Tag Archives: saving money

Optimizing Your Dollar—A Well-Stocked Pantry

This week our dollar stretching idea looks at the well-stocked pantry. optimize your dollar 1

Quick and easy to prepare meals mean less temptation to eat out and leftovers often make a great lunch at work.

Often packaged foods have higher levels of salt, unexpected preservatives and other additives, fats you don’t want. But then, the same could be said about many meals at fast food restaurants. Still, a packaged side dish, some a protein, vegetables and a salad make a pretty nutritious meal. You’ll have to make your own choices.

I know what you’re thinking. How can I possibly stock my pantry when I can barely afford groceries each week? And you’d be right. The first few weeks will be a bit more of a challenge. But with a little practice and perseverance you’ll soon have your pantry filled.

To begin you’ll need to take a percentage of your weekly grocery allowance and set it aside. Even if you can only find two or maybe five dollars you can start.

Use this money to:

  • Buy loss leaders at your local grocer.  Buy non-perishable sale items. Every store I’ve ever shopped in, big city or small town, offers something sale each week or month. If you’ll use, it buy it. Save your money if it’s something you won’t fix or eat, don’t buy it.
    A few ideas: Our family loves Zatarain’s Yellow Rice. Generally it is $2.50 a box. But at least once every three or four months it will be on sale for $1. I stock up then. You’ll find the same with spaghetti sauce. It’s often $3 a jar regular price but will be on sale for half. And cereal…if you have kids you know how fast it goes. Always watch for cereal sales.  Do you like to make cupcakes for the kids instead of buying packaged snack cakes? Start watching for cake and brownie mixes to be on sale. Don’t wait until the last minute, they’ll last.


    Just because it’s stocked, doesn’t mean it’s neat.

  • Buy seasonal. Yes, this goes especially for fresh fruits and vegetables but there’s much more. For instance if you like to bake from scratch watch the holiday sales. I try to buy enough sugar at the super sale prices of Christmas to last the year. It’s the same with pie filling. Instead of $4 a can you can get it for $2.50 and it lasts.Pick up the makings for tacos including refried beans and cans of olives during the Cinco de Mayo sales.
  • Stock your freezer too. Do you have room? If so, consider buying two Easter hams and doing the same at Thanksgiving with turkeys. They freeze well and both make great leftover meals.
  • Buy Beans. Dried that is. If your grocery budget is already stretched to the nth perhaps you need to add something that is inexpensive, goes far, is good and is good for you. Dried beans, while not often on sale, are a great bargain. They are super easy to cook in a crockpot. I recommend a 4-6 quart for a family of 4 and if you don’t have one, ask around. You may be surprised and find a friend or relative with one that you can borrow. Take them a bowl of your tasty dinner in appreciation. Seriously, there are a blue jillion bean crockpot recipes. They can be as simple as plain with a few seasonings or greatly embellished. They are a good source of protein and will fill up a hungry kid. You’ll thank me later.

If you take advantage of these tips, in no time you’ll fast and easy meals and can look forward to a well stock pantry for your next meal.

If you have suggestions to stretch your shopping dollar or questions please let me know.

Optimize Your Dollar: Making Tough Choices

This week I talked to my friend “Dee”.

Dee has been through some trials due to the continued poor economy.optimize your dollar 1

Three years ago Dee was working in the career she loves. She was teaching young children at a private school. Unfortunately, the economy caused her school to make a tough choice. They closed. It was no one’s fault (well, you could blame the Obama administration but…) Parents were losing their jobs, had hours reduced or took pay cuts; homes were upside down and there just wasn’t enough money to send kids to school when there were charter and neighborhood schools available at no cost.

Dee, like so many others, had been living on a shoestring. Everything was very finely balanced; the paycheck just matched the bills. So when the school told Dee they would be closing the end of May and that there would be no unemployment available well, you can imagine. Suddenly, expenses were more than income.

Of Hispanic descent, raised in Texas, Dee was familiar with being poor. After her mother died her father took over both roles. A landscaper, who often worked two jobs, he taught the children the importance of education carefully monitoring their school work and pushing them to go further than he. This desire that the children lived a better life meant Dad often had to make very tough choices.

The teacher cuts were statewide that year. My friend had to swallow her pride and accept assistance from the Salvation Army and the Catholic food bank. She cut her cable television and then the internet and then the phone. Finally, she found a new position. Unfortunately, the pay was less.  When her young adult daughter lost her part time job due to the economy they made one more tough choice. They had to give up their car.

100_0923 (1024x768)For Dee the past two years have been a challenge. But things are improving. She found a coworker nearby who would give her a ride to work. Her daughter eventually found a job at a discount store close enough that she could ride her bike.

