Sunday, November 29, 2009

Savvy How To: Grocery Shopping Strategies

Savvy How To:
Shop With Savings

My daughter often asks why our storage rooms, with their aisles of organized products, look like a store. I tell her, “Because it is a store - our store!” When I make a meal, I shop from my store first, as it is filled with below-cost and heavily discounted products I've purchased over the past few months. Creating weekly meal lists should focus on products already “in stock” in your pantry first! Preparing a meal with products from your pantry purchased at significantly reduced rates lowers the cost of any meal. Simply use what you already have on hand and supplement with fresh fruits and vegetables for healthy, inexpensive and well-balanced meals. But if you don't have your own personal grocery store or even a well-stocked pantry, there are still many ways to reduce your out-of-pocket costs at the grocery store. While grocery shopping may seem a simple enough task, there are tricks of the trade that can help you fill up your shopping cart without breaking the bank.

Shop the Ads: Before you even walk through the doors of any grocer or retailer you should already know what's on sale. Knowing in advance the best deals available each week enables you to capitalize on savings. The best weekly deals are often found on the front page of a grocer's weekly sale flyer. The products for sale on the front page are typically “loss leaders” - meaning the store is leading you to purchase products at their loss in the hopes you'll fill your shopping cart with other goods as well. Stores might not actually be losing money when they sell an item at a great front-page discount, but these sale items are usually well below shelf price. If you are looking to fill your pantry or make a last-minute meal and you don't have a lot of food storage, start by shopping front page sales for great savings. Don't forget to read the entire ad though, as amazing deals can often be found on the other pages as well.

Shop by Aisle: Ever wonder why your shopping cart ends up filled with products you didn't intend to purchase? It isn't a coincidence! Most grocer and retail store layout designs purposefully lead shoppers past aisles of snack and convenience foods before they can ever make it to the milk and eggs located at the back of the store. If you're looking to shop smarter and healthier, follow the perimeter of your store where you'll find breads, fruits and dairy products. The perimeter is also where you'll find clearance bins in each department full of not-yet-expired products with huge markdowns. Avoid the center aisles when possible, which are stocked with high sugar or costly convenience foods ready to ease that craving. Lastly, watch where you're looking. Many costly brand-name products are stocked at eye level (yours or your children's) for ease of purchase. Make sure you look high and low for the best savings!

Shop Organized: Don't forget to take a shopping list when you head out to the store. Going to the store without a shopping list is just like going to the store hungry - you'll buy more than you need. The aroma of fresh baked bread wafting through the air can obliterate any clear memory of what you came to buy. A shopping list can ground you into the reality of needs versus wants. And make sure you don't forget other essentials like rainchecks, coupons and a calculator.

Shop With Coupons: When you hear of savings like “I got $234 worth of food for only $34”, it's because coupon savings brought down the final purchase price total. Using coupons and shopping smart can enable you to save 50 percent to 80 percent over retail prices at local grocers and retailers. When determining which coupons you should cut out of your Sunday newspaper, determine what products, not necessarily what brands, your family would use if the coupon made a product free, cheap or a family favorite. Most importantly, organize your coupons so they are easily stored and found. Putting things away in the same place every time means you can always find them when you need them again! Consider a three-ring binder filled with clear baseball card holders for easy coupon storage.

Shop by Size: While price-per-ounce comparisons may seem menial and mundane, even seasoned shopping saving veterans (say that 10 times fast) use this tactic. Often, pairing coupons with the smallest sized products makes a better purchase per ounce. Bigger doesn't always mean better savings. Fortunately, many stores readily advertise price-per-ounce costs on shelf tags. Use this information to your advantage for cost-effective shopping.

Watch the Shop: Finally, keep a keen eye on item pricing and coupon scans at checkout. It's not uncommon for products to be keyed incorrectly, overcharging you on your purchase or multiple coupons to stick together, allowing only one to scan. You've worked hard to save money, so make sure your hard work pays off! Listen for the beautiful sound of additional coupons printing out of Catalina machines near the register for cash or manufacturer savings and make sure to save your receipt - you never know when you'll find an in-store rebate for products you've recently purchased!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Savvy How to: Black Friday Shopping Tips

Savvy How To:
Black Friday Survival Guide

In a perfect world all our Christmas shopping would by done by the 4th of July.  But, back in reality, many of us are still scrambling to finalize (or start?) buying holiday gifts for friends and families.  So where can you find spectacular deals on holiday gifting ideas?  Look no further than Black Friday!

