Time on My Hands to Save $$$$

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon I was bored. There didn’t seem to be anything interesting on TV, so while I was dinking around in my kitchen there was a show called Extreme Couponing playing on the adjacent family room TV. The show had several concurrent episodes playing. I was kind of half paying attention until I noticed some unbelievable amounts of money these people were savings due to their efforts of combining coupons with grocery store sales until they were getting most of their items for pennies on the dollar. In fact, even free. And in some cases even getting paid to take the stuff away. Imagine paying $5 for hundreds of dollars worth of stuff.  Never mind that these coupon superstars tend to buy tons of stuff that they don’t actually need right away and fill their garages and every spare inch of storage spaces within their homes with stuff they call their stock piles. One woman even borrowed space from her neighbors! Hoarding –only in neat little piles.

After filing our taxes a couple of months ago, I decided to take a look at our spending habits by analyzing our joint checking account and income for the past year and created a monthly budget based on what I found. Without a doubt our biggest monthly expenditure is groceries –even more than our housing, vehicle and utilities all together! We don’t eat out often and when we do, we eat at inexpensive venues and fast food places. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but prices have been on a steady climb, so it is only going to get worse.

No need to dumpster dive for coupons anymore!

No need to dumpster dive for coupons anymore!

Extreme couponing is not a new concept… and I’ve come to realize these shows were not so new either. While printed (and printable) coupons are still out there, this method of combining and “doubling” coupons isn’t so available anymore at places where I shop. The best you can hope to do where I shop is use a coupon on a sale item. Just the same –as I have done periodically throughout my adulthood– I’ve decided to give “couponing” a go once again. Only this time, deciding to get smarter about it. After all, even though I’m retired, I’ve decided the time I’m going to invest in this endeavor is of value. So I was inspired on that Saturday afternoon with the knowledge of my out-of-wack grocery bill, that it was high time I found a way to cut costs any way I can without sacrificing our lifestyle choices if possible –though we could definitely stand to eat a bit healthier. (By that I mean less.)

Coupons have a lot of rules. I try not to embarrass my self further at the checkout (while I'm holding up the  line) as the check goes through reading each and every one of them in the pile!

Coupons have a lot of rules. I try not to embarrass my self further at the checkout (while I’m holding up the line) as the checker goes through reading each and every one of them in the pile!

So how do you find out how to do it nowadays? Why the internet of course! While I now peruse the weekly flyers that fill my mailbox every Wednesday for coupons (both grocery and restaurant types), I’ve also discovered online sites where you can print manufacturer’s coupons. The best site by far is coupons.com where you virtually ‘clip’ manufacturer’s coupons from hundreds that are available. You have to download their printer app due to the bar codes that are printed on the coupons (fyi not working on Chrome). They print three to a sheet so I try to make my total print job in multiples of three so I don’t waste paper. –Need to take into consideration the cost of paper and ink. Then I use a cheap little paper cutter to manually clip my coupons at four sheets at a time. I then file my coupons (by expiration date) in a notebook with sleeves that are tabbed to reflect areas in a grocery store where like item types would be grouped so I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time rifling through all of my coupons to find them while I’m shopping.

Krazy Coupon Lady

Krazy Coupon Lady

That’s just the beginning and it reflects the ‘old fashioned way’ of coupon or discount grocery shopping. There’s more! Yes soooo much more to try and learn! Much of what I know now I’ve learned from a couple of gals that have a website called the Krazy Coupon Lady.com. Joannie and Heather became nationally known a little over a year ago on the now defunct Nate Berkus Show.  They have a lot of YouTube videos that tell you how to “save money in 2015” by utilizing the internet to not only “stack” coupons but get money back by rebating (with your smart phone!) from sites named Ibota, Jingit, Checkout 51, Shopmium and Slice. For the most part you use your phone to scan your receipts and match your purchases to the items on these sites and get coupon-similar refunds. You can also collect refundable points on some sites just for walking in the door! They also tell you how to shop certain stores like Costco, Walmart and Target that have apps to help save additionally. What’s more the Krazy Coupon Lady does a lot of the footwork and figuring out for you by sharing via email “deals” that combine coupons, store sales and rebate sites for maximum savings.

Joanie & Heather

Joanie & Heather

Another “new in 2015” idea is online grocery shopping. Krazy Coupon Lady tells you about these features available on Amazon. There’s a couple of ways to save: One is to ‘subscribe’ to certain items that you purchase in regular intervals. Subscription prices are slightly less than their regular price and can be combined with Amazon’s virtual coupons. The other way is to utilize Amazon Prime Pantry. You have to subscribe to Amazon Prime ($100/year) and pay shipping by the box.  The system shows you what percentage of the box is filled as you add items to your “shopping cart”. These items may have virtual coupons available to be applied. I placed my first order yesterday and it arrived in todays mail! The postman said he delivered three of them today. I was surprised others in my community knew about it as it’s a new thing (and we’re not! LOL). Amazon doesn’t sell perishables like fresh vegeys or meat and their prices aren’t usually cheaper than the same items at the local grocery store, but you don’t waste gas or have to find a place to park. Considering it got here so fast, I’m already feeling like I won at least a small battle as I order a lot of things from Amazon besides groceries. I’m still in the ‘trial’ period for Amazon Prime (which means I haven’t paid for a membership yet) and even though my first order shipped free, not sure it’s going to be worth it. I don’t have a Costco membership either for the same reason. On the fence on this one still and I’ve got a couple of weeks yet to decide.

