5 Tips To Saving Money and Your Sanity When Shopping for Back To School Clothes

Shopping for school clothes can take a bite out of your pocket book if you’re not careful. For many parents, the very mention of the words ‘shopping for school clothes’ can bring on a headache. Buying new school shoes, backpacks, clothes and all the other necessities needed to dress your child for school can be overwhelming and expensive.

The good news is, you can get your children dressed and ready to go back to school without going into debt, while still keeping your kids happy. I’ve laid out my 5 best tips for you to stay within your budget when it comes to back to school shopping.

Save Money & Your Sanity When Shopping On Back To School ClothesWhat’s in the Closet?

Don’t even think about shopping for school clothes until you’ve discovered what’s already in your child’s closet. This is something many parents don’t do when it comes to school shopping but if you assess what your child has that is school ready you can reuse, recycle and save money. Dig into your child’s closet first before you even think about shopping. Get everything out of that closet and start sorting. You’ll be surprised at the good stuff you forgot they even had that’s been buried in the back of the closet and stuffed into dresser drawers. Sort through every piece of clothing, remove anything that doesn’t fit, and set everything else aside.  Now you have an idea of what clothing your child already has. Get it all washed, folded and hung in the closet. Now that you know what your child has you can move to the next step.

Create a Budget

Now that you know what your child has for clothing, it’s time to think about what is needed. One of the biggest mistakes people make about school shopping is not setting a budget. So, before you let your child get too excited about a whole new wardrobe, you’ll need to create a budget. Living within your means is one of the most important responsibilities you can teach your child. Remind your child that an expensive pair of designer jeans may mean that she only gets one new pair or instead of those fabulous shoes she was eyeing she may have to get a not so fantastic pair. There are trade offs that need to be made. There are choices to be made that fit within the budget and once the money is gone, the shopping is over. This is a tough lesson, but one that needs to be learned before you go on.

Make Your Shopping List

Now that you’ve discussed what the budget is, it’s time to learn how to work within the budget AND get the most out of the the dollars you spend. Start by laying out what is already in the closet. Look through what you have and see how you can mix and match. Toss in some earrings, bracelets and other accessories. Move tops and bottoms around until you have a variety of basics that would benefit from some new pieces. This is where you want to start building your list. Jot down what you have and don’t have, such as what bottoms are unmatched with tops, and vice versa. Be sure to check underclothes and socks too. The idea is to get down on paper what you are shopping for before you get into the store and are swayed by impulse buying.

Go Online

It’s not as much fun I know, but shopping online can save you money and time. It may be hard to do all your back to school clothes shopping online, but doing whatever you can often benefits both you and your child. Shopping online for clothes can be done in comfort and slowly without pressure. Of course, you can’t try the items on so be sure to check the return policies on the websites. This way if it doesn’t fit properly you will be sure you can exchange it for the correct size. Also, be sure to give yourself enough time before school starts to get the exhanges done, if needed. Of course, you can get underwear, socks, backpacks and all sorts of accessories online without too much worry as to whether the stuff will fit. If time is money, then shopping at home on your computer is pure gold.  Don’t discount this method as a real bonus.

Shop Off Season

As the seasons change the clothing that hasn’t been sold will get discounted for the new seasons items. This is great for budget shoppers because you could get deeply discounted merchandise that you can use the following season. Watch for cold weather gear like sweaters, gloves, coats, scarves, boots and hats when winter ends the year before. You’ll need them before you know it! Buy way ahead of time and you’ll find great savings on close-outs in the clothing departments. Depending on your child’s age, don’t buy too far ahead because you don’t want any growth spurts to ruin your plan. A winter coat, one size bigger, bought in March for the following winter, at 75% off an already discounted price just makes sense.

Starting a new year of school can punch a big hole in your family’s budget. But, these few tips will help you survive the shopping stress and will save your pocketbook as well as your sanity!

Make School Supply Shopping Easy

Shopping for school supplies can be nerve wracking to say the least but here are some simple tips to follow to stay sane during the back to school rush. Most schools offer a list of required school supplies that your child will need. If you can get your hands on a copy early enough you can hit the sales, avoid the crowds and save some money too.

Here’s my time and money saving tips for back to school shopping:

Make A Master List

When you have school shopping to do for more than one child and each has a separate list you can simplify by combining all the supplies into one master list for shopping purposes. Tally up the total number of notebooks needed.  Do the same for calculators, pencils, rulers, and on down the line until you have every item listed and how many you will need.  It’s always easier and usually cheaper to pick up a bundle of items than go back and forth filling each individual child’s list. After you get home, you can divide up the items to give to each child using their own list.  This method will save you money since there are always back to school deals on packs of paper, folders, pencils, and other supplies.  You can buy a pack of ten folders for less than you can buy a single folder.

Hit The Earlybird Sales

Shop early and often for the best sales. You can get supplies little by little instead of being stressed by fighting the crowds and wrangling kids to buy school supplies the week before school starts. Watch the weekly sales at all the stores in your community and purchase items as they are marked down.  Be sure to check with your school (most have websites now) for a list of school supplies needed.

Tips to Make School Shopping EasyGo Basic

Yes, pencils with fun patterns and glitter pens are cool, but they usually cost a lot more than standard pencils and basic pens. You will save a ton of money buying the essentials rather than trendy styles. Double check your school’s list of supplies as some schools allow only plain colored notebooks, pens, folders, and pencils, anyway.

But, if your child’s school allows for some fun with school supplies, it’s way more practical to buy the plain supplies and dress them up yourself. You can use stickers, paint or markers to decorate your pencils and top them off with a silly eraser top. The same goes for folders and notebooks too. Use your imagination to jazz them up and your child will have a one of a kind! You can usually buy a package of embellishments to share between all the kids for a lot less money than buying decorative supplies.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk saves on just about anything you purchase and school supplies are not different. If you are going to save a bundle on pencils by purchasing 100 of them, then why not do it. You will always need them. Going in with friends, relatives or other parents when buying in bulk can help you all save plus you won’t have to store a ton of supplies.

Big box stores do well for a reason. They buy in mass quantities to offer their customers deep discounts on certain things. Take advantage of this. Purchase a card for yourself or better yet go in together with several friends or other parents to use throughout the year on clothes, school supplies, and whatever else you may need. Membership is usually pretty reasonable, especially if you can share it with a friend. Watch your savings throughout the year and you’ll see the value really adds up fast.

Don’t Forget the Dollar Store

The dollar stores are another amazing place to save money. They’ve become a sensation for a reason. There are certain items that just aren’t worth more than $1 no matter how anyone tries to sell it.  Things like paper, notebooks, calculators, pencils, erasers and pens, just shouldn’t take a bite out of anyone’s budget. There’s no reason to spend $3 on a notebook when the very same item is available for $1.

You don’t want to be one of the weary faced parents standing in line at the checkout counter with their arms loaded with school supplies on the day before school starts. And, you won’t if follow these tips to save and have a calm start to school this year!

Fire Safety Tips – Infographic

With all the wild fires burning across the country, I’ve been thinking a lot about keeping our important paperwork and valuables safe. I’m making backups of digital pictures and files (including all sorts of things I have saved that are either already part of the HBHW website or things I’m working on), copies of old paper pictures and of course important documents like passports and the likes.

Much of the papers are in our fire safe. My husband did a lot of research beforehand to find a model that was a good fit for us and our needs. Earlier today I came across a great info graphic about fire safety and fire safes that I thought I’d share with you.

Please take a little time this week to make sure your important paperwork is safe.

~ Susanne


Via: SafetyFile

Inexpensive Easy To Make Christmas Gift Ideas – Gifts In A Jar

Gifts In A JarOne of my favorite gifts to give is a jar of a baking, soup or drink mix. They are always well received. They make the perfect inexpensive and easy to make Christmas gifts.

Love to make gingerbread cookies?  Why not put the ingredients in a jar; write the recipe on red construction paper; cut the construction paper to the circumference of the jar; and wrap the construction paper around the front of the jar with white ribbon. Place a green bow on top of the lid of the jar.

Brownies are a wonderful gift anytime of year, but especially during Christmas.  Find your favorite brownie recipe and put the ingredients into a jar.  Type up the recipe, roll it up, and place the rolled recipe into jar along with the ingredients.  Wrap the jar in color cellophane, and tie the cellophane with red ribbon.

Have you seen those spice green and red candies?  There are sold in most supermarkets. This would make a perfect Christmas gift in a jar.

Jelly beans in a jar are another traditional Christmas gift.  Easy, fun, delicious, and low in calories as well.

M&M’s in a jar is another wonderful Christmas treat.  Buy a bag of red and green M&M’s, either plain or with nuts, and fill up a jar as a Christmas gift which anyone would love to receive.

A traditional Christmas gift in a jar is the colorful hard candies, such as peppermint sticks; Christmas hard candies with filling; red and white mint swirl candies.

For chocolate lovers, why not put chocolate pretzels in a jar.  Chocolate pretzels come in packages, and are available in your local supermarket.  What a sweet treat this gift would make.

How about theme gifts in a jar?  Examples are: Chocolate golf balls; chocolate baseballs; chocolate footballs; chocolate soccer balls.  Any of these fun theme gifts would be a hit with anyone who enjoys these sports.

Some of my favorite jar gifts are mixes for fancy beverages including cafe late mix, bavarian mint coffee mix and of course rich hot cocoa mix.

