Saturday, April 23, 2011

8 Cheap Mama Grocery Shopping Tips

One of the first places I knew that I could work to stretch our monthly budget was in the food department.  Because I live with a "foodie" husband and a picky stepson, I had fallen victim to always trying to cook amazing meals which required amazing ingredients and which meant an out-of-control food budget.  When it was time for me to be a Cheap Mama I let my husband know that we needed to work on the food budget.  I promised him we would not be eating beanie wienies every night but that some things were gonna CHANGE 'round here.

Now there are entire books and blogs dedicated to this topic alone so I won't attempt to cover everything here but instead I will share the most important tips I use each and every time I go to the grocery store.

1. Make a List
Studies and my own experience show that if I don't make a list before I waltz into the grocery store I will buy more than we need which means I'll spend more.

2. Make a Menu Plan
Even better than simply making a list is making a menu plan first and making the list from the planned menu.  With leftovers included, I was really surprised to discover how little I actually needed from the store each week when I plan exactly what I need for each week's menu.

3. Buy the ingredients, not the packaged meal
It's always easier to go for the pre-packaged meal whether it be a Stouffer's lasagna or meal-in-a-box but it also means I'm paying for that convenience.  To combat this, I break down what I like in those packaged meals and buy the ingredients to make it myself.  The one pre-packaged meal that I do keep around the house are frozen pizzas.  For those nights when I'm too exhausted to even think about cooking, having a frozen pizza ready to go is much less expensive than ordering one for delivery.

4. Shop the perimeter of the store
If you think about how your grocery store is set up, the perimeter of the store includes staple ingredients which are always cheaper and usually also healthier.  That's not to say I can shop exclusively outside of the aisles but it's something I keep in mind when planning meals and making my shopping list.

5. Use coupons only if you already need the item
There are also entire sites and blogs dedicated to the art of couponing so I don't mean for this to be the end authority on coupons.  However, I've been there, done that and have the binder to prove it so I do speak from experience.  If I may offer one word of caution: the coupon isn't a great deal unless you need the item already.  Purely shopping from the coupons you have instead of the items you need will ultimately mean you buy things you don't really need and spend money you didn't plan on spending.  Coupons aren't a bad thing; they just have to be used the right way.

5. Always look at the price per pound or price per ounce
This sounds elementary my dear Watson but when put into practice it takes a lot of work.  This is why I usually leave the grocery store with a headache - all of that mental math trying to find the best deal.  Not to give a shout-out to any specific store but one of the reasons I like Wal-Mart is that they do this for me.  They have the price per ounce listed on the shelf next to the price of every single item in the store.  This convenience alone is enough of an incentive for me to brave the behemoth that is Wal-Mart when grocery shopping.  This is very helpful when I'm trying to decide if the bigger size of the same item is really a better deal.  (It usually is but the price/oz will verify it.)  If I compare the prize/ounce or price/pound of items when trying to decide the better deal, I'll always win; not so when just comparing the total price of the items.

6. Give the store brand / generic brand a try
Before you gag a litle bit, let me remind you that I am married to a total foodie husband and our pantry is stocked with store brands.  The way I explained it to Georgia Boy was that we would never know if the item was as good as the brand name if we didn't give it a try.  Therefore our compromise was for me to buy the store brand when it was cheaper and if we found an item that was awful, I would promise to never buy the generic again and from then on I would pony up for the brand name.  This has only happened for one product in the 1+ year that I've been buying generic products.

7. Meatless Monday
My husband and stepson love this night.  Do you detect my sarcasm?  As much as some members of your family may not love this night, it can do wonders for your grocery budget and their health (but they don't need to know that.)  Meat is by far one of the most expensive items on the grocery list so if I can do one meal each week that doesn't include meat I can stretch my food budget even more.  Here in Louisiana, Mondays are traditionally days for red beans and rice.  My husband insists that we have to have sausage or some other meat with our red beans but I remind him that beans are protein, brown rice is healthy and a nice salad rounds out a healthy meatless meal.  Come up with your own meatless meal and watch that grocery budget streeeetch.

8. Breakfast for Dinner
As opposed to my meatless meal, this meal usually brings hoorays from everyone in my house.  This has traditionally been the fall-back menu of many a busy mom but I find if I incorporate it more regularly into our week's menu I save money too.  The great thing about this meal is that if done right, it can still be healthy and the proteins in the meal are relatively expensive such as eggs and turkey bacon.  So the next time you're trying to figure out how to make an expensive meal in a hurry treat your family to breakfast for dinner and bask in the applause.  (I'm only kidding - I've never received applause.)

Hopefully these tips will help you in stretching your grocery budget.  If you'd like more in-depth information on frugal tips, check out my Cheap Mama Handbook.