So far it feels like I’m spending a lot of time on this coupon thing and it will take a lot more time to see a return. Partly because I’m enjoying a new hobby I suppose. Time will tell…



Recipes on Pinterest

Anybody who follows me knows one of my obsessions lately has been Pinterest.  After a few months of “pinning” I discovered it to be a fantastic source of recipes.  When I first started my Pinterest preoccupation, I tried to limit myself to certain themes trying to focus on design themes that included architecture, interiors, landscaping with special attention to kitchen design. Knowing my collection of boards would soon mushroom out of control, I decidedly avoided topics that included fashion, cute kids and animals, literature, food, and travel so that I could attempt to make my ever-expanding collection manageable.

Well some 190 boards later, I’ve included art, travel and food into my mix of topics. It’s likely I’ll never try three fourths of the recipes I’ve collected.  Many of them are from other well known sources such as food.com, recipe.com,  Delish and other popular recipe sites, though most are from sources that other pinners have found on blogs that I would have never encountered on my own.  What all of these have in common is their visual appeal that makes them ‘pin’ popular. Of course, presentation is everything when it comes to making food appetizing.  Right?  One unfortunate side is that some pins do not link to a recipe but just a pretty picture.  So sorry in advance if you click on one of my pins that doesn’t lead to a recipe ~ they tricked me too!  You can find me on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/pamdesigns/

Here are a few of the recipes I’ve tried that I’ve found on Pinterest:

From the Busy Mom’s Recipe blog my favorite so far is this easy-to-make Asian chopped salad that uses inexpensive Ramen Noodles http://busymomrecipes1.blogspot.com/2011/06/oriental-salad-with-ramen-noodles.html.  I don’t think it was clear about which flavor to use, but I think the obvious one would be the Oriental flavor.  ImageDon’t skimp on the peanuts (unless you’re allergic to them) and don’t over-do it with the soy sauce in the dressing which will overpower the Oriental seasoning.

Another recipe that I like that is seasonal is this pumpkin coffee cake from prettygoodfood.com http://www.prettygoodfood.com/2012/02/pumpkin-coffee-cake-with-brown-sugar.html?m=1 .  I don’t use actual pumpkin for any of my pumpkin recipes.  I use butternut squash instead because I like the texture and flavor better.  When all of the Autumn posts started to manifest on Pinterest, along came all of the ‘pumpkin everything’ recipes.  Fine by me!  I’ve been counting the days until squash started showing up in the grocery stores. As soon as the butternut squash showed up, started buying them fresh.  I boil them until they’re soft, and freeze the mashed squash in two-cup bags which is the usual amount for most of the recipes I come across.   I love “pumpkin” flavor in everything from coffee drinks to ice cream.  I’ve also noticed a lot of not-sweet recipes lately that call for butternut squash that I want to try.  Image

This coffee cake recipe called for a glaze topping that I didn’t have all of the ingredients for.  So I made up my own ‘streusel topping’ with a cube of cold butter, 1/2 cup each of brown (packed) and white sugar, generous cinnamon (about two tablespoons–I like a lot) and a cup of chopped walnuts.  I blended it until it was crumbly and sprinkled it over the cake before baking.  It was wonderful, but made a huge batch that I think I will halve next time.

Another low calorie dessert is something called Aunt Betty’s 1-2-3 Cake from TheHiddenPantry Blog http://thehiddenpantry.blogspot.com/2011/11/aunt-bettys-1-2-3-cake.html that you can store as a dry mix and make individual servings in a coffee mug when your sweet tooth needs to be satisfied but not at the expense of your waistline.  The mix is very simple.  It’s just a box of angel food cake mix and a box of regular cake mix.  ~I’ve found the angel food cake mix is there primarily as a leavening agent but can have an overpowering flavor and texture.  If you want a more cake-like flavor and texture, mix only one half a box to angel food cake to a full box of cake mix.  You can make it any flavor you like.  Some I’ve tried are devils food, yellow cake, strawberry and lemon.  They are all delicious!  Image

Making the serving is as easy as 1-2-3!  You mix three tablespoons of the mix in a mug with two tablespoons of water.  Put it in the microwave for one minute. Top with a dollop of non-fat whipped topping. Done.

A recipe that was a hit at my house this summer was Mayonnaise Roasted Turkey that originated from the SheWearsManyHats Blog http://shewearsmanyhats.com/2011/11/mayonnaise-roasted-turkey/.  We had Thanksgiving a little early this year when my daughter and family, and my other kids and I all got together at the end of August.  This is a rare occasion as my kids are spread all up and down the West Coast and it’s hard to get us all in one spot at the same time.  This has never worked out during the Holiday Season, so we made our own and decided to have Thanksgiving early.  ImageIt doesn’t get any easier than this. You’ll want to try it in November for the ‘real’ Thanksgiving.  I’m going to for sure!

Latin cuisine is popular where I live and after being married to my Mexican husband for 20 years, I’ve learned to make some pretty decent “authentic” Mexican dishes.  Though I still like the Tex-Mex Gringo recipes I find.  He loves them too… calls them Taco-Tamale-Enchiladas ~pretty much because they all seem to have the same ingredients and taste very similar.  All can be fixed with a little Tapatio Sauce!Image

This enchilada casserole recipe from justgetoffyourbuttandbake.com blog   http://www.justgetoffyourbuttandbake.com/?p=3352 is a bit like a Mexican lasagne but has a lot of familiar taco flavors.  It’s really tasty and the leftovers freeze nicely for later.

One really great main dish recipe that’s fast to whip up is Parmesan Crusted Chicken that came from The Enchanted Cook blog http://theenchantedcook.blogspot.com/2011/10/parmesan-crusted-chicken-hellmanns-mayo.html via the Hellmans/BestFoods Mayo people.  Very few ingredients and easy to make. I didn’t have Italian herb bread crumbs, so I used the Panko I had on hand and added some Italian seasoning.Image