No matter what you choose; traditional; off-beat; baked or bought, making easy Christmas gifts in a jar is fun and allows you to be as creative as you want to be. Gifts in a jar can be an inexpensive treat to give to your colleagues at work; your friends, and even your family members.

The best part is you can go to your supermarket or shopping club and stock up on your favorite candies and chocolates, to make as many jars of treats as you need.

How To Save With Coupons

I have to admit, I haven’t always been very successful using coupons. But there are ways to make them work better and get quite a bargain. I asked a few of my friends who save a lot of money using coupons to give me a few of their money-saving coupon strategies. The following article is a combination of the tips they shared with me.

Why are free coupons available?

In short, coupons are a great advertising move. You have to spend money to make money. And, in business, you want to make money. Free coupons get you to shop for one thing and the advertising will get you to try something else while you are there.

Do coupons save you money?

The short answer to this question is yes. But, you have to use them in order for the coupon to be of any benefit. Coupons used to be only paper. You could cut them out of the Sunday paper and they were good for a month or two. Now, coupons are in the newspaper, magazines, printable from websites and in the form of online coupons that are great when shopping on the Internet. With so many choices for coupons, you can save money at every turn. Take a look at how to get started saving big with coupons:

Cut out coupons for the grocery store. People have to eat. It’s a fact of life. Those coupons in the Sunday paper are good for everything from cat food to candy bars (not that you should eat a lot of those). Snip all that may apply to your household needs.

Get organized. Use a slotted folder or one of those coupon expandable files to hold all of your coupons. Categorize the slots so every time you go to the grocery store, you can pull out the stack of coupons that pertain to the goodies in your buggy.

Use coupons for other things besides the grocery store. Coupons can be found in magazines on advertising pages and in amongst your mail on other days of the week. There are coupons for restaurants, car repairs, mattresses and carpet steam cleaning. Everyone will need car repairs at some point (especially after your last payment) so those auto coupons can come in handy.

Present your coupon before you buy in some instances. This applies to restaurants and car repairs. If you have any questions about the coupon’s validity, ask before you spend the time shopping. If you can have your brakes serviced for $100, be sure that it includes both sets of brakes and the rotors and/or brake pads. Know what you are getting so you can judge if the coupon is a good deal.

Look for other bargains to pair with your coupons. Coupons can be just like money – it burns a hole in your pocket. If you have a coupon for 20 percent off your purchase at an electronics store, shop the store circular to see if they have anything on sale that you want to purchase. Save that 20 percent off coupon for when that laptop you want goes on sale. Now, you’ll get an extra percentage off the total price.

Use store incentives. Some stores (mostly grocery stores) offer coupons and discounts just for signing up for their store incentive card. Just by walking in the store, you receive a discount on many items they sell. In combination with a coupon you can save more.

Coupons can save you money on clothing, groceries, automotive needs, travel and movies. To get the most bang for your buck, read coupons carefully and bide you time before you use them to receive the greatest benefit.

Four Places to Find Free Coupons

They say the best things in life are free. That extends to coupon offers as well. For all that you do every day, its okay to take advantage of a few free deals. Besides, if someone is offering them, they want you to benefit obviously. There are plenty of places to find free coupons if you know where to look. Here are just four of the most popular ones.

1. Magazines, Newspapers, and More

The first place to look is your reading material. In among all of the other coupons you receive, there are always a couple of free ones lurking. In magazines, advertisers love to slip in a free coupon for a trial sample of their latest hair care product or lotions. When new stores open, they are glad to send out coupons for free scoops of ice cream or a tree trial size item just to get you to visit the store.

2. Survey Sites

Survey sites are also places to find free coupons. You can use free coupons for other things besides groceries. For filling out surveys on sites like Nubella.com you will be able to take advantage of discount links for free beauty products and trial sizes of food products.

With these short surveys, you can also gain access to free doses of medication. When your doctor prescribes a certain drug for you, you can use the free coupon at the pharmacy to save on your prescription bills. Who couldn’t use that nowadays?

3. Websites

Online, you can surf the Web for sites offering free coupons. Now there are some scam artists out there so read the entire coupon offer before clicking on anything. If the coupon is free, the only vital information you may have to enter is your email address or physical address and your name. Anyone who asks for financial information is out to get you.

Try a site like www.mysavings.com. Just for signing up for a free membership, you gain access to hundreds of free coupons that will save you money. Once you sign up for membership on one site, others will be knocking at your virtual door asking you to sign up with them.

4. Your Inbox

Your email is another great place to find free coupon deals. Before you clear out that bulk mail folder or delete your junk mail, look through the subject lines. You are bound to come across a coupon site or two.

Who wouldn’t want to open their mailbox and find coupons for freebies or a box of free samples? It costs you nothing but an email address to get started with most of the sites online and since it’s free, you can cancel at anytime you wish.

Five Websites for Finding Coupons

Online coupons save the shopper tons of money. Printable coupons offered by websites also save you money when you want to venture out and visit the actual store. If you want to find more coupons than the ones in your Sunday paper, here are five of the best sites for coupons of all types.

Why do you use coupons? They provide a discount on items and services that you use most. For the manufacturer who offers the coupon, they get advertising that costs not very much. Whenever you don’t use coupons, they are still saving money. They can claim their losses, but what about you?

It costs you nothing but a little time to search out and use coupons that are available for your needs. Once you get in the habit of clipping them, taking them to the store or entering that online coupon code, you will wonder what you ever complained about in the first place.

1. Currentcodes.com – This site lists online coupon codes for hundreds of stores, some operate online only and others have physical stores. You can browse by merchant or by category of item you want to purchase. The coupon codes are constantly updated for your convenience by their staff so that you can have one stop shopping for all of your online coupon needs.

2. MyCoupons.com – Here you can find thousands of coupons both printable and online coupon codes. There are also shopping forums to discuss everything from shopping savvy tips to how to use coupons to your greatest advantage. If you know of a useful coupon code that you don’t find on the site, you can enter it for others to use. New to the site is also a feature where you can buy unwanted gift cards with a variety of available balances.

3. CouponCabin.com – Find coupon codes for hundreds of items including cosmetics, pet supplies and sewing fabric. You can even get discounts on buying gift certificates for restaurants. There is a section with coupons where you can receive free samples either or filling out a questionnaire or for a “Buy One, Get One Free” deal.

4. Wow-coupons.com – This coupon site has a US and a UK site. You’ll find coupons for grocery stores, gyms, dentist visits, clothing stores and more. If you are looking to travel, there are coupon codes for that as well. Just about everything you are looking for can be found at Wow. Part of the fun is just looking to see all the great things they offer.

5. CouponMom.com – You don’t have to be a mom to make use of this site. Anyone who wants to save on their online and offline shopping can check it out. Find coupons for fast food restaurants, free samples, printable coupons and other offers that will save you money. Membership is free.

If you are looking for more coupons than just the ones you find in the newspaper, these websites, and more, are always a good place to start.

What You Need to Know About Online Coupons

Online coupons are the wave of the future. Technology has afforded us the ability to shop in cyberspace and that has extended also to saving money there. Before you shop again learn a few facts about online coupons.

Online coupons are not like printable coupons that you find in newspapers and magazines. Online stores can’t scan your coupon like they do in the store. Instead, you will see a picture of a coupon that has a bolded code made of numbers and letters at the bottom. This code is the way that you use online coupons.

Some sites call this code a coupon code and some call it a promotional code. The two names are interchangeable. A coupon code (we’ll call it that since we are talking about coupons) is used at checkout just like in the actual store.

But, where do you find these handy coupon codes for online coupons? Stores don’t tell you this but there are sites that list coupon codes for a number of popular stores. One such site is www.currentcodes.com. This site keeps up with the latest codes so you don’t have to spend tons of time visiting website after website to find the code you’re looking for.

If you get an offer through an email from a site to shop there, go to your coupon code site and see if that store offers any coupon codes you can shop with. It is like a goldmine for online shoppers. There are online coupon offers like “Free shipping on all orders”, “Save $50 on all orders over $100”, and “15% off your entire order.”

Online coupon codes do expire so be mindful of time limits. Read the fine print after each coupon code so you know the exact requirements for the coupon code to be valid. You don’t want to get to check out and find out that you can’t use your code.

Some online coupons are presented to you in the form of links. If you’ve ever bought anything online, you will get an email from everyone wanting you to spend money with them. In the email ads, you’ll see things like “Click here to save 10% on your next order.” By clicking on that link, you are taken to the offer website to the page where you can use your savings. Upon checkout, your savings are automatically deducted because you clicked on the discounted link. But, check to be sure you aren’t being ripped off.

With online coupons, there are no long lines to stand in and you don’t use up your precious gas driving to the store. Many online stores offer deals on items that aren’t for sale in their physical stores. These coupon codes take some time to find, but they add up to big savings for the diligent shopper.

Pitfalls to Avoid When Using Coupons

I have two more pieces of advice for you when it comes to saving with coupons. Here they are:

1) Don’t let finding coupons suck up all your free time. Clipping and using coupons shouldn’t take you very long. Your time is valuable and you have better things to do than spend 5 hours to save an extra $2. Make sure the savings with coupons are worth the time you are spending on it.

2) Don’t Buy Things You Don’t Need! This has always been my big downfall. I find some great coupons, but end up buying brand-name items I don’t really need. Keep asking yourself as you clip coupons – “Is this something I would usually buy”? If it isn’t, just skip that coupon or you’ll end up spending more than you would have otherwise.

