?

Interested in a money-saving challenge, but don’t think this is the one for you? Check out my sister’s $5 Piggy Bank Challenge.