The unofficial start of Christmas shopping begins in just a few days with retailers offering doorbuster deals, early bird specials and an array of loss leaders intending to turn customers into energized swarms of shoppers.  Why offer such amazing sale prices to the masses?  Black Friday is the day that retailers hope to go from being in the red to being in the black (making money).

Given the current state of the economy, this years’ shopping frenzy should be staggering to watch.  With retailers opening at 5am or even earlier (some larger retailers have already announced their intent to stay open 24 hours), rabid bargain hunters will begin lining up for deals as early as stores will allow in the hopes of grasping phenomenal savings.

For these significant product savings you may be enticed to brave the crowds this Friday.  Before you fight through the lines, cold and lack of sleep, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

Keep Warm:  Every year I imagine I could make an obscene amount of money selling hot chocolate to the desperately frozen faces and red glowing gloveless hands waiting in predawn lines. It will be cold.  It’s always cold!  Stock up on hand warmers, hats, scarves, gloves, an extra pair of socks and a warm coat before you venture out.  Remember, it’s easy to cool down if you’re hot by simply removing a layer or two, but getting warmer is a trickier task!

Be Prepared: Your Thanksgiving day newspaper has all of the best deals and sale information available in a massive bundle of ads.  But, your “want” list should already be typed out!  Don’t be tempted to spend extra money on items you don’t need, simply because they’re on sale.  I mean, how did this economy get where it is anyway?!  Before you fall into a turkey coma, scan the ads for any items that spark your interest and develop your shopping strategy. Many secret sales are even available online in the week before Thanksgiving and select ads can be viewed online at company websites by Wednesday.  While there are multiple Black Friday deal finding websites currently leaking sale data, remember, it is often unofficial and will change before the ad is ever officially released.  The most reliable source for deals is through official retail sale flyers.

Divide and Conquer:  Shopping in groups allows you to cover more ground.  Divide your shopping list among friends or family and split the store into shopping sections to maximize your product purchases.  If there are items at multiple stores, pick which items are most important and shop simultaneously – just be sure to have your cell phone fully charged the night before so you can remain in constant communication!

Limited Stock: Remember, these drastically lower price items will likely be difficult to find.  Retailers often have limited quantities available for each offering and the shopping throngs ahead of you in line may want the same deal too!  Stalk the store the night before Black Friday and layout your shopping run so you'll have the advantage! 

Buy the Wrong Size/Color:  If a store is out of your size or desired color, buy whatever style they have in stock and exchange it later! I have bought XXL jeans that no one wanted only to return them a week or two later for the appropriate size!  Love it! (Just make sure the item is regularly carried at that store and not a special make/model specifically for Black Friday only!)

Cyber Monday:  Black Friday isn’t the only day to shop!  The Monday after Thanksgiving is also known as Cyber Monday.  Online retailers typically offer similar savings to Black Friday sales, but you can shop from the comfort and warmth of your own home!

Stay Home: Camping out in the cold is not always necessary for great savings!  Retailers will be slashing prices until Christmas Day to get your business.  Every weekend from now until then will be filled with sales galore.  There’ll be more deals than money in the bank – guaranteed! After-purchase mail-in rebates, long lines and rising tempers may not be worth the hassle.

But, if you are a shopper addicted to the adrenaline rush of finding that almost elusive deal, make sure to bring your patience and some comfortable shoes to the parking lot.  Keep track of your receipts for refunds, get gift receipts or duplicate receipts as necessary for rebates, stick to your budget and enjoy the ride! 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cooking With Coupons: Slow Cooker Savings

Cooking With Coupons:
Slow Cooker Savings

Set it and forget it! There's nothing better than coming home to the satisfying aroma of a homemade meal wafting through the house, with no additional prep time needed! Using a slow cooker is an easy way to enjoy the great taste of homemade meals! Whether it's ingredients, electricity or your sanity, you can save money, time and headaches using a slow cooker for a variety of meal preparations.

Save Electricity:
Forget about leaving your stove on for hours, heating up the house and running up your bill to cook your family dinner! “A Crock-Pot® slow cooker, only uses approximately 75 watts of electricity on LOW and approximately 150 watts on HIGH. It cooks all day for only a few cents” according to

Save Money:
Buying cheaper-priced cuts of chuck roasts or steaks still gives great flavor without high prices. Often these cuts may be tougher, but long, slow cooking methods easily overcome this dilemma and result in tender, moist and flavor-rich food. Slow-cooker cooking also allows excess broths and fat content to render naturally. You can often replace broth with water in your recipes and do without the addition cost of canned products. If you want to lower the fat content of your meal, remove the skin before cooking. Pre-searing meats also adds roasting flavor to your pot and makes a more attractive presentation.