Now it’s your turn. What are your best coupon savings tips?

Second Hand Shopping

One of the easiest ways by far to save money on just about anything is to shop second hand. Shopping for previously used items is not only cheaper than buying new it helps to reduce consumption of new goods when perfectly usable items are already in existence. It reduces the amount of garbage entering the waste stream as well when we reuse and repurpose things.

Some of the best places to buy used goods are garage sales, consignment shops, community sales boards like Craigslist, and thrift stores. You may also be pleasantly surprised to find free goods from local Freecycle groups. You can buy just about anything you need second hand.

Clothing – Seasonal clothing needs seem less daunting and constrictive on our wallets when we buy second hand. Many times you can find brand name or brand new clothes and shoes at second hand stores or garage sales. Make a few trips a month and keep a list in your purse or wallet of things you need and what sizes. Ask about special sale days at thrift stores where they slash prices by as much as 50-75% for one day only. By being vigilant you can find just about anything you need for rock bottom prices.

Books – Reading can be an expensive habit if you like to buy books as opposed to borrow them but second hand stores and garage sales often offer very low prices for people of all ages. You can find children’s books especially, that have been well loved, for pennies. Online groups like Paperback Swap are also useful for finding the books you want for cheap or even free in exchange for one of your books you no longer need.

Kitchen Gear – If you like glass or ceramic food containers or refrigerator dishes like vintage Pyrex you can find some great deals at garage sales and on places like eBay. You can also cheaply stock up on dish rags, potholders, flatware, and dinnerware. Estate sales are ideal for finding complete sets of China for low prices and appliances such as crackpots and bread makers.

Home Décor – Furniture can be a big budget breaker but it doesn’t have to be. Take a look at second hand options and don’t be afraid to ask for a deeper discount. Used couches, end tables, coffee tables, and bookshelves are all easy to find generally. You can even search for specific items on Craislist and view pictures. There is just no reason to by new when you can get used items for such great prices. Other things to look for include decorative knick-knacks, picture frames, chairs that can be recovered, or any well used furniture that can be revived with a new paint job.

Toys – This is one of the biggest money savers. Children generally don’t mind something used as long as it is new to them and second hand stores and garage sales are havens for toys. Make sure to shop without your kids to stock up on gifts for holidays and birthdays.

There is no reason you have to sacrifice style or quality while shopping second hand and your wallet will be greatly appreciative.

Frugal Grocery Shopping

Prices for anything from groceries to gas have been soaring the past few ones and our hard-earned dollars are challenged to stretch further. Now, we may be able to ride a bicycle around town if we can’t put gas in our cars. But, we have to eat. There’s no getting around that. So, we have to find ways to spend less on groceries while still getting the things that we need to feed ourselves and our families. Here are six money saving tips to try the next time you go grocery shopping.

1. Clip coupons. They put those in the newspaper for a reason. If there are new items you want to try, use a coupon to get it at a discount. If you like it, you have saved some money. On the other hand, if you don’t take a liking to it, you didn’t pay full price. For me, coupons save an average of ten or more dollars per visit. That’s money in my pocket that I can put towards gas for the car.

2. Buy more staples than prepared foods. It is easier to buy a box of macaroni and cheese, but is it more economical? A large box of macaroni and a block of cheese will make more servings for your family than one box of prepared macaroni and cheese. The next time you go shopping and pick up a box or bag of an already prepared item, ask yourself if you can make that at home for less. If you can, then put that item back in favor of less expensive staples.

3. Buy in bulk. Consider the food items that you use most often. Cereals, meats, vegetables, condiments, juices, and paper products can be bought in bulk usually at a lower price at food warehouses like Costco, BJ’s, and Wal-Mart. If you have a coupon, you’ll save even more money.

4. Don’t shop when you are hungry. This is a definite no-no. Shopping on an empty stomach means that you will pick up more things than you need. You are more likely to pick up that bag of chocolate chip cookies or that box of donuts when the growling gets underway.

5. Take a grocery list with you. This is another protection against picking up things that are too costly. Check your cabinets and the fridge to see what you need and write them down. Remember, the goal is to stick to the list as much as possible.

6. Shop at the same stores. This is more of a frustration reliever. In a new store, you spend most of your time looking for things and walking up and down every aisle, which oftentimes leads to forgetting an item or two. Going to the same store each time makes you more familiar with the prices so you can estimate your bill as you write your grocery list.

Rising prices don’t have to mean a lean dinner table. There are ways to make your food dollar go further and if you take the time to implement the ideas listed above as well as others of your own, you’ll see savings each and every time you shop.

Beverage Bargains

Beverages are one of the easiest places to save money on your food bill. In order to do this we have to be willing to let go of old expensive attitudes and open the door to newer, cheaper ones. All beverages besides water, milk, and fruit juice are luxuries. This includes kool-aid, soda-pop, coffee, cocoa, tea, root-beer floats, cola, and almost any other beverage you can imagine. They add calories, caffeine, sugar, fizz and flavor to our diet. They do not add significant nutrition. When we buy these types of luxury beverages we are paying for someone else to combine water and flavorings for us, and then package them in a container that probably costs more than the beverage itself.

This doesn’t mean we need to give up our favorite beverages. It does mean that we need to recognize our favorite drinks for what they really are, luxuries. Then it’s a lot easier to put them in their place. We can become realistic about where they fit into our budgets. I do this by assigning beverages 1 of 4 labels: High Priority, Medium Priority, Low Priority, and No Way. The kids quickly learn this system, and actually stick by it pretty well. Below you will find a chart detailing the beverages that I usually fit into my budget, and the priority I have assigned them. Yours will be different; that is all right. I just want to give you an idea of how to begin to change the way you think about beverages.

High Priority
Tap Water
Dry Milk
Fruit Juice Concentrates
Evaporated Whole Milk

Medium Priority
Sugar & Artificial Sweetener for Mixing our own Beverages
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
Store Brand Unsweetened Fruit-Flavored Drink Mix
Bottled Lemon Juice
Store Brand Instant Coffee & Tea
Cheap Ground Coffee & Tea Bags

Low Priority
Whole Milk
Store Brand
Soda-Pop (3-liter)
Store Brand, Canned 8-Vegetable Juice (low priority, but a real favorite of mine)

No Way!
Fresh & Refrigerated Juices
Chocolate Milk
Flavored Coffee & Tea
Juice Boxes or Pouches
Bottled Water
Name Brand Soda-Pop & Cola
Most Canned & Bottled Juices & Punches

Your list won’t look exactly like mine, but it will probably be similar. If you notice, at the end of the Low Priority column, I list 8-Vegetable Juice. This is a long-time favorite of mine. I like to indulge in it when we have the extra cash. The rest of the family hates it though. This means that even though it may be very nutritious, it doesn’t have a regular place on my grocery list. If no one will drink it, it’s never a bargain. Instead it is special treat just for me. When everyone else gets soda-pop for a treat, I get a large can of store-brand Vegetable Juice, mmmmmm, delicious! When there is room in your budget for a luxury beverage, by all means indulge a little. It makes sticking to a tough budget a lot easier. Make sure the important things are purchased first. Buying your favorite soda-pop on sale for half price is false economy when you don’t have enough milk or juice to make it until next pay day.

Mix your Own for Biggest Savings:
The next step for saving money on beverages, is becoming willing to mix them up yourself. Most beverages can be mixed or brewed up at home, in your own kitchen, with a pitcher or blender, a big spoon, a bag of sugar, and a packet or jar of flavoring. This is true of milk, juice, coffee, tea, fruit-flavored drinks, milk shakes, slushies, smoothies, and a lot of other drinks too.

Mixing your own beverages takes commitment. It is easier to open up a carton of pre-mixed juice or fruit punch than it is to mix your own. If you read the labels on these beverages most are from concentrate or have added flavorings just like homemade. This means that you are paying someone else to open up a frozen can of juice concentrate, pour it into a pitcher, add 3 cans of water and stir. You have to shake the juice up anyway, so the stirring really doesn’t count. Usually even the least expensive cartons and bottles of juice cost twice as much as an equivalent amount of frozen, or canned juice concentrate. I cannot afford to pay someone else in a factory to prepare my beverages for me.

I mix up most of my beverages when I am cleaning up the kitchen at night. I have to check out the options for tomorrow’s lunch anyway, so I take stock of the beverage situation while I’m at it. Most cold beverages taste best if they are chilled overnight. When I mix them up before bed, they have ample time to chill by morning.

Containers:
When you commit to mixing your own beverages, you need containers to mix or brew them in. I prefer to use 2-quart and gallon-sized pitchers. They are convenient for mixing and storing and very easy to keep clean. This becomes important when you find yourself mixing up to 4 different kinds of drinks a day. Yard sales are a good place to look for pitchers. Standard 2-quart size pitchers are pretty abundant these days. If you have a large family, you may want to invest in gallon size pitchers to reduce the number of containers in your fridge. I bought 5 of them at a local discount store, and they have made keeping up with the beverages easier for me. I still use a 2-quart pitcher for fruit juice, but for everything else, I make a gallon at a time.

If you cannot afford new drink containers, don’t worry. Free containers are available in the form of milk jugs, 2 & 3-liter bottles, on-sale-apple-juice-jars, and even half-gallon pickle jars. Use what ever is cheapest and most readily available. If necessary, a bottle brush and a little bleach may be used to ensure cleanliness. Narrow mouthed jars are easier to fill if you use a funnel. I jab a chop stick or spoon handle down the funnel spout to keep things moving if they appear clogged.

