Grocery Day and Some Realizations

Today was grocery day. Ugh, I hate shopping on Fridays. It’s so crowded! But there are two stores that run sales only on Fridays, so it’s worth shopping. Also, Friday is the day here that Dollar Tree gets their premium bread in at 10am. I just happened to be there one day at that time when the bread guy rolled in. That means low priced bagels, hotdog and hamburger buns, and bread that retails at least $2 or $3 per loaf. Our Wal-Mart stopped selling the 88 cent buns and only stocks the $1.38 ones, so I’d prefer to pay just $1.00.

I stayed on budget at $100 this week, I would have been closer to $75 but I forgot that I promised my husband hot wings this week. I also didn’t make a meal plan, which was the worst decision ever. But I’ll live. I’d eventually like to trim back to $75 per week again, but I am not sure if that will be possible since we’ve added another family member and I have special dietary needs*. I am going to make a go of it next pay period since there are three this month.

So, without further ado, some realizations:

Realization #1: Medicaid can provide replacement glasses. Yes, my kids are on Medicaid. A lot of people’s kids are. If you don’t like it, bite me. It pays for dentist and doctor visits and vaccinations and yes, glasses. One pair of glasses per year. My son’s glasses broke the day we got them and we’ve been limping them along with E6000 ever since because we wanted to make the free ones last. Today they finally bit the dust and we put his old ones back on while I figured out the 10,000th (more like sixth but who’s counting?) fix.

My husband and I had a little chat and I told him we need to bite the bullet and go spend $60 at America’s Best for some replacement glasses. I called America’s Best and they said that they’d need his prescription, so I called to give the office the fax number.

The woman at the office was so kind. She said she’d put in a replacement request right away. I told her we couldn’t afford them, and she said Medicaid should cover it. She sounded pretty confident. I was shocked. I didn’t know that was a thing. And if I had, we would have replaced those things four fixes ago.

Realization #2: I need to make time to make money. No, not my favorite thing. Especially with little kids. But school starts in two weeks. When my oldest goes to school, I’ll be getting up earlier and I’ll be free to work at nap time. I also put in an application to caption, which I would prefer to do as I’m a more visual person. Regardless, my butt needs to be bringing in cash. Ideally, enough to beef up our savings and pay for Christmas and Cub Scouts, among other things.

*Special dietary needs: Yes, folks, I’m poor and I have special dietary needs. If I don’t eat lower carb I suffer from migraines and inflammation of every freaking joint. Blackberry thumb, carpal tunnel, milkmaid’s elbow, and tennis elbow. And my armpit. I get tendonitis in my freaking armpit. It’s stupid. I use Trim Healthy Mama which allows for stuff like rice and beans, and it cuts down on my ibuprofen bill.


One Way to Save Money: Try and Fix it First

Yesterday I replaced the heat fuse on our dryer. It was $6 for two fuses on Amazon, and it ended about a month of exclusive line drying. I now feel like the Queen of Sheba because I can do laundry when I see fit rather than when the sun is out. And I don’t have to talk to my nosy neighbors about it.

Do you want to know the secret to my home repair savvy? It’s Googling whatever is happening. Eg “Washer making grinding noise during spin cycle” gave me the information I needed. We save hundreds of dollars on fixes and repair calls this way. In the last two years we have fixed the dryer twice and the washer twice (different fixes) with parts ordered from Amazon for under $10 each. The dryer here requires constant vigilance because of where our vent is located…around 15 feet above the dryer. Weird, but true.

So many people I know will just say, “The dryer isn’t working. Time to get a new one.” I have a friend who told me her oven “died.” I wonder what didn’t work? She never said. If it was a bake element, they are $18 and about 5 minutes to replace. I feel like a lot of people will get rid of appliances, which are expensive, over simple fixes because a repair call is as much as a new oven when they could make a repair themselves. This is not only a foolish waste of money, but a waste of a perfectly good appliance.

This is one way we do things differently that allows me to stay home with the children. Would we buy a new oven? Sure. But we have standards about discarding things. We get rid of things only if it is beyond our capability to repair, or if we have to continually make fixes (like our current oven — it’s 20 years old and we have rewired the whole thing, practically. And it sucks). Even now, we are looking for a cheap or free used one rather than buying a new one from a hardware or appliance store because we have other ways to cook food.

