Increase your savings with grocery apps: Wal-Mart Savings Catcher

I really don’t like dealing with coupons anymore. Having to hunt them down, print them out, keep track of them all. It’s just annoying. Lately, I’ve been looking at different savings apps to see if there was a better way. I’m happy to report that there is! Over the next few weeks, I’m going to review a number of savings apps that I think are worth the download.

One of my favorite apps is the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher.shareasimage

I hate having to go to multiple stores to get the best deals. I don’t want to hunt through multiple circulars and spend a whole day tracking down the best deals at each store. The Wal-Mart Savings Catcher does all the work for me.

It’s simple. Purchase your items at Wal-Mart, scan your receipt and the Savings Catcher does the rest. The app checks the sales circulars for all the stores in your area. That includes grocery stores, pharmacies, and Target. If the app finds a lower price, you get a credit for the difference. This credit can be placed on a Wal-Mart e-gift card. The gift card is then emailed to you so you can use it next time you are in the store.

On my last shopping trip, I saved $1.31 on my purchases. It’s not a lot of money but when combined with the other apps I use, I saved $3.31 on that small trip.

The only downside is that you don’t know what you are going to get credit for unless you know an item is on sale somewhere else. For example, I bought coffee and ended up receiving 80 cents off the coffee. Had I known it was a deal, I probably would have bought more. It was a nice little bonus for buying things I needed any way.

If you shop at Wal-Mart, get the app. It’s available for iPhone and Android. If you are shopping anyway, you might as well upload your receipt and see if you’ve got some extra savings!

UPDATE: You do not need a smart phone to use the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher! You can actually enter your receipt information right on the website.

Do you use the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher App? What’s the largest savings you have received on one receipt?

How much is your cable bill?

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Sometimes, I really feel like I am out of touch with the rest of the world. Living in my frugal corner of the world, I am sometimes shocked by how much people are willing to pay for things. Cable bills appear to be one of those things for which I am COMPLETELY out of touch!

Before Christmas, I was talking to a small group of people about internet speeds. I said we have 105 mps because of the businesses that we run out of the house. Someone asked how much I pay for that. It costs $76.50 per month. Apparently, people were impressed with that. I got a lot of “Wow! That’s pretty good” reactions from people in the group. So I asked what other people were spending. The answers varied from $240 to $310 per month! Seriously???

My jaw clearly hit the floor because a number of them reassured me that the amount they were spending was for TV, internet, and phone service. My gaping mouth was left unchanged by those reassurances, so I was asked how much I pay for all these services.

Well, $76.50 covers the internet and we get free basic cable (probably because we cancelled our cable TV for over a year). We have Ooma for our phone. That costs another $3.82 per month. So that’s about $81 per month. Now, their jaws were ajar.

Oh, and we have Amazon Prime to stream TV shows and movies. They all had Prime as well, in addition to their $240 to $310 per month cable bill.

I thought, this can’t be normal. This is just a few people. As we moved to a larger group of about a dozen people and the discussion continued, apparently this is very normal. Everyone in the group, except for me had TV, internet, and phone bills that were well over $200 per month.

I got upset when my bill went to $92 per month! I cancelled the cable TV portion and got an antenna to watch football and PBS. Previously, we had Netflix or Hulu in addition to Prime, but I didn’t want to spend the additional $8 per month. Plus I have more things in my Amazon queue than I will be able to watch in a lifetime, so I’m good with one service. I’m not sure how I would react if I got a $240 cable bill. Actually, I’m pretty damn sure I know how I would react.

Maybe I’m just completely out of touch but $240 per month is a lot of money. That’s over half my grocery budget. Over the course of a year, that’s a pretty decent vacation. An extra $160 placed in a retirement account at 8% for 30 years would be $234,904.14. Yup. That is a lot of money to give up to watch Swamp Stars or  The Real Housewives of King’s Landing.

Help me out here guys! How much are you spending each month for these services? Do you still have cable TV or have you cut the cord? I promise you that as soon as Comcast tries to charge me for cable, we will cut that cord again! Am I just completely out of touch?

How distraction almost cost me $48.75

shareasimage (4)I’m usually pretty good about paying attention at the register. I watch as the cashier rings up my order. Over the years, this has prevented me from overpaying for things. Because of Connecticut law, I have actually gotten a few grocery items for free. Well, Friday night I wasn’t paying attention and it almost cost me $48.75.

We were at Costco picking up a few things to bring to a friend’s house for dinner. There were also a few things we needed for the house and well, it’s Costco. It’s a very dangerous place to go without a list. Cereal was on sale. We also picked up some Christmas candy for the stockings (we have really big stockings!).