Specific Beverages

For a whole page about Powdered Milk click here.

Fruit-Flavored Drink Mix: These are usually cheapest in a store brand, or off-brand. I regularly find them 10/$1 at a local dollar store. There aren’t as many flavors available as in the name brand. The main ones: orange, lemon, cherry, fruit punch and grape, are available, and provide plenty of variety. I use 2/3-cup of sugar for each packet of drink mix. Most packages call for a full cup, but I’ve found 2/3-cup works just as well. Some people use 1/2-cup and find their flavor-ade is plenty sweet. If you prefer yours sugar-free, then sweeten it with artificial sweetener to taste. I usually use 12 packets of artificial sweetener to 1 packet of drink mix. Fred is diabetic, and finds this much to his liking.

Fruit Juice Concentrate: These are available frozen, and have just recently become available in 12 oz cans as well. The cans are usually found on a top shelf of the juice aisle. They are sometimes cheaper than their frozen counterparts, so be sure to price them when you are at the store. Often store-brand frozen juice concentrates are your best buy though. Orange, Apple, and Grape Juice usually have the lowest price per ounce. Read the cans to make sure that you are buying 100% juice, instead of juice cocktail or “ade”. If you are going to pay the money for juice, you might as well get the real thing. I prefer to buy juices that are enriched with vitamin C, but this is a personal matter. I am not willing to pay extra for the enrichment. Lemonade, made from bottled lemon juice is an excellent source of vitamin C. Even though it has sugar added to it, I include it in this category because of it’s nutritional benefits.

Tea, Fresh Brewed or Instant: Whether you prefer it freshly brewed and hot or icy cold, tea is one of the biggest beverage bargains these days. I usually buy tagless tea bags in a 100 count box for 99¢. This works out to 1¢ a cup! I am addicted to caffeine, and tea bags are the least expensive way for me to feed my habit. An entire pitcher of iced tea is less than a dime. I prefer it unsweetened, but you can easily add your own sugar if you like yours sweet; 1/2 cup of sugar per 2-quart pitcher is about right.

If hot beverages are more your cup of tea, then tea bags offer a variety of options. Orange or lemon peel, dry or fresh mint, lemon juice, garden herbs and evaporated milk can all be added to plain hot tea for variety. An old favorite is English Breakfast Tea. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of evaporated milk to a cup of hot tea and stir. This is quite enriching early in the morning.

Instant tea is handy to have around too. Store brands are often affordable, and are sometimes even cheaper per cup than tea bags. A 3oz jar of plain instant tea will make 30 quarts of iced tea. A 100 count box of tea bags will make 25 quarts of tea. If the 3oz jar is about the same price as the 100 count box, then it is a very good deal. I like instant tea for homemade tea mixes, and also for quick iced tea in the summertime. I use 3 level tablespoons of plain instant tea for a 2-quart pitcher, and 1/3 cup for a gallon. Add sugar if you like. An old trick is to put 2 to 4 tablespoons of lemon juice in with the tea to make it sparkle. You can’t really taste the lemon, but the overall flavor of the tea is improved.

Coffee, Fresh Brewed or Instant: I buy both instant and ground coffee. Instant coffee is good for making flavored coffee mixes. If you have ever found yourself paying $3 or more for a cup of cappuccino, then you really owe it to yourself to mix up a batch of flavored coffee in your own kitchen. For the price of one 12oz ready-made gourmet coffee, you can prepare enough homemade coffee mix to last a month. This is very significant savings. When making flavored coffees, I use the absolutely cheapest instant coffee I can find. The coffee is glorified by all the sugar, milk and flavorings, making the flavor of the coffee itself less noticeable.

Fresh Brewed coffee tastes better than instant. I prefer to buy it in large cans. The price per ounce is usually less this way, but not always. Compare prices with the vacuum packed coffee “bricks” to be sure. One nice thing about the large cans of coffee, is that when the can is empty, it can be reused. I wash mine with hot soapy water, dry them thoroughly, and cover them with contact paper. Then I use them to store my homemade baking mixes and granola. They look very pretty all lined up next to each other on the shelf.

Ray has a way to make a pot of coffee go a little farther. He prepares the first pot the normal way, in the coffee maker, using 1/3 cup of ground coffee per pot. When it is gone, he adds 3 tablespoons of new grounds to the old grounds in the filter. He then runs a full pot of water through the mixture of old and new grounds. I can’t tell the difference between the first batch and the second batch. Another thing he does, is to pour the coffee in an insulated pitcher or thermos instead of keeping it on the the eye of the coffee maker. He preheats the pitcher with hot tap water, and then pours in the hot, fresh coffee. We find that the coffee tastes better because it doesn’t develop that bitter “burnt” flavor from sitting on the hot eye of the coffee maker for too long.

If you prefer your coffee with cream, the most luxurious thing to use is whole evaporated milk. A large can costs about fifty cents, and lasts the whole week. This is one of my favorite luxuries in life; coffee and “cream” mmmm, decadent. A fat-free option is to stir powdered milk directly into the coffee. Usually a teaspoon or two is enough to lighten it sufficiently. Sugar or Artificial Sweetener can be added to taste.

Soda Pop & Colas: I grew up poor, and colas weren’t available very often, so I never developed a hankering for soft drinks. Then I married a man who drank a 2-liter of cola every day (before he developed diabetes). I became much more aware of how deeply soda drinking has infiltrated our society. In our culture, it is almost more common to drink soda pop than water. If you don’t have much money to spend on food, then it’s a bad idea to drink a can of pop, or an entire 2-liter every day. Soda Pop is a luxury, not a necessity. Buy the basics before you splurge on cola.

When you do buy soda pop, there are a few ways to save money on it. Avoid brand loyalty; national brands will always cost more money. Stick with the store brands for the most savings. At my stores, I’m able to find Gingerale, Dr. Perky, Cola, Root Beer, Cream Soda, Lemon-Lime, Mountain-Lightening, Grape, Orange, and several diet varieties too. All of these are available for between 50¢ and 60¢ per 2-liter. This is fully half the price of name brands. Which brings me to the next point, 2-liters and 3-liters are almost always better buys than 12 packs.

Some people don’t buy large bottles because it goes flat before they get a chance to drink it all. If this is one of your concerns, then try the following trick. Squeeze the air out of the bottle, until the level of the soda rises close to the top. Then screw the cap on tightly. The bottle will be dented. Reducing the amount of air in the bottle, preserves the fizz for a longer time. We do this with all of our pop bottles, and it really works! If saving money is your highest priority, then stick with store-brand 2 & 3-liters.

If you absolutely need individual drinks then store-brand 12 packs are the way to go. They are always better buys than juice boxes or pouches. My kids sometimes need lunches that are completely disposable for school field trips. I give them each a can of soda pop, and they feel like they are getting something really special.

Children will mimic the behavior they see in their parents. If you show them that sodas are a luxury and not a right, they will treat them this way. If they see you buying soda pop, when you’ve already told them that you don’t have any money left for luxuries, they will learn that soda is is more important than milk, bread and vegetables, which is not in their or your best interest.

Water: Never underestimate the power of water to quench a hearty thirst. Nutritionists say we need 8 cups or two quarts each day. When we keep our bodies hydrated our skin seems softer, we protect our urinary tract and kidneys, we keep our weight down, and mostly we allow ourselves to achieve optimum health. I keep a pop bottle of water in the refrigerator at all times. When the kids come inside from playing all day, the first thing they always go for is the cold water in the fridge. If you have a large family, it’s a good idea to keep a couple of large bottles or pitchers of water in the fridge, especially during the summer months.

We don’t drink bottled water at our house. We think it is ridiculous to spend a dollar or more on a penny’s worth of water. I keep a jug of water in the van so we can quench our thirst while we travel. This gets a lot of use in the summertime especially. If you need individual bottles of water, then get empty bottles from friends, bleach them well, and refill them with water. If all your friends are as frugal as you are, then check out your local dollar store. Ours has bottled water at 3/$1. For $2 I can get 6 good bottles to refill all summer long. Be sure to teach the kids to refill their own bottles, and even write each person’s name on theirs with permanent marker for easy identification. They can learn to fill up their own bottles before going on any car trips. Teach the kids by example, make sure they see the adults in the house drinking water too. It is infinitely cheap, healthy, and one of the miracles of modern civilization.

One last note. The biggest stumbling block I have experienced to mixing my own beverages, is having a sink full of dirty dishes. I cannot fit the pitchers or jugs under the spigot when the sink is overflowing with clutter. One of the biggest boosts I gave myself was vowing to keep the dishes done. Not only are beverages easier to make, but all of the cooking I need to do everyday, is a hundred times easier. If you can only afford to give yourself one free gift this year, give yourself the gift of finally conquering the dishes. You will always be blessed by an empty sink.

Chicken Tips And Bargains

It used to be that the cheapest and tastiest chicken you could buy was the whole chicken. This is no longer the case. With all of the low-fat and weight loss paranoia around today, chicken breasts have become as popular and available as sirloin steaks used to be in the 1960′s, when meat and potatoes were the rule. In this new century, chicken and broccoli are the most popular dish, usually boneless skinless chicken breasts at outrageous prices.