Going back to her roots, Dee began cooking from scratch and found her crock pot to be invaluable once she returned to work. They also decided that eating out would be reserved for special treats. The family decided they could continue to live without cable television and now weekly visits the local library for free movies and books.

This week when we talked Dee said the family no longer needs to use the food bank to help with their groceries. And she is starting to save money so she can buy a car with cash. She doesn’t want to worry again about making payments.

Some people might choose to run up the credit cards during challenging times. Dee instead chose to make some tough choices. As this family gets back on its feet I know they are glad that they’ve got their bills in check.

If you have suggestions to stretch your shopping dollar or questions please let me know.


Optimize Your Dollar: Lowering Your Cost of Prescriptions

optimize your dollar 1prescriptionsLast fall my parents stayed with us for two months. Mom had been telling me and complaining about the cost of her prescription medicines but but until this visit I hadn’t really paid attention. Like a lot of folks, I figured the cost was what it was.

Fortunately, during the visit my Smarter Sister came by and we discussed the rising cost of prescriptions. Smarter Sister had already spent a great deal of time investigating the cost of drugs and alerted us to a number of changes Mom could make.

Today as we look at ways to stretch your dollar I share these ideas with you. Please note: I am NOT a pharmacist. I am a consumer. These ideas may or may not work for you.

  • Shop Around for best price: For some reason, I thought pharmacies would charge a ballpark price for each prescription drug, especially generics. I realized my error after Smarter Sis started calling around. One drug I had just picked up for $27 at the corner pharmacy was available for $10 at another. (Yes, I quickly transferred the prescription). And here’s a very important tip for Diabetics: Insulin IS available at one major discount store for about a third the price of every other pharmacy. (If you know someone on insulin who takes it daily help them out, make the calls.) We also found coupons for several prescriptions. Look online.
  • Ask about Combo Pills: Pharmaceutical companies saw that many people take multiple pills for related diagnoses and created a combination pill where you can get two drugs in one. Smarter Sis is a nurse so she knew about this already. She looked at Mom’s medicine list and saw there were possibilities which would reduce the number of pills needed each day. In our case the combo pills in one prescription cost less than getting the two separately. There are many pros and cons with these. But check it out. Ask your doctor.
  • Ask for Cash Price: Drugstores are in great competition to get your business. Many now are offering very inexpensive generics. We discovered in some cases the Cash Price was less than the negotiated insurance price. Ask. The pharmacies we visited offered the insurance co-pay unless I asked about the cash price.
  • Talk to Your Doctor: We found that physicians don’t always know the cost of a drug when prescribing it and sometimes there is one that will work as well at a lesser price. You are your own best advocate. Talk to your doctor about the cost of your medication. If you need a specific medication the manufacturer may have a program for financial hardships. Ask your doctor or do your own investigating. Some of the programs are only available for those without prescription insurance but others only look at the family finances. It’s worth making a few phone calls.
  • Consider Canada: I live in Arizona where it’s not a that far to drive to the Mexican border, walk across and purchase needed prescriptions at a big discount. We have many friends who do this regularly. But if you are not near the border or don’t want to cross consider ordering from Canada. Smarter Sis had experience with one company.  I admit, I was hesitant, but the one drug we were looking for cost $150/month and was not available for generic in the US. At the Canadian pharmacy they had a generic which cost $47 for three months and they offered a first time user coupon of $25 off making it worth my risk. Turns out it was easy. I faxed the prescription; used my credit card and in three weeks had the medicine. I have renewed the prescription with great results. It does take about a month to get so organization is key.
    UPDATE: Some have expressed concern with the purchase of drugs in Mexico. What I state is my personal experience. If one chooses to cross the border it should be with a full education of what is allowed and what is not allowed (for example, one cannot bring a controlled substance back into the US.) Here are a few informational links: FDA (scroll down to Guidance for Personal Use), US Consulate in Tijuana, and Buying Prescriptions in Mexico (a general article on crossing the border.

My last two words of advice: 1)Don’t wait until your parents come to visit before you start thinking about drug costs and 2)It is helpful to have a Smarter Sister around. I’ll share mine with you.

All of these helps are based on my personal experiences. Yours may be different. You must educate yourself prior to purchasing prescriptions on the benefits and risks involved. You may or may not be able to use the generic drugs.

But no matter what else, you are your own best advocate. Talk to your doctor about your prescription options.

A P.S. I was reminded that healthy lifestyle choices, including exercise, and good natural diet, may prevent the need for some medications down the road. Of course, none of us can turn back the clock, so for many these medicines are indeed critical for our well being today.

If you have suggestions to stretch your shopping dollar or questions please let me know.

Optimize Your Dollar: Five Easy Ways to Save on Dinner

optimize your dollar 1

Noticing that cash crunch from your lowered paycheck this week? Here are five quick and easy ways to save money at meal time.