As we walked into the store, I remembered that I needed stamps for the Christmas cards. I grabbed the huge cardboard placard that you need to bring to the register when you buy stamps. One more thing off my to-do-list. Win!

After buying everything that we needed and a few things we didn’t, we headed to the registers. Jeff and I were talking about all the things we needed to get done and other stores we needed to go to before going home. I swiped my debit card without even looking at the total. The cashier gave me my stamps and the receipt and we were off to the next store on the list. I looked at the total: $162.56. Well, it was less than $200 and for Costco that is a huge win.

Later, as I was taking a picture of the receipt for an Ibotta rebate, I noticed I had been charged for two books of stamps. 2014-12-15 08.04.15

I was really pissed. Not at the cashier. Not at the guy at the door who checks the receipts. I was pissed at myself. I couldn’t believe I missed it. Almost $50 and I missed it. Hell, the stamps were the first thing on the receipt and I still missed it.

On Saturday, we went back to Costco and they gave me my money back. I’m pretty sure if this had happened at another store, I would have been out of luck. After all, how do you prove you didn’t receive something? I was so grateful I could have kissed the woman at customer service. So I got my $48.75 back and what did I do? Spent it at Costco! Well, at least we have groceries for a while!

Has this ever happened to you? Were you able to get your money back? How do you stay focused at the register?

 

 

10 tips for getting dinner on the table faster

You’ve had a long day and the last thing you want to do is spend time in the kitchen making dinner. I love to cook and even I have those nights. It’s tempting to pick up the phone and order something, but you don’t want to blow your budget either. Here are my 10 tips for getting dinner on the table faster.2014-10-05 19.39.46

1. Start with a clean kitchen

There is nothing worse than coming home to a messy, disorganized kitchen except trying to make dinner in one. Each night after dinner we run the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen a bit. Before going to bed, we try to empty the dishwasher so it’s ready to go for the next day. Keeping the counters clear of clutter gives me space to lay out ingredients and do my prep work. If things start to build up, take 20 minutes on Saturday or Sunday to clean off all your surfaces to start the new week fresh.

2. Have a plan

You don’t want to come home after a long day and have to figure out what to make for dinner. I don’t do a formal meal plan but I do have a white board on the fridge with options for the week. I list out a number of things I have all the ingredients for so I can come home and pick something from the list based on how much time I have and how tired I am. Having that list keeps me from wandering around the kitchen, opening the fridge, freezer and cabinets looking for ideas. Always make sure you have some quick items on the list like spaghetti, grilled cheese and tomato soup or tacos.

3. Use convenience foods wisely

Two convenience foods that I love are frozen meatballs and breaded chicken cutlets. I get both of these items at Costco. Frozen meatballs can be thrown in the crockpot or a pan with some sauce and you have a number of options for a quick dinner. You can make spaghetti or meatball sandwiches. You can also make sweet and sour meatballs or Swedish.  I use the breaded chicken to make sandwiches, chicken parmesan or as a topping for salads. I also buy minced garlic since we use a lot of garlic in our house and I hate chopping it. Using these items saves me a lot of time in the kitchen.

4. Turn on the oven or preheat your pan

If you are using the oven, preheat it before you start anything else. I also do this for the pans I am using. Start pasta water and preheat your pans. This will save you time once you start cooking. There is nothing worse than being ready to go and realizing that you have to wait for pans to heat up. Starting with hot pans will also make cooking faster which will save you additional time.

5. Pull all of your ingredients together before you start

Get together everything you will need before you start cooking. Having a clean kitchen will give you the space to do this. Put out your knife and cutting board, the can opener if you need one, and all the food you will need. You don’t want to go hunting for things later.

6. Chop once

I do all my prep work at the same time. I cut all my produce and place it in bowls, then I prepare any meat that needs to be cut. Having everything all lined up and ready t go into the pan reduces the chance that something is going to burn while I’m cutting other things and saves me time.

7. Put the trash can next to you

One of the biggest time wasters is moving around the kitchen, especially to throw things away. Bring the trash can to you or use a garbage bowl on your work surface to save yourself steps.

8. Precook and freeze

Whenever I buy ground beef at Costco, I cook the entire batch at once and freeze it in one pound packages. When I need ground beef for chili, spaghetti, sloppy joes, or tacos, it’s already cooked. This saves me so much time on busy weeknights. You can also freeze other meats as well that will be added to recipes. This is a lifesaver when I want to make something in the crockpot that requires cooking the meat before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

9. Make a double batch for another night

Yesterday, I made a double batch of chili. It didn’t take me any longer to make a huge batch than it would have taken to make a single batch. Not only did we have chili last night but I now have chili in the freezer for another night when I don’t feel like cooking!