This demand for chicken breasts has it’s positive side. It means that stores are almost giving away the legs and thighs that are cut off of the platinum priced breasts. I have seen chicken leg quarters, as they are called, go as cheaply as 27¢ a pound. Yes, 27¢ a pound. Now if that isn’t almost free, I don’t know what is. The thing about leg quarters is that they have all of the skin, fat, bone and chicken backs still attached to them. Which means they need a little more handling in the kitchen than those dainty little breasts. But if I can get leg quarters for under 50¢ a pound always, and often under 29¢ a pound, then it seems to me that a little extra work in the kitchen is worth it, considering I save between 4 and 5 dollars for every pound of chicken flesh I liberate.

Chicken Recipes

Chicken Tips and Tricks

In order to process chicken leg quarters in your own kitchen, you need a small sharp knife, a little patience, and a willingness to get your hands gooey with chicken flesh. Each leg quarter can be divided by wiggling the thigh and leg to see where the joint is. You use that small knife of yours to sever the two pieces right between that joint. Sometimes you can use your hands to sort of break the two pieces of chicken apart there at the joint, and then just use your knife to cut through the meat and tendon maintaining the attachment. If you like, you can cut the back off of the chicken thigh too. I always do. Grab a hold of the straight edged bony side of the thigh, and break it off of the rest of the chicken quarter with strong fingers. The thigh bone will have a socket in the chicken back, and you use your small knife to cut through the meat and fat which is still holding it all together. It will seem logical once you have the chicken leg quarter sitting on the counter in front of you. Save the backs and use them to make chicken noodle soup, or chicken broth. They have quite a bit of meat on them, if you pick them over carefully.

Chicken thighs are very easy to bone. They only have one big bone in the middle. To remove it, you just pry it out of the flesh with strong fingers. It takes almost no work. Boneless chicken thighs can be used in any recipe for boneless chicken breasts, and at less than a quarter of the cost.

To remove the skin from the chicken just pull down from the thigh, sort of ripping it off when you get to the handle part of the leg. I remove the skin first, before doing any other work to the chicken. All of those recipes you have which call for 3 pounds of chicken pieces, or a 3 pound chicken cut into pieces, can be prepared using only the leg quarters. It takes about 4 leg quarters to make 3 pounds of chicken. Skin the chicken if desired, and then cut each quarter at the joint, and break off the backs. This will give you 8 pieces of nice meaty chicken, or about the equivalent of one chicken, cut into pieces. In my recipes I detail which ones do best with chicken quarters, and exactly how to prepare them for the recipe.

The only other type of chicken I buy regularly is whole fryers and roasters when they go on sale for a really good price. Then I buy at least 5 to go into the freezer. Whole chickens are really nice for company dinners, Sunday suppers and special times when a roast chicken looks really pretty in the center of the table. They are always more expensive than leg quarters on sale, and as far as I am concerned, much more difficult to cut into attractive pieces. Should you ever find a super sale on them though, give cutting them up a try. If they aren’t pretty, you can always boil them and make Chicken & Dumplings, or Creamed Chicken.

Best Buys For Your Budget

At most markets there are certain foods that are almost always good buys. In different areas of the country these foods will vary, sometimes considerably. For instance Grits are a great buy in the Southern US but in Australia they are impossible to find. Conversely, there are good buys in Australian supermarkets that I will never see here in the States. Regional differences demand that each person customize this list for themselves. To help you on your way I provide my list as an example. These foods will not be right for everyone. Use my list as a spring board for making your own.

Consider all of the stores where you normally shop. For me this includes a discount super-store with a massive grocery section, a warehouse store, natural foods store, small ethnic market and a dollar store. Some of these places I only visit a few times a year, others I may visit as often as once a week. Each store has different products that are available inexpensively on a regular basis. Remember, this list should contain the items that you consistently find at a reasonable price, without a sale.

The point of making this list is to discover the foods that are most available to you. These foods should make up the bulk of your purchases and your cooking week-in and week-out. Once you have a clear idea of which items you can consistently afford, you can begin to collect dishes and recipes based upon these ingredients.

Here’s an example from my kitchen. Sirloin steak is seldom cheap enough for my budget. Even when it’s on sale I can buy 2 pounds of ground beef for the price of 1 pound of Sirloin Steak. Since I know that steak is not in my budget then it would be silly for me to collect 5 or 10 recipes on how to use it. Even if my family loves sirloin, the high price makes it a special occasion meal only. On the other hand ground meat, either beef or turkey, is very reasonably priced. I can afford to serve it several times a week if need be. The family quickly tires of burgers and spaghetti so I owe it to myself and to them to discover new ways to make ground meat appealing. I need to keep my eye out for new ground meat dishes to add variety to our daily diet. When I look for new recipes a quick check of the ingredients will tell me if they call for exotic items that I’m not likely to have on hand, or if they are made from affordable basics that are on my list of budget staples. The recipes that use budget foods are worth trying. The recipes that do not and cannot be adapted to budget foods, should be passed by completely.

Another important note, it is not necessary to buy all of the items on the list. Some of these groceries I keep on hand regularly and others I only buy for specific purposes. The point is that I know the foods on this list are reasonably priced and I can count on them to be affordable on a regular basis. By following this method of identifying my best buys and then developing dishes and menus based on these items, I automatically reduce the money I spend on groceries. The process is ongoing. Your list will change as you discover new resources and decide you can make do without certain items. As you refine your list you’ll be amazed that the products you used to think you couldn’t live without are now needless expenses that you happily do without or make yourself at a fraction of the cost.

Click Here for a printable PDF file of Consistently Low-Priced Foods.

Click Here for information about the extras that I buy when I have the cash.

Meats:

  • 1 lb “bullets” of ground turkey, frozen
  • 1 lb “bullets” of turkey sausage, frozen
  • 12 to 16 lb Whole Turkeys, frozen
  • 10 lb bags of Chicken Leg Quarters, fresh
  • 1 lb packs of Chicken Hotdogs, fresh
  • 1 lb packs of Chicken Baloney, fresh
  • Large packages of Turkey Ham, various weights, fresh
  • 12-oz packages of Turkey Bacon, fresh
  • 2 lb packages of whiting, pollack or trout fillets, frozen
  • 3 lb packages of Catfish pieces, frozen
  • 6-oz cans of Tuna
  • 14-oz cans of Salmon

Dairy

  • 20 or 22 Quart Boxes of Instant Nonfat Dry Milk Powder
  • Gallon Jugs of Whole Milk
  • 12-oz cans of Evaporated Whole Milk
  • 12-oz tub of Powdered Buttermilk
  • 2 lb bags of Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese
  • 2 lb bags of Cheddar Cheese
  • 2 lb bags of Colby/Jack Mexican style Cheese
  • 8-oz boxes of Neufchatel or Cream Cheese
  • 5lb blocks of Sliced American Cheese
  • 8-oz jar of Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Small cup of plain yogurt (for culturing my own yogurt)
  • Dozen Medium Eggs

Legumes

  • 3 & 5 lb jars of peanut butter
  • 1 lb jars of dry roasted peanuts
  • 12 & 16-oz packages of tofu
  • Plain Textured Vegetable Protein, bulk
  • 4-oz jars of Soy Bacon Bits
  • Soy Beans, bulk, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Lentils, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Split Peas, dry
  • 10 lb bags of Pinto Beans, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Kidney Beans, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Black Beans, dry
  • 2 lb bags of small white beans like Great Northern or Navy, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Lima Beans, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Chick Peas, dry & 15-oz cans

Vegetables

  • 5 lb bags of broccoli, frozen
  • 1 lb bags of Brussels sprouts, frozen
  • Cabbage, fresh
  • 5 lb bags of carrots, fresh
  • 1 lb bags of cauliflower, frozen
  • Celery, fresh
  • 5 lb bags of corn, frozen & 15-oz cans with no added salt
  • Cucumbers, fresh
  • Garlic, fresh or in 16-oz jars
  • 5 lb bags of green beans, frozen & 15-oz cans with no added salt
  • Green Bell Peppers, fresh & frozen
  • 1 lb bags of Greens: Collards, Kale, Turnip, Mustard & Spinach, frozen
  • Heads of Lettuce; fresh
  • 5 lb bags of classic mixed vegetables, frozen
  • 1 lb bags of mixed vegetables, frozen:  California & Italian styles
  • Mushrooms, 4-oz cans & fresh
  • 3 & 5 lb bags of onions, fresh
  • 5 lb bags of Oriental style mixed vegetables, frozen
  • 5 lb bags of peas, frozen & 15-oz cans with no added salt
  • 1 lb bags of peas & carrots, frozen
  • 10 lb bags of potatoes
  • 5 lb bags of frozen french fries
  • 1 lb boxes of instant mashed potatoes
  • 15-oz pumpkin, canned
  • Radishes, fresh
  • 26-oz Spaghetti Sauce, canned
  • 1 lb bags of Seeds for Sprouting
  • 29-oz sweet potatoes, canned
  • 15-oz & 29-oz tomatoes, canned with no added salt
  • 6 & 12-oz tomato paste, canned with no added salt
  • 8-oz tomato sauce, canned with no added salt