  1. Breakfast for Dinner: My family loves homemade breakfast. Trouble is we don’t usually have enough time in the morning for more than cereal and juice before heading out. So we move breakfast to dinner once a week. A box of pancake mix, some butter and syrup and you’ve got the fixin’s to fill up even the hungriest teen. Add a side of seasonal or frozen fruit (here in the desert it’s citrus time) and some bacon or sausage and you’re set.
  2. Breakfast for Dinner Part Two: Still thinking about breakfast? Might I suggest baked eggs? This one is soooo easy. Throw it together and into the oven for 30-40 minutes, help the kids with their homework while it’s baking, and then time to eat. There are no hard and fast rules to make this: I use 2-3 eggs per adult, 2 for less hungry kids, stirred with a little milk, salt & pepper; sprinkle some hash browns in the bottom of the pan (if you have them, some people line the bottom of the pan with slices of bread); bacon or other meat if you want (cooked first and crumbled); some cooked vegetables (we like to take frozen broccoli chopped up, cooked in microwave 5-6 minutes and drained—I use about 1/3 cup per person); pour the egg mix in and cheese for the top. Use oil, butter or spray Pam in your pan and bake at 350 until puffed up in the center.
  3. Make your own pizza: Around here there are pizza specials where for under $10 you get a medium pizza, enough for a couple adults or several small children. Otherwise, pizza can be a pretty expensive treat. Why not make your own? Jiffy makes an inexpensive and easy to make crust but there are others readily available, you can also make your own pizza sauce (can of tomato sauce, tomato paste, seasonings including garlic and oregano) or you can buy sauce at the grocer.  In both cases watch for these to be on sale and stock up (they have a long shelf life—if you buy a yeast product, pay attention to the ‘use by’ date.) Add your toppings and bake.  Look for your favorite toppings to be on sale too, most, including shredded cheese, can be frozen for later use. This is a great meal where the kids can help.
  4. Hamburger Helper: Many families like the quick easy meals that can be prepared with the Hamburger Helper type mixes. My friend with five kids shared her tip to make one package feed the clan: she cooks separately, additional pasta and then stirs it into the pan mixing together. She said this is the only way to get enough food into the hollow legs of her growing boys and does the same with macaroni and cheese mixes. A second suggestion is to use ground turkey either alone or mixed with regular hamburger. At our local Costco I can buy a five pound chub of ground turkey for $7. I let it thaw enough to cut and then portion it out. At this point you can cook it all up and freeze in portion sized bags for later use (shaves ten minutes off cooking later and you can throw it in the microwave to thaw). If your family doesn’t like ground turkey plane you can easily mix it 50-50 with the cheap hamburger, which will have plenty of fat to add flavor.
  5. Nail Soup. Do you remember this children’s story? A traveler enters a very unfriendly village and sets out a pot filled with water over a fire. The curious villagers come out one by one and the traveler explains that he is making a magic soup that uses nothing but his special nail. As it simmers he tells them how great it will be, if only he had a pinch of salt which one woman decides she can share. After tasting it again he remarks how wonderful the soup would be, if 100_0897only he could add a carrot or two, which another villager remembers she has in the house. The story goes on, adding potatoes, then some meat, etc., etc. until the pot is filled with a delicious simmering soup. The traveler shares it with the villagers who find it amazing and happiness abounds. That’s the soup we make at our house. What’s in the refrigerator? Some leftover chicken or ham, pick it off the bone and throw in the pot. Got a few potatoes? Peel and add. Carrots or cauliflower? You got it. Our soup is never the same but it’s always delicious. As I was typing this article I made a pot for dinner tonight. In the freezer I discovered a chunk of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, still good, but a little frosty looking. Cut it up added an onion and some potatoes. Today I have a sweet potato and kale. Both made a fine addition to the soup. I add just enough water to cover and today used a couple of chicken bouillon cubes for seasoning.  Cook the potatoes until soft so they can be mashed up a little. Often I add a can of creamed corn (just before serving) to thicken. You 100_0901can add milk for a creamier sauce. You can make it with pasta (I cook pasta separately and add at end so it doesn’t get mushy.) And, as my family likes to remind me, if it’s kind of bland tasting, ketchup makes it better. This soup takes a little more time to prepare and cook but you can put together it at night and cook in the crockpot.

So there you have it. Five easy ways to stretch your dollar at dinner. Using any one of these suggestions should save a family of four at least $10 per meal over everyone ordering a kids meal at the local fast food store.

NOTE: I am not a nutritionist so make absolutely NO claim about the nutritional value of these meals. As a mom I will say our family does try to eat a well balanced diet.

If you have suggestions to stretch your shopping dollar or questions please let me know.