Sometimes this means doing hard things as a backup, like cooking exclusively in the Instant Pot or making bread on the gas grill outside, or hanging laundry to dry. Or washing by hand. That by far was the worst, but I would do it again. Ultimately if it saves us the expenditure, I’m game.

Trying to live the maxim, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” is a great way to save money so that you can live the life you want.

Idle Chatter

I am waiting for rice to cook in our instant pot. We have been using the good ‘ol IP since the oven decided to start sparking one day when I pulled it out of its home between the counters. We cannot call our landlord for repairs, so it’s alternative methods of cooking for us. This includes our (blessed) instant pot, gifted two years ago for Christmas, and our indoor flat grill and microwave, as well as the outdoor gas grill we have. We are blessed to have so many different ways to make meals!

In case you’re wondering, we do not call our landlord for repairs anymore for a couple reasons. 1) I once called him about said oven. His response was “Go fix it yourself.” 2) We only pay $1100 per month, which is a bargain for our area. A free standing house runs around the neighborhood of $1500 or more. Not to mention allowing pets. We have been here for seven years this October and we are thankful our lease amount hasn’t been raised. I think part of that is that we handle the majority of repairs instead of calling the landlord.

My husband’s trial period at the temp agency ended and he was hired (yay!). I was surprised a temp agency worked so well for our needs. We did have to wait since he asked for higher wages and was well qualified, but it was a gift from God that he was able to get out of a bad work environment that wasn’t paying well.

We are in a funny spot. Rentals in our area are skyrocketing and it is hard to rent now even if you have good credit and a good job. Buying is pretty competitive, and the market is beginning to slow here, so my husband and I are talking about buying in the spring when tax refunds come in. Our bank only requires a 3% down, so that should neatly take care of it for us.

I am tightening up the budget so that we can save as much as we are able. August is a three paycheck month, which means our rent fund will be fully funded on the 16th. I will share our plans for the rest of that another day. It’s good to be back though. Now I have curry I need to go make!

On Costco: A Long Post About Shopping

Before I write this post, I want to share how it’s different. I read a lot of frugal “mom who save money” type of blogs. So many of them have grocery “budgets” that are triple mine, and none of the dietary constraints (I can’t have sugar or tons of starch, or my blood sugar numbers are straight diabetic). Some of these people are the same kinds of people who tell you about quitting your Starbucks habit when you can barely afford coffee. And they are always going on and on about Costco. I’m looking at you, Jordan Page.

So let me start by saying we are low-income. And, for us, spending $200 in a weekend is quite a hefty amount. My goal is around $100 per week, usually, for our family of 4. We spent double that on stock-ups at the grocery and we went to Costco this week.

Costco is also a luxury as far as food is concerned. If you look carefully, you can find items the same cost or cheaper elsewhere. People proclaim the diapers are cheaper, but they’re wrong. Kroger house brand wins that one if you are buying diapers since they are not only less per diaper, but they give you a $3 coupon for your next box. They even beat Wal-Mart.

If you can’t afford Costco, I just want you to be aware that most of the items that we buy are cheaper…but not by much. And definitely not enough to offset the cost of membership. Don’t feel like you’re missing out by not having a membership, because seriously on the Costco FOMO. I had it at one time when we couldn’t afford the membership, and it wasn’t worth the agonizing. We only have the membership because my husband wanted it. He has Costco FOMO and I love him, so we have a membership when we can afford it.

I think of Costco as a big building full of impulse purchases that charges for the privilege. People believe they are getting a bargain because Costco tells you that you are.

Mostly, we buy items at Costco that are cheaper there. Which isn’t lot. Here is what we’ve found that are slightly cheaper than our local grocery stores:

  • Blocks of butter/cheese (sale dependent…sometimes it’s more at Costco, but if there hasn’t been a good sale in a while we get it)
  • Kirkland toilet paper – depending on your T.P. it’s cheap. Hubby won’t use Angel Soft!
  • Dog food (We buy Pedigree. it’s a hair cheaper than Wal-Mart and the last time I went to buy it, Wal-Mart’s shelves were empty of all but grain free dog food).
  • Pre-chopped garlic
  • Baking yeast – you can store it in the freezer, it lasts indefinitely there.
  • Honey
  • Ground coffee

Items that aren’t cheaper, but that we sometimes buy:

  • Gregg’s Ranch Dressing (not cheaper, but it’s the best ranch dressing).
  • Kirkland craft beer if my husband wants to try whatever is seasonal
  • Ice cream and hot dogs at their cafe

Other things:

  • Photo prints (sometimes)
  • Ink cartridge refills (if they will do it)
  • Birth control (half of what Wal Mart charges me)

And that’s it. We are also giving Gain a trial (since it was $10 for 200 oz, on sale. That’s couponer “stock up” price with no coupons) and their Cascade dishwasher detergent. That was around the same cost as I usually pay for our Palmolive Eco, but the goal is to stay out of the store in general, so this may help. I saw some large containers of vinegar I may scope out further for cleaning the next time we’re there.

I guess I just wanted to put out there that, no, Costco isn’t a super great deal and if you are frugal it behooves you to check your numbers or go with a price list so the “savings goggles” don’t get you.

Bread Bags: The Gateway Bag

Hi, I’m a serial re-user. And bread bags were my gateway bag.

When I read The Tightwad Gazette for the first time, I was totally grossed out at the idea of re-using plastic bags. I thought that was such a dumb waste of time. And besides, couldn’t the frozen corn I stored in there give somebody food poisoning?

The answer is, of course, “No.”

If you need to save money (and why else would you be here?) sometimes it takes baby steps to re-use things or get over your idea of something being weird or gross to save you cash. After all, “cutting out Starbucks and avocado toast” can only save you so much. Especially when you don’t have money for meals or coffee out in the first place.

Re-using bread bags is a super easy start, and a “gateway” to re-using zip top bags, which are extremely expensive if you buy them and throw them away all the time.

Duh moment: If you buy bread, it comes in a bag. It is sealed off with either a twist-tie or plastic clip, and you can keep those too. When you’re done with your bread, just shake the crumbs out and fold it up for later. You can wash them if you want, but I don’t. A little soap-and-water never hurt anything, so go for it if you’re concerned about bread germs, but I can attest that I have never had an illness from re-using a bag that previously held store bought bread. I have a box in my pantry specifically for holding these little gems.

So, what can you do with an old bread bag? I’ll share what we use them for at our house.

#1: Meat Storage

We buy almost all of our meats in large amounts on sale. I don’t say “in bulk” because that means “Costco” or “Sam’s Club” to some people. You do not need to belong to a price club to get good deals. We never buy meat at Costco because it is so expensive there and consider Costco a luxury, but that’s another post.

When we portion up meat (usually 1.5 – 2lb for meals right now for our family) I use old bread bags. I have never had a problem with this, and it saves on things like plastic wrap and freezer paper. If you’re worried about not knowing what it is, write the name and the date stored on the outside in permanent marker. Thaw your meat, toss the bag. Easy.

#2: Dry Storage

I also use bread bags to store bread, rolls, cookies, etc that I bake. Sometimes I use a zip top bag or piece of plastic storage, but more often than not it’s bread bags. They are especially nice if you bake your own bread, since homemade bread does not fit well in even a zip top bag without hacking it in half. (I’ve done this before and trust me, it’s not pretty!) I save these for weeks I’d rather bake my own bread to save money.

#3: Leftovers

These bags can also store leftovers, especially when you’re lazy like me and don’t like to use up all your tupperware or wash it, either. The trick here is not putting in something sloppy, like leftover casserole, but rather pieces of chicken, french toast, and so on. I don’t feel bad about chucking them afterward, either.

#5 Wrapping glass

When we move or store glass items, like our nativity set at Christmas, I use plastic shopping and bread bags to wrap my pieces to keep them from bumping one another and chipping. Yes, it’s not as enchanting as wrapping them in stiff paper and taking them out of a pristine white box, but it does the job and makes my nativity no less special.

#6 Bathing suit storage/ Emergency Wet Bag

Kids get things wet. They go to the beach. They have accidents. A bread bag packed in the car with an emergency outfit is a great place to store wet underthings or socks or bathing suits, and you can dump the items in the wash and toss the bag when you’re done.

And that’s what makes bread bags the gateway bag. They’re free, and there are tons of uses for them that can make what would be trash into a way to stretch your paycheck.

When you use a bread bag instead of a zip top bag, freezer paper, or plastic wrap, you end up buying less of those things in the long run, which saves money over time. If you’re looking at a big box generic brand, it’s 3 cents per sandwich bag, 6 cents per quart sized bag, and up to 9 cents per gallon bag. And that’s not even the name brand, which is a whopping 17 cents per gallon size bag.