10. Prep more than you need

If you have time on the weekend, I highly recommend doing some prep work for the week. If you know you are going to need three onions and two peppers, chop them over the weekend. This can save you valuable time during the week. If you can’t find time on the weekend, cut an extra onion during the week if you know you need one the next day or a few days from now. If you only need half an onion or pepper for a recipe, chop up the other half to use in another recipe. You are much more likely to use up the leftover amount if it is already chopped and ready to go which helps reduce food waste.

Bonus tip – Clean as you go

Okay so I couldn’t stop at 10. When I’m cooking, I always clean as I go. When things start simmering, I dump my garbage bowl and clean my knives. I put everything I can in the dishwasher. I start to wipe the counters. Using that time means that there won’t be much left to do after dinner. My goal is to get everything back into the condition it was in before I started making dinner (or better!) as quickly as possible so I can unwind for the evening.

What tips to do you have to get dinner on the table fast? Have any of my tips worked for you? Are there any tips that you plan to try?

 

When you just don’t want to make dinner

To say that last week was a difficult week would be an understatement. We ended up eating out a few times and spending all of our entertainment budget for the month (and we still have a little over two weeks to go). Saturday night, we really wanted to order pizza. We were so tired and neither of us wanted to make dinner. Jeff even offered to use his blow money to order pizza. It was tempting. Really tempting but we didn’t do it.

We both knew the entertainment budget was gone. We did have blow money but I didn’t want to spend it. We had bought a bunch of groceries in the past few days so we had food.

We just didn’t want to make anything. The thought of standing in front of the stove was not at all appealing. I know you’ve had those days. The days when you aren’t sure if your legs would support you to stand in front of the stove to make grilled cheese.

I started to think of all the food I had bought that week. I made a Costco run on Friday night. I had stocked up on a lot of things. I could make hamburgers or hot dogs. My knees ached at the thought. Too tired for hamburgers or hot dogs.

It was getting late and we needed to eat something. We had no cereal in the house, no lunch meat either. I was starting to cave and was about to tell Jeff to order pizza when a light went off in my head.

2014-09-14 17.05.51Frozen meatballs.

I had a  huge bag of frozen meatballs from Costco. I put some in a bowl and thew them in the microwave for a few minutes to defrost them. While they were in the microwave, I poured a jar of sauce in a pan. I sat down as the meatballs mingled with the sauce. Twenty minutes later, we had hot meatballs and sauce, hot dog buns and mozzarella cheese.

Three minutes of effort and we had meatball sandwiches for dinner. They might have been the best meatball sandwiches I’ve ever had. Well, they were the best three minute effort meatball sandwiches I’ve ever had. They were really good, really quick and a hell of a lot less expensive than ordering pizza.

Since we did not order pizza, I made some pizza dough on Sunday. We will have pizza this week.

What do you make when you just don’t want to cook? How do you keep yourself from ordering take-out?

Saving money on textbooks

You’ve paid tuition, fees, room and board plus purchased all the stuff you need for the dorm room. You arrive on campus to move yourself or your child into their room, head to the bookstore and WHAM! Another $800 – $1,000 for books. Textbooks are insanely expensive but there are ways to cut your costs. You need to do your homework and possibly send a few emails to professors, but you could potentially save 70 – 90% on your textbooks with these tips.

There are so many options for your textbook purchases: in-store, online, new, used, buy, rent. Which are the best options? Let’s discuss.

Saving money on college textbooks

Original photo by John Lui, copyright 2011.

Start early

If you know the class schedule, you can start looking at books immediately. Instructors are required to put in their book orders in the spring for fall courses and the fall for spring courses. Generally, I am required to have my textbook orders in shortly after students have started registration. This allows students to possibly purchase the books from other students at the end of the semester. Also, used textbook prices tend to rise as the demand for the book increases. There is less demand for books at the end of the semester when students are selling books rather than buying them.

Contact the instructor

There are a number of reasons why you should do this. First, most instructors will give you the name of the book, the authors, publisher and ISBN to insure you are purchasing the correct book. I can’t tell you how many times a student has purchased the wrong book online because he/she found the title of the book and through the correct book was being purchased.