Fruits & Juice

  • 50-oz jars of unsweetened Applesauce
  • Apples, Fresh
  • 12-oz cans of Apples Juice Concentrate, canned or frozen
  • Bananas, Fresh
  • 12-oz cans of Mixed Berry Juice Concentrate, canned
  • 4 lb bags of Blueberries, frozen, no sugar added
  • 12-oz cans of Grape Juice Concentrate, canned or frozen
  • 12-oz cans of Grapefruit Juice Concentrate, frozen
  • 32-oz bottles of Lemon Juice from concentrate
  • 29-oz cans of Mixed Fruit, no sugar added
  • 4 lb bags of Mixed Fruit, frozen, no sugar added
  • Oranges, Fresh
  • 12-oz & 16-oz cans of Orange Juice concentrate, frozen
  • 29-oz cans of Peaches, no sugar added
  • 29-oz cans of Pears, no sugar added
  • 20-oz cans of Pineapple, no sugar added
  • 8-oz boxes of Prunes
  • 16-oz boxes of Raisins
  • 4 lb bags of Strawberries, frozen, no sugar added

Grains & Starches

  • 5 lb bags of Unbleached All-purpose flour
  • 5 lb bags of Unbleached Self-Rising Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Whole Wheat Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Whole Grain Cornmeal
  • 5 lb bags of Rye Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Quick Grits
  • Bulk Wheat Germ, from health food store bins
  • Bulk Wheat Bran
  • Bulk Bulgur Wheat
  • Quick and/or Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
  • 2 lb boxes of Farina
  • 5 lb sacks of Converted Rice
  • 5 lb sacks of Long Grain Brown Rice
  • 1 lb bags of Pearl Barley
  • 1 lb boxes of whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 lb boxes of whole wheat macaroni
  • 1 lb boxes of whole wheat egg noodles
  • 2 lb bags of popcorn kernels
  • 18-oz boxes of cornflakes
  • 12-oz bags of puffed wheat
  • 15-oz boxes of Toasted O’s
  • 1 lb boxes of Saltines with unsalted tops
  • 1 lb boxes of Graham Crackers

Baking Supplies

  • 5 lb bags of white sugar
  • 2 & 5 lb bags of powdered sugar
  • 2 & 5 lb bags of brown sugar
  • 4 lb jars of honey
  • 12-oz jars of molasses
  • 32-oz bottles of cornsyrup
  • Imitation Maple Flavoring
  • 24-oz bottles of Reduced-Calorie Maple Flavored Pancake Syrup
  • 2 lb packages of Yeast
  • 8-oz cans of baking powder
  • 1 lb boxes of baking soda
  • 1 lb boxes of cornstarch
  • 8-oz tubs of unsweetened cocoa
  • 8-oz boxes of unflavored gelatin
  • 8-oz bottles of imitation Vanilla flavoring
  • 2-oz bottles of imitation Almond flavoring

Fats

  • 1 pound boxes of 70% oil stick margarine
  • 1 & 3 lb tubs of Smart Balance margarine
  • 3 lb cans of Smart Balance vegetable shortening
  • 1-Gallon bottles of Canola Oil
  • 48-oz bottles of Corn Oil
  • 2-quart bottles of Olive Oil
  • 8-oz spray cans of Nonstick Spray

Non-Nutritive Beverages

  • Ground Coffee, in the big can
  • 8-oz jars Instant Coffee
  • 100 count Tea Bags
  • 3-oz jars Instant Tea
  • Herbal Tea
  • Non-Dairy Powdered Coffee Creamer

Condiments

  • Low Sodium Bouillon Cubes
  • Dry Onion Soup Mix
  • Hot Sauce
  • 100% Fruit Jam or Jelly
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Pickles
  • Salsa
  • Soy Sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Worcestershire Sauce

Herbs & Spices (arranged this way to save space)

  • Salt & Pepper
  • Onion Powder & Garlic Powder
  • Chili Powder & Cumin
  • Cayenne Pepper & Paprika
  • Basil & Oregano
  • Cinnamon & Nutmeg
  • Ginger & Cloves
  • Poultry Seasoning
  • Curry Powder & Turmeric
  • Dry Onion Flakes & Dry Celery Flakes

Extras I buy when I have the Cash or when they are on super sale

  • Chicken Breasts
  • Whole Turkey Breasts
  • 3 lb bags of dried Apricots
  • 12-oz bags of Chocolate Chips
  • 16-oz bags of Marshmallows
  • 12-oz bags of Coconut
  • 14-oz cans of Coconut Milk
  • 6-oz cans Water Chestnuts
  • 6-oz cans Bamboo Shoots
  • 4-oz cans Green Chilis
  • 15-oz cans Refried Beans
  • 4 & 8-oz jars Pimiento or Roasted Red Peppers
  • Chow Mein Noodles
  • Egg Roll Wrappers
  • Liquid Smoke Seasoning
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • Sesame Oil
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Thai Fish Sauce
  • Green Curry Paste
  • Bottled Lime Juice
  • Dried Mushrooms
  • Dried Chili Peppers
  • Canned Chipotle Peppers in adobo sauce
  • Bulk Sesame Seeds
  • 1 lb bags of hulled Sunflower Seeds
  • 8-oz bags of pecans
  • 8-oz bags of walnuts

About the Extras
You’ll notice at the end of my list that there is a separate category for foods I buy when I find them on sale or when I have extra cash on hand (not very often).  For example, my family and I eat chicken-leg-quarters because they are so cheap.  We like breast meat though, and when chicken breasts are on sale I stock up.  At their normal price I can’t afford them, but on sale they add another dimension to our meals.

Aside from sale meats the rest of these foods add variety and exotic flavors to our diet.  Goodies like coconut, chocolate chips, marshmallows and nuts are yummy for baking.  A new ethnic foods market opened up nearby so I’ve been able to add foods like coconut milk, chipotle peppers and green curry paste.  These make even the most boring meals exciting and new.  Most of these flavorings last for a long time so they seldom need replacement, and at the new market they turn out to be quite affordable.  A few of the canned vegetables in this category don’t add much nutrition but they do add variety.  My local Dollar Store has begun carrying green chili peppers, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts for 50¢ a can.  When I’m experimenting with new dishes these little extras are nice to have.  I can’t afford to use these types of things in every meal, but now and then they liven things up at a reasonable price.

If you have favorite foods that you can only afford under specific circumstances then write them down in this category.  You will not always be able to buy them, but when they are affordable you’ll be one step ahead of the game.  This also eliminates or at least diminishes feelings of deprivation that sometimes crop up on a tight budget.  You know that when the time is right you will make room for something special.

After completing your list put it in your kitchen binder and refer to it as needed.  It’s a great help for making menus, evaluating new recipes and making out your shopping lists.

Store Bought Convenience Foods that are Usually Good Buys

When it comes to Convenience Foods, most of us are coming from 2 opposite sides of the fence.  We either love ‘em or we hate ‘em.  I tend to be from the “Hate ‘Em-Camp” so you’ll have to overlook any obvious prejudices on my part.  I’ll try to keep these prejudices under my hat the best I can. Regardless of which side you associate yourself with the fact of the matter is that some convenience foods really do what they’re supposed to do.  They save us a great deal of work and time without costing much more than the homemade-from-scratch-version.  Amazingly, a few even cost less.  There aren’t a lot of convenience foods that fall into this golden category.  The ones that do have definitely earned a spot on every budget-shopper’s grocery list.

BREAD
Probably the best convenience food available today is store-bought bread.  For folks who don’t have time to bake from scratch every week (or twice a week when the family is hungry), store-bought bread is a reasonable buy.  You may not even consider bread a convenience food.  You may think that only hippies and Amish women make their own bread.  This is not true.  Regular, every-day women like you often bake their own bread every week.  When pressed for time though, even master bakers find store-bought bread quite convenient.

Day old bread from bakery thrift stores is the best use of one’s bread dollar.  Bread that’s approaching it’s sell date is offered for sale at a discounted price.  Usually you can save at least half of the in-store price for the same bread.  If you have a bread outlet available to you then buy enough to use and freeze until your next visit.  Don’t be afraid to buy a couple dozen loaves if you have the freezer space and know you’ll use it up before your next visit.

Even if you must buy your bread from the supermarket, it can usually be found for a reasonable amount of money.  Usually the market’s own brand of white sandwich bread is the best deal.  Be sure to look at the price per pound, and not the price per loaf.  Loaves appearing to be the same size can weigh anywhere from 15 to 24 ounces, a difference of over half a pound! Obviously a 24 ounce loaf is a better buy than 15 or 16 ounces for the same price.  If you must have 100% whole wheat bread or reduced calorie bread for special diets then carefully compare prices among brands.  Some brands are half as much as others.

Rolls, muffins, cake, biscuits, pie and other goodies are never a good buy at the market.  You can make them at home for very little and the time involved is much less than baking your own yeast bread.

Before I leave the bread aisle, let me give one small plug for baking your own bread.  I bake almost all of our bread and it costs me about 40¢ for a 1-1/2 pound loaf.  I use high quality ingredients like whole grains and honey, and it still costs me less than half of the supermarket’s lowest price white bread.  Baking bread is not as difficult as it seems.  All it really takes is a little time and the right motivation to learn.  My recipe for Beginner’s Bread is a great starter course for new bakers who might be a little intimidated by the process.

CANNED BISCUITS & BISCUIT MIX
A 4-pack for $1 is a reasonable price for refrigerated biscuits.  They will never taste as good as homemade, and they will never make good sausage or ham biscuits, but they do supply a hot bread really fast.  The gourmet and extra-large biscuits are usually too pricey to make them good buys.  If you must have big biscuits fast, then try Paula’s Instant Biscuits.  They have excellent flavor and texture and the price is definitely right.