Waste not, want not is the perfect description for your slow cooker. When vegetables are nearing the end of freshness combine them with leftover roast or chicken broths and meats to create soups and stews. Eliminate food waste by making your meals the endless pot of leftovers revamped!

Shop your pantry. Your cupboards and storage rooms should be your own personal store - stocked with essential ingredients purchased at rock-bottom sale prices! Many slow-cooker meals can easily be created by opening the cupboard and throwing in a few basic ingredients. Start collecting free slow-cooker recipes online or from friends that work with your family's taste and budget. Here's one of my favorite pantry recipes:

Amy's Chicken Chowder - (Fills a 5-quart slow cooker)
4 cans Cream of Chicken Soup
3 1/2 soup cans milk
2 cans corn (drained)
3 cans diced or sliced potatoes (drained)
2 10 oz cans chunk chicken
2 Tbsp Lawry's Perfect Blend Chicken Seasoning (Found at Sam's Club)
1/3 C crumbled bacon
Mix together in slow cooker and cook on low for 4-5 hours or high for 2-3 hours until heated through. Garnish with grated cheddar cheese. Serve in Rhodes bread bowls if desired.

Save Time/Sanity:
* Most slow cooker recipes require minimal prep time. “What's for dinner” can be one of the worst phrases in the English language when you've had a busy day. If you're on the go, a slower cooker is your best resource for dinner. Combine all your ingredients at breakfast and have them ready by dinner. It's a no-brainer! Just throw in some frozen chicken breasts and barbeque sauce for a last-minute meal idea that anyone will love, especially you because it cooks itself! Add a green salad or other fresh veggies to your dinner table and voila! - satisfaction!

And remember, slow cookers aren't just for dinner. Use it for breakfast, lunch, and wonderful desserts!

Decadent Chocolate Cake - Adapted from CrockPot Slow Cooker Recipes
1 pkg. Devils Food chocolate cake mix
8 oz sour cream
1  up semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 C. water
4 eggs
3/4 C. vegetable oil
1 pkg. (4 serving size) instant chocolate fudge pudding & pie filling mix.

Coat slow cooker with no-stick spray. Combine all ingredients and add to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours or until middle of cake is set (doesn't jiggle). Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Savvy How To: Rebate Savings (Part 3)

Savvy How To: 
Rebate Savings (Part 3)

By now you may have bought into the idea of saving money through rebate and rewards programs. Indeed, the potential for savings with these programs is tremendous. But, to maximize your savings you'll have to get in the game and play smart! Manufacturers and the rebate redemption companies hired to handle the paperwork often look for loopholes to NOT redeem your rebate - it's in their best interest to keep as much money in their pockets as possible. So how do you get the money from their pocket to your wallet? Here are some tips and guidelines if you're going to play the rebate game:

Make Photocopies: Making a copy of your original receipt and rebate form is one of the best ways to ensure payment. You can also ask your cashier for a duplicate receipt at time of purchase and save some toner! Either way, when your rebate is returned unredeemed or simply vanishes in the wind, you'll have the receipt and phone number to verify the transaction.

Read Directions Carefully: Remember those loopholes? Down to the last digit of your phone number and even required address wording on the outside of the envelope - get it right! Be exact in giving these companies what they require or they might give you exactly nothing. Leaving requested information blank is cause for rejection. Product purchase requirements should also be followed to the T. Make sure the barcodes match on your receipt and on the offer form.

Watch Expiration Dates and Prices: Be sure your receipt matches up! There's nothing worse than being a day late and a dollar short on this one. Even $0.01 short of the required purchase price can get your check denied. And, don't forget to find out if coupons are deducted from price requirements. Remember, rebates are frequently offered and promoted before the purchase dates even begin, buying too soon or too late can lead to your downfall.

Organize: If you're planning on playing the rebate game, consider creating a “rebate station.” Dedicate a drawer, hanging letter organizer or binder with everything you'll need to utilize rebates including stamps, envelopes, highlighters to circle purchased products, scissors to cut UPCs and a place to neatly save forms and receipts.

If your track record on requesting rebates isn't great, consider the price of products without including rebate or rewards programs when making purchase decisions. But, for optimal savings, taking advantage of these rebates can definitely prove beneficial to your pocketbook.

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