When making your inquiry, ask how much the book will be used in class. Will it be needed for homework assignments or just for reading? Will all the books listed in the syllabus actually be used. I have experienced instructors who inherit a course and syllabus from another instructor and then later decide not to use all the materials listed in the syllabus. By asking the particulars, you can save yourself from purchasing books you will not need. If the book is just used for reading assignments, you can save a lot of money by purchasing a previous edition of the textbook. This managerial accounting book is $230 new and $42 used, but a quick search shows that the previous edition
can be purchased for $7. Most textbooks do not change a tremendous amount from edition to edition.

This is also a good time to ask if there is an online component required for the course. Many courses now require online homework managers. These products are usually an additional cost but sometimes the online component includes an e-book, which could save you money since you would not need to purchase a printed copy of the book.

Custom Editions

Sometimes, students feel like they must purchase the book from the bookstore because it is a “custom edition”. While some custom editions are a compilation of sources, most are just one textbook with some of the chapters removed, bound in soft cover to lower the price. Many times, you can purchase a used hardcover copy for less money. Check with the professor if you can’t find the ISBN online. You might be dealing with a custom edition.

Rent vs. Buy

Many colleges and online sites allow you to rent textbooks. This can be a great option to save a ton of money. You can rent the same managerial accounting book with the online component (which is $60 if you purchase it separately) for $42. This is actually less expensive than just the online component.

Make sure that when you rent textbooks, you understand the terms and conditions. Can you write or highlight in the book? When must it be returned? Who pays for the return?

Also make sure that you are getting all of the components you need for the course, like the online homework manager. I have had students end up paying more than the bookstore price because when you add the rental fee plus the online component, the cost is higher.

Don’t wait until the last minute

There is nothing worse than waiting until after classes start to begin researching textbooks. I have had a number of students fail my first exam because they took too long to purchase their textbooks. Most of my courses have a homework manager with a 2 week free trial and I still have students that do not get their books within that time frame. Typically, if you contact the instructor, you can make arrangements to get your books before classes start. You don’t need to wait until the first class meeting to determine if the books are needed because you have already made the inquiry.

The most important thing I’ve learned about life is that you must be proactive. Don’t wait for things to happen to you. Go make things happen.

What tips do you have for saving on textbooks? What is the most you’ve ever spend on textbooks for one semester?

Frugal Frustrations: Shrinking Products

First it was coffee. We started to notice cans of coffee no longer contained a pound of coffee. This was not really noticeable for us because we buy our coffee in bulk at the warehouse club. Then it was ice cream. No longer were containers half gallon, but 1.75 quarts. We lost 12.5% of the product overnight. It was a pretty bold move cutting the size of the product so much.

Now, another shrinking product, this time a 20% cut in the size of the product. 20%?!?!?! shrinking products

I had heard a lot about this one but this week was the first time it hit my grocery purchases. We don’t use much sugar in our house. I had been buying it at the warehouse club but with the small amount of sugar we use, I decided to pick it up at Wal-Mart instead. Our previous 5 pound bags of sugar, have been reduced to 4 pounds.

For as long as I can remember, this staple in the kitchen has been 5 pounds. You would buy 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of sugar (good God, is flour next?).

I understand that huge increases in cost have motivated this move, but I think it is silly. With other products, people might not so easily notice but losing a pound of sugar in your bag. I would imagine that this is noticeable.

Why can’t food producers just be honest with us? Rather than raising prices, they decrease the size of the product and hope we don’t notice. With the price of everything going up today, most people are frustrated but understand. I would rather pay higher prices and get the same amount of product than come home and realize I’ve been cheated out of 20% of the product!

Have you noticed the shrinking products on the grocery shelves? Which ones have frustrated you the most?

 

A much shorter monthly bills list

I was cleaning around the house today and I came across our original monthly bills list. This was probably put together in November 2013. I thought it would be fun to go through the list and cross off the bills we no longer have. I was really impressed how much shorter the list is now.

a long monthly bills list

 

As you can see, we’ve made quite a bit of progress in the past 9 months. We paid off two debts. We cancelled a number of subscriptions. We also are making enough money with our side projects to pay for the webhosting. Those items combined are a savings of $678.88 from our monthly budget. That amount even amazes me.

The vast majority is due to debt payoff, but we still managed to cut $62.29 worth of services out of the budget. That might not seem like a lot, but in a year, that is almost $750. That’s more than my auto insurance each year!

I challenge you to look at your monthly bills list to see where you could cut back. I’m eyeing that Sprint bill. Our contract ends in November and I have a feeling we are going to look into no contract alternatives.

Are there any bills you could cut back on? How much could you save?