You might be thinking “Eh, 17 cents. Big whoop. I can spend that and not go broke.” Yes, true. But if you use one package of gallon bags a month, that’s $60 per year, not including tax, if you’re on the “use-once-and-toss” plan. Little things add up. Food waste adds up. You would be shocked at the amount you don’t spend by not having to buy this stuff.

Bread bags are free, food safe, and saving an item from the landfill for a while longer. You could even recycle them. (Our area doesn’t take much beyond gallon milk jugs and newspapers). So that’s the story. And I hope it leaves you feeling empowered to put just one item less in the garbage. Because it’s worth it to re-use.

How I lowered our internet bill by $15 per month

All of the sanctimonious millenials out there telling you how to pay off $200,000 of debt in three years will tell you that of course you should give up Starbucks and avocado toast and call and re-negotiate your cable bill to save money.

Sorry, I’m a little bitter.

When I first started adjusting my life, years ago in the aftermath of the 2008 real estate crash, all that I could find were suggestions like that. And it was infuriating.

So this blog exists for people like me. Lower-income folks who want to save money.

This week I was finally able to negotiate my cable bill down. I hear about people calling in to get their bills lowered all the time, but really it was a huge effort. I called/online chatted with about four different people last year, including the retention department, and they kept telling me my $50 bill was indeed on a promotion. A bill that has almost doubled over the course of six years, on promotion? I disagreed.

Finally, our bill hit a whopping $59 this year. We had 12 mpbs internet, which we definitely were not getting on our copper wire that we share with our entire neighborhood. I called for customer retention. I had done this before, but apparently I hit someone nice. And she told me I was paying $7 more than even their usual price for our speed. Whaaaat?

Does not compute.

So, after a bit of consultation, I decided to downgrade to 6 mbps and see how we were doing. It’s been about a week and so far, so good. And I was able to save $15 a month.

You might think that $15 per month is not a lot, but it is $180 per year. And that more than covers my husband’s subscription to WWE Network, or our entire trash bill for a year. Or a nice garden. It all adds up.

So while I had no magic words, I did explain I called and called and our bill just kept getting higher. So I guess the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Frugal Accomplishments for Last Week: Give and Take

I realized I really needed to get a handle on things this past week. I feel like I’ve been pressing the *transfer* button from savings to checking more than I like. It should be the other way around. I plan on turning that around this week if at all possible.

Even so, I managed to save some money by using our local Buy Nothing Group. If you’re not familiar, Buy Nothing is a gift economy group, meaning no one pays for anything! I was able to give and receive this week. I try to make sure I give when and what I’m able since I don’t want to only take from others.

This week, I received a free small pressure cooker (I asked for one for canning and this might fit three half pints at a time!). I will at least try to use it, but it is not the usual size I’ve seen for canning.

I also received a queen size set of sheets. I think they’re microfiber but they are in good condition. This will allow me to use our old sheet set for insulated curtains I plan to make for the house for winter to see if we can lower our heat bill. We have terrible drafts starting in October. We will fix the situation should we buy this place.

This past week, we gifted our queen sized mattress and box spring to a family in need. It had been in our garage for a year, and I really wanted to get it out. It did not fit in our van and we didn’t want to chop it up. The person who came to get it was someone my husband knew from his old job. We sent him away with our mattress, box spring, and a six pack of home brewed beer.

I also saved something I already had. My sister-in-law crocheted me a really cute purse, which I have been using. The lining was coming away and it got dirty, so I sewed the lining back in by hand and washed it. VoilĂ . New purse. That worked out fantastic.

Two weeks ago, I put seeds in the window to sprout. This week, I noticed that many of them were starting to sprout (not the tomato!) I got almost a dozen butter crunch lettuce sprouts and a few cayenne pepper sprouts. I am interested to see if my lavender plants sprout. I planted my tomatoes, and I also got discount half-off raspberry and blueberry bushes, which I am planting in containers for now as well as yellow squash.

I know blueberries especially can get really big, and I’m hoping that next year we’ll have our own house and we can plant our berry bushes so they can reach their full potential. Right now though our blueberries are fruiting, which is exciting. I should probably do a gardening post.