Biscuit mix is so easy to make at home that it seems unreasonable to me to buy it already prepared.  It saves a few steps in baking and is incredibly versatile.  For an easy recipe click here, and avoid buying it at the store unless they are almost giving it away.

PASTA
Not everyone realizes that pasta can be made at home from eggs and flour.  For a good recipe click here.  Homemade pasta is such a chore that I only save it for very special occasions.  Before the kids were born I made it more often than I do now.  For now, store-bought pasta is one of my personal favorite convenience foods.  It costs the same or less than homemade pasta depending on the price of eggs.  Store-brand spaghetti and macaroni are usually the least expensive and the most versatile.  Egg noodles are also nice to have on hand, but they cost a third to half again as much as spaghetti and macaroni. If you must buy whole wheat pasta then look for a discount brand.  My local store sells 2 brands, one of which costs twice as much as the other.  Once again, it pays to compare prices among brands.

MACARONI & CHEESE
Good ole’ mac ‘n’ cheese, the favorite of children and harried mothers all across the nation.  Usually sold in 7-ounce boxes, these can be found at 3/$1 all over town.  Some of them taste like so much cardboard, but others deliver good flavor for a tiny price.  With the cost of real cheese being what it is, the little packets of powdered cheese sauce are minuscule by comparison.  If your kids have become accustomed to expensive “shells and cheese” dinners, you have some options.  Start off by eliminating all mac & cheese from your menus.  Go without it completely for at least 4 weeks, and 12 weeks if necessary.  Then casually cook up a box of the cheap stuff.  Nine times out of 10 they’ll gobble it up with gusto.  This is the way we solved the “shells and cheese” dilemma at my house and it worked beautifully.  I will never buy another box of that stuff in my life.  It costs a full $1.50 for 3 servings.  For that price I can make 14 servings of the cheap stuff.  Mac & Cheese with packets of powdered cheese are one of the great convenience foods of our times.

CRACKERS, CHIPS & SNACKS
Saltines, Graham Crackers & Animal Crackers are all reasonably priced when purchased in store-brands.  The most they should cost you, even during these days of inflation, is $1 a pound.  If you can’t find them for this little, then check your local Dollar Store, Wal-Mart or Aldis.  Saltines are incredibly versatile. Click here for some tried and true ideas.  Also remember that they are quite good all by themselves.  We often overlook the tasty simplicity of 5 or 6 saltines and a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate when a snack is in order but there is no time to cook.

Graham and Animal Crackers are the dessert versions of saltines.  Graham crackers can be spread with leftover frosting, whipped topping, peanut butter, cream cheese, jam, or almost anything spreadable. Top them with thin slices of banana or apple or sprinkle on raisins, nuts or seeds or even a drizzle of honey.  Animal Crackers are best eaten plain with a frosty glass of reconstituted milk for a chaser.

If you have dietary limitations, then store-brand triscuit-like crackers can sometimes be found cheaply.  Saltines with unsalted tops are also good for those of us trying to reduce our sodium intake.  They can be found in store-brands too, and can be used just like regular saltines.

Other snacks that I sometimes make room for in my budget are pretzels and large bags of tortilla chips.  I used to think that all chips were always bad buys.  Several teenage boys I know were kind enough to teach me otherwise.  Their high metabolism and bottomless-pit-bellies demand quick snacks and extra calories.  With this in mind I went on a quest for the best buys among the chips.  I discovered that unit price, or the cost per ounce, is the key to making wise purchases in the chip aisle.  Pretzels and tortilla chips can usually be found for 6¢ to 8¢ per ounce.  They should never cost more than a dime per ounce.  Tortilla chips are good for dipping in salsa, sour cream or yogurt-cheese, or melted velveeta-type cheese.  They can also be sprinkled with shredded cheddar and nuked until gooey.  Pretzels are good plain, dipped in mustard or ranch dressing, and mixed in with your own homemade snack mix.

While on the subject, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cold cereal (in large bags) and plain popcorn are usually good snack buys.  Popcorn is the cheapest, especially if you pop it yourself at home. Potato chips are just about the worst buy in the snack aisle.  Five ounces for $2 is not a wise use of funds.  Other chips and crackers should be measured against the standards mentioned above.  If the unit price is low, they may be worth buying.  If the unit price is high, pass them up and seek out the winners mentioned herein.

DRIED & CANNED BEANS
Believe it or not, dried beans were one of the earliest convenience foods.  They could be safely stored for long periods of time without deteriorating, were relatively light weight, and are easily prepared by anyone with 4 hours to watch a pot.  These days though, we have something a bit faster:  canned dried beans.  The canned variety is certainly convenient: just open the can, season, heat and serve.  This saves the work of soaking and simmering your own beans from scratch.  While canned beans are relatively cheap, they cost at least twice or thrice as much as the dried variety.  When every minute counts canned beans are a reasonable resource, especially when purchased at 3/$1.  If you have the time though, you owe it to yourself to make them from scratch.  They are lower in sodium and taste better too.  Cooked beans can be frozen or home-canned with a pressure cooker for added time-savings.  A 15-oz can of beans equals about 1-1/2 cups of cooked beans.  Refried beans also save the time of mashing the beans into a thick paste, and my oldest son loves them, so I tend to indulge him on this point.

Quick Soak Method for Beans: Cover your beans with a few inches of water.  Bring them to a boil and put a lid on the pot.  Turn off the heat and allow the beans to soak for an hour.  Drain and cover the plumped up beans with fresh water.  Simmer on the back of the stove for an hour or two, or until tender.  Season and use as desired.

Overnight Soak Method for Beans: Cover your beans with a few inches of water.  Soak them overnight.  The next day drain them, cover them with fresh water and simmer for an hour or two, or until tender.  Season and use as desired.

FROZEN VEGETABLES
I love frozen vegetables.  They often cost less than their fresh counterpart plus all of the work of cleaning, slicing, peeling, stringing and scraping is already done.  Simply plop the veggies into boiling water or in the top of a steamer pan and within 5 minutes fresh, hot, crunchy veggies are ready for the family.  The main convenience for frozen vegetables is the work they save.  They are also handy to keep around because they store in the freezer for a full year if necessary.  This means that when there is extra cash in the budget you can stock up without worrying about waste.  The only bad buys among frozen veggies are carrots, which are almost always cheaper when purchased fresh in 5lb bags, and any frozen vegetable in a sauce.  You pay the same premium price per pound for the sauce as you do for the vegetable.  Plain frozen vegetables are always a better buy.  Make your own sauces and save yourself a ton of money.

CANNED SPAGHETTI SAUCE
Spaghetti Sauce purchased in tall 26-ounce cans are one of the best bargains in the supermarket these days. They usually cost about the same as an equivalent amount of canned tomatoes.  All of the work of preparing the tomatoes, seasoning the sauce and simmering it on the back of the stove for an hour, is already done for you.  Spaghetti sauce in jars is never as a good a buy as the canned variety.  At our house we use it for homemade pizza, for quickie meals of spaghetti with tomato sauce, and as a nice sauce on baked chicken leg-quarters.  It’s quick, it’s easy and it doesn’t cost any more than plain tomatoes.  The sugar-free variety is great for special diets, and the variety of flavors means everyone can find a favorite. These qualities make it a real winner in my book.

CANNED OR FROZEN FRUIT JUICE CONCENTRATE
Concentrated fruit juice saves both time and money over preparing juice from scratch.  Fresh squeezed orange juice is delicious, and it’s a great way to use up aging oranges, but it almost always costs more than frozen concentrated orange juice.  Preparing juice from concentrate is quick and easy while being a national goldmine.  These days almost all juice concentrate is fortified with Vitamin C. Orange juice can be found fortified with calcium too.  For the lactose intolerant among us, this is a nice benefit.  Generally the least expensive frozen juices are orange, apple, grapefruit and purple grape.  Canned juice concentrates are also available in soda-pop sized cans.  They are reconstituted just like the frozen variety.  Apple, purple grape, white grape and berry flavors are usually inexpensive.  Concentrated fruit juice almost always costs less than regular strength juice in cans, jugs and jars.  The only exception I’ve found is 48-ounce jars of apple juice on sale.  Be sure to read labels when you compare juice prices.  You want 100% real juice, not fruit juice cocktail.  Juice cocktails only contain a small percentage of fruit juice and a bucket load of sugar.  They are never a good buy.

INSTANT MASHED POTATOES

When you need a side dish in a flash,
Don’t worry, you don’t have to dash.
Make instant ‘taters in your pot,
And quickly fill your hungry tots.
YUM!

Okay, poetry may not be my ultimate calling in life, buy you get the idea.  Instant mashed potatoes are filling and taste good. They save the time of peeling, chopping, boiling and mashing potatoes from scratch, or about 45 minutes of work.  They are relatively nutritious, containing moderate amounts of Vitamin C and Potassium.  In addition, they are popular with most families, especially children.  Fresh mashed potatoes taste better and are more nutritious, but they can’t be fixed from beginning to end, in less than 5 minutes flat!  Recently I’ve seen several packages of flavored instant potatoes.  Don’t waste your time or money on them.  Plain instant potatoes are you best buy.  It is easy as pie to add garlic powder, sour cream, or cheese to your own mashed potatoes.  Doing it yourself saves lots of money and doesn’t take much extra time, perhaps a minute at most.  If you are really pressed for time, try making your own Garlic Mashed Potato Mix.