When Cleaning Turns into Tearing Down Drywall

It was a pretty crazy weekend at our house. I got a bug up my butt to start reorganizing the kitchen and start putting things aside for a tag sale. I should have taken before pictures but use your imagination. There was a lot of stuff in the kitchen. I was losing counter space and had trouble finding a spot for things in the cabinets. My goals were to go through all my kitchen stuff and PURGE. 2014-08-03 22.27.28

I purged a lot of stuff. This shelf was pretty much empty when I started. All of that is stuff that came out of the kitchen. Baking stuff, pots and pans, decorate stuff that was collecting dust. It all must go. I’m tired of having so much stuff in my kitchen, a lot of which I use very rarely. It’s time to go.

My kitchen was starting to feel claustrophobic. I hated cooking because I didn’t have space to prepare anything. The kitchen was becoming a dumping ground. I’m determined to stop that habit here and now.

2014-08-03 22.15.27My kitchen feels so much better now. I have counter space! I put all the jars away and kept it very sparse. The only things left on the counter now are the toaster, a knife block and my FoodSaver. Each of these items gets used multiple times a week and deserved a space on the counter. That’s my rule for determining what gets a prime spot on my limited counter space. Something must be used multiple times a week to get a piece of this hot real estate. These three items fit the bill.

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I also cleaned out the “junk drawers”. Yup, I had multiple junk drawers. It’s amazing what you find in these things if you actually start to look at what’s inside. I found some Staples coupons that expired in 2009. I don’t think I need to hold on to those anymore. I found the manual for the oven that died in 2007. That got ditched as well. All the tools that were hiding in the draws when out to the garage, because that’s where the tools live. I had more free pens than one could ever use in a lifetime. Those are gone now.

I decided to use one drawer, with bins, for a few pens, batteries and a few odds and ends I use a lot, like giant binder clips that I use to close bags of chips. The second drawer became the cat drawer. I put the cat brushes, toys and the hairball stuff in that drawer. Now I know where to look for the hairball stuff when one of the kitties needs it. 2014-08-03 22.15.57

After I was done, I had two drawers left. One was holding miscellaneous kitchen tools. I reorganized that drawer and purged more! Since I now had an empty drawer, I decided to get my utensils off the counter and into the drawer. This opened up the counter by the sink. I had two containers filled with utensils. Now the utensils reside in the drawer and the containers are in the tag sale pile.

Look, more counter space without crap all over it! Now the only thing that will reside permanently on that part of the counter is the dirty dishes bucket, which you can kinda see on the right side of the picture. I love seeing more counter space.

2014-08-03 22.14.56I wiped down all the cabinets and cleaned the outside of the fridge. I took all the stuff off the front of the fridge, just leaving the menu board and the grocery list.

See? This is peace in the kitchen. Seriously, I can’t tell you how much peace I feel without all the notices, coupons, old notes and other crap stuck to the fridge.

You want more peace in your life? Get all the crap off your refrigerator doors. It’s like meditation only it doesn’t take up time that I don’t currently have to spare.

So you probably realized that this post is called “When cleaning turns into tearing down drywall.” So far, no drywall torn down. Well, that is because that is outside the kitchen. Come, follow me down the hall and up the stairs.  2014-08-03 19.17.14

This is where we started tearing down the drywall. There was a huge bulge in the wall and it was driving everyone in the house crazy. My nephew decided that today was the day we would start to fix it.

2014-08-03 22.16.50Meanwhile, my husband decided that since the wallpaper was now officially going to need to come down, he started taking down the wallpaper in the hallway downstairs.

So while I was cleaning, the boys were literally tearing apart the house. At least my house will finally be free of the centennial wallpaper that is probably older than I am. It will look much better when it is a nice warm beige.

Thankfully, the wall is coming together nicely. 2014-08-03 22.16.32The first piece is already in place. Soon, my wall will be back and we can wave goodbye to this home improvement project.

By the way, this will end up being a pretty frugal project. With materials, including new paint and primer, this should cost less than $250.  Hiring someone to do the drywall work and paint the entire hallway and stairway would have cost us thousands. Luckily, I have a very resourceful nephew and a husband with a wallpaper steamer.

 

 

A frugal frustration

This morning I got out of the shower and went to put on my moisturizer. Nothing came out of the pump.

There is still moisturizer in the bottle

 

 

Clearly, there is still moisturizer in there. I whacked the bottle on the side of my hand and used the pump to scrape out the amount I needed. Looking in the bottle there is at least a week worth of product left in there. I really wish someone would design a better delivery system. Until then, I will continue whacking and scraping until it’s all used up.

Do you get frustrated by the lack of efficiency when it comes to things like this? How far do you go to get the rest out of the bottle?