HOT DOGS & BALONEY
All right, in today’s politically correct days the health food police are telling us all to stop eating hotdogs and baloney because they are high in fat, chock full of preservatives, and provide only dubious amounts of nutrition.  I suspect these folks have never struggled to make ends meet because if they had, they would know that there is a time and place for these things in a limited budget.  The least expensive types of lunch meat are usually made from chicken or turkey.  This turns out to be a good thing health-wise because they contain 40% less fat than their pork or beef relatives.  Chicken baloney and hot dogs can be widely purchased for about $1 a pound.  They are high in protein, taste good and have moderate amounts of fat.  Hot dogs are handy for quick snacks and meals and are so versatile that you can find an article about them by Clicking Here. Baloney is not quite as versatile but it still has it’s uses.  It can be fried and served at breakfast or placed on a sandwich with egg or cheese.  Cut into triangles it is yummy on crackers or fried and arranged on homemade pizza. The classic way to eat baloney is on white bread with mayo and mustard.  A slice of cheese and maybe some lettuce or tomato are nice additions, but not really necessary for a good sandwich. 

CONDIMENTS
These are things like pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, salsa and mustard.  A hundred years ago every housewife worth her salt prepared or canned these items herself.  Today we don’t have to do that.  They are available inexpensively, and save a ton of work over making them from scratch.  A few women still make these at home themselves, but no one thinks less of you if you use the store-bought versions.  Check the store-brands and off-brands, especially in large sizes, for the smallest price per ounce.  Reduced fat mayonnaise is usually available in a store-brand, so it doesn’t cost any extra. In case you can’t find it in your area, then try combining plain nonfat yogurt and regular mayonnaise half and half.  The resulting dressing tastes good and has half the fat and calories of normal mayo.  It can be used in dips, as a spread or pretty much anywhere you would use reduced fat mayonnaise. Reduced sugar or low sodium ketchup costs more than the standard varieties, but may be worth it to you if you are on a special diet.  A fast and inexpensive alternative is to make you own ketchup and adjust the salt or sugar to accommodate your needs.

BOUILLON CUBES, BROTH POWDER  & STOCK
These are a real staple in my home.  In fancy French kitchens freshly made stock is always available for soups and sauces, which is one of the secrets to their cuisine.  In my kitchen I prefer the ease, convenience and low cost of bouillon cubes.  I usually buy large jars of both beef and chicken bouillon cubes from my local warehouse store.  They last a couple of years and give me week upon week of tasty broth.  I also use ham and veggie broth powders when I can find them, although they’re not as versatile as the others.  Another handy item to have on hand is onion soup mix.  I am willing to pay 50¢ a box but much more than that puts it out of my price range.

Some recipes call for canned consomme.  To make your own simply use twice as much bouillon as you normally would.  For instance, 1-cup of consomme is made by dissolving 2 bouillon cubes or 2 teaspoons of broth powder in 1 cup of boiling water.  If you prefer a richer product, you can also dissolve a small amount (1/2-teaspoon) of unflavored gelatin in the broth.  This isn’t necessary, but it does improve the texture somewhat.  If you are on a low-sodium diet then packets of low-sodium broth are quite delicious.  They cost a little more than the cheap high-sodium ones, but are still much cheaper than canned broth.

Canned broth is a BIG waste of money.  The flavor is insipid.  It tastes like the shadow of a chicken was waved over a gallon of water and canned in a factory to sell to foolish women who don’t know any better.  If you must have real broth then make your own chicken stock.  Boil up any chicken bones, skin and fat that you have leftover from normal kitchen use.  Chicken bones that have been gnawed on by the family can still make good stock.  Just boil everything in a big pot for a couple of hours.  Then strain off the solids and toss them out.  Chill the remaining broth in the fridge overnight.  In the morning remove the big cake of fat that will have risen to the top and what you have left is 99% fat free, honest to goodness, homemade chicken stock.  Use it in soups, sauces or anywhere else you would use the canned variety.  It should be frozen for long term keeping, as it only keeps for a few short days in the fridge.  Reboil it every couple of days for longer keeping. I usually salt my homemade broth with bouillon cubes to give an even richer flavor to the broth.

DESSERTS
Most desserts are best made from scratch.  A few though, are reasonably priced and save time as well.  Instant Pudding Mix is my favorite dessert convenience food.  It can be made in about 5 minutes, from start to clean-up, and it’s a real family pleaser.  The time savings over making your own pudding from scratch is about 15 minutes, and the price is very similar assuming you’re able to find them 3 for a $1.  When made with reconstituted milk, four servings can be made for less than 50¢.  Prepared pudding in cups cost over twice as much and don’t taste half as good.  Plus the servings are smaller, making them a really bad buy.  Other good buys include chocolate frosting at $1 a tub and whipped topping at $1.50 for the large tub.  Vanilla frosting is not as good a buy as chocolate frosting because we must factor in the price of cocoa.  It does save time though, and some women find it indispensable.  Homemade frosting from scratch tastes better than store-bought, but the price really isn’t that much more. Whipped topping can be made at home from this recipe, or you can buy it ready-made from your grocer’s freezer.  At 10¢ an ounce or less, it saves the work of making it yourself.  The only drawback is the bucketload of chemicals used to make it stable, but if you’re already eating hot dogs and baloney then you may be able to overlook the chemicals in frozen whipped topping because of it’s ease of use.  In case you can’t make yourself overlook the chemical feast, then get friendly with the recipe linked above.  Another great buy in the frozen food aisle is ice cream.  If you can find it for between $2 & $2.50 per half gallon, then consider yourself lucky and stock up.  It is delicious on fruit crisps, in sundaes and as a refreshing dessert in the heat of summer.  Making it yourself is complicated and requires special equipment. For most of us, if we can’t buy it from the store, then we won’t be able to eat it very often.  If your main use of ice cream is for milk shakes, then try my recipe for Magic Milk Shakes that are made in a blender and don’t require ice cream.  Finally, fruit flavored gelatin mix, when found at 3/$1 adds variety to our diet.  I don’t really like them because they are completely empty calories.  I prefer to buy unflavored gelatin and make my own “gell-o” with fruit juice.  It doesn’t take any more time, and you know it is supplying the family with much needed nutrition.  If you love gelatin though, then it can be used as desired.

EVAPORATED MILK, POWDERED MILK & BUTTERMILK
Powdered milk is my A #1 favorite convenience food ever.  It’s fat-free, tastes good and keeps for a very long time.  I use it in cooking, for drinking and anywhere else I can.  If you think powdered milk tastes icky, then your box of it is probably very old.  Toss it out, buy a fresh box and mix up a pitcher full of frosty reconstituted milk.  Once opened, dry milk tastes best if used within 3 or 4 months.  Unopened it tastes best if used within a year.  Even if it begins to take on a stale flavor, it is still good in cooking, where the flavor is less noticeable.  Click Here for lots of information on delicious powdered milk.

Evaporated whole milk is another great buy.  It’s rich, full bodied texture and flavor make it a great substitute for heavy cream.  It can even be whipped if well chilled first.  When diluted with an equal amount of water you have the equivalent of whole milk.  It won’t taste the same for drinking, but it is excellent for cooking and making scrumptious hot chocolate.  It’s good in coffee or tea and costs less than fresh whole milk.  Plus it sits on the shelf for a year or longer without going bad.  Definitely worth keeping on hand.

Powdered buttermilk is available in the baking aisle of most supermarkets under the SACO brand.  It costs less than fresh buttermilk and stores more easily.  It can be used anywhere fresh buttermilk is used, even for making fruit smoothies and buttermilk ranch dressing.  If you like to make your own baking mixes it’s handy to keep on hand.  I always make my homemade biscuits with powdered buttermilk and folks are always telling me how good they are.  Not everyone will find powdered buttermilk as useful as I do.  If you never use buttermilk then it will not be a good buy for you.  If you do use buttermilk though, and hate having a quart of it in the fridge for a month or longer, then you’ll find the convenience of preparing only a small amount at a time, much to your liking.

While on the subject, coffee lightener, or nondairy powdered creamer, can be very useful when used in conjunction with dry milk.  I use it like a powdered cream to add body and richness to homemade drink mixes that are based on powdered milk.  To make liquid non-dairy creamer, combine 1/4 cup powdered creamer with 1/2 cup hot tap water.  Stir well.  Add a drop or 2 of vanilla flavoring and chill until serving time.  This is the equivalent of French Vanilla Creamer, only yours tastes better, and costs a fraction of the refrigerated version on the grocer’s shelf.

DRIED EGG WHITES
Just Whites is the only brand name that I’ve seen.  It comes in a 7 or 8-ounce tub and has the equivalent of about 60 egg whites in it.  While dried egg whites aren’t as cheap as eggs on sale, they are not overly expensive either, especially considering that there is no waste.  If you are on a low cholesterol diet dried egg whites are obviously a great alternative to eggs.  Their real beauty though is that they can be included in your own homemade baking or pancake mixes.  They are cholesterol and fat free, but still supply all of the good emulsion properties of whole eggs.  They can even be whipped into peaks and meringues.  Another good use is to add a small amount to homemade frosting.  It improves the texture and spread-ability of your finished product.  Like dried buttermilk, dried egg whites are not something that everyone will need.  For homemade mixes they are great and for some people they will be handy to have in the cupboard.