It Turns Out, You're The Jones

"Keeping Up With The Jones"

We all know what it means and we've all been guilty of it at some point or another.  In my constant meditation on being content and what exactly that means, I have discovered that there is something I admire in almost everyone I run across.

I may not covet it or envy it but it's something that, if I'm honest, I wish I had a little of too.  I suppose someone might say the same thing about me but I, like most women, find it hard to believe that someone would admire something about me.

So just in case you ever feel like everyone else is the Joneses and you're just struggling to keep up, let me point out some of the things that I love/admire/envy (in the good way) about you.

Your new haircut.  (Such a good look for you!)

Your beautiful skin.  (What IS your secret?)

Your newly painted toenails.  (Love the new color!)

That new thing you bought for your house.  (Looks like a million bucks!)

How many kids you have.  (Blessings, all of them.)

How easy it was for you to get pregnant.  (We'll talk about this when you've got more time...and coffee.)

Your personal style.  (Why can't I put outfits together so easily?)

Your patience.  (Seriously, where can I get some of that?)

Your new shoes.  (So cute. Love them)

Your cute laugh.  (As opposed to my sudden, loud cackle.)

Your cooking skills.  (My family would really appreciate a new recipe.)

Your creativity.  (What a great idea/product/skill!)

Your blog content.  (It's what mine wants to be when it grows up.)

Your expertise in an area in which I feel like a dunce.  (Do they have a book on it at the library?)

The beautiful flowers in your garden.  (Why do yours look like the ones in the magazine?)

Your height.  (I'm 5'3" but I remind myself that so is Reese Witherspoon.)

Your jean size.  (I swear I'm going to exercise tomorrow.)

So the next time you start feeling down on yourself, remember that there is always someone somewhere looking at you and thinking "I wish I had that."

Be Content, Cheap Mamas.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

For When I Am a Famous Blogger

I've decided to make a list of embarrassing things that have happened to me over the years.  This is so that I will still remain a humble girl after I become the galaxy's most famous blogger and Reese Witherspoon is playing me in a movie.

Please feel free to judge me and/or laugh hysterically.

*When I bought the bed we now sleep on, the furniture store only had a mattress on the floor model instead of a mattress and box spring.  I did not know this and purchased said bed.  When we got it home and put both the mattress and box spring on the bed I discovered that at my towering height of 5'3" I had to jump to get on my new bed.  I now have to keep a step-stool under my nightstand to use each night when I have to hoist myself onto the bed.  Ridiculous.

*In junior high when anything and everything can be mortifying, I was with a group of friends at a pizza place and somebody said something hilarious.  I laughed.  And a booger decided to make its escape at the same time.  Humiliation ensued.

*I have fallen off wedge shoes twice in front of a group of people when the strap broke.  Even after two times, I have yet to find a way to do this gracefully.

*I was actually afraid of Y2K.  I didn't build a bunker or stockpile food but I completely bought into the hype and worried what would happen to my bank account.

*I am not really familiar with marijuana at all and the first time I smelled it I thought someone was cooking chicken.

*I like Grease 2 better than Grease 1.  I know, the shame.

*I once sent my child to gaze in wonder at a large snail on our back porch.  It turned out to be a poop ball from the dog.  I am expecting my Mother of the Year award in the mail any day now.

*Public lactation leakage.  Enough said.

* There exists photo documentation of my personal style in the early 1990's.  Let's just say,  I loved hot rollers, had yet to meet Mr. Tweezers and wasn't afraid to roll my t-shirt sleeves.

*I probably use dry shampoo more than is advisable.  Just don't ever tell me that you can tell.

There you have it.  A list of just some of the embarrassing things that have happened to me.  And you thought being a Cheap Mama was all glitz and glamour.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cheap Mama Bedroom Style

It all started with a blue pillow.

Five years ago we were living in a small condo preparing to build the house we live in now.  As a lover of all things related to interior design, I was busy looking through magazines to find ideas and inspiration on how to decorate my new home.  I knew I wanted a serene feel in the master bedroom but couldn't quite put my finger on exactly how to do it.  Then I came across a pillow in Stein Mart that became the inspiration for the entire room.  It now has a prominent place on my bed and I don't think I'll ever replace it because it was the beginning of the room I now love.

I love white and I love toile and when I was trying to put together my bedroom, I struggled with a way to do this chic and cheap.  After looking at idea rooms in magazines I decided to do a white duvet and sheet set because I could do those for cheap, and spend the money on accent items.

Below is a picture of my bed.  The white duvet cover and matching shams are from Target.  I had a friend monogram them with my last initial.  I live in the south, remember?  The sheet set is from Wal-Mart (white is easy to do cheap!) but the blue toile print euro shams and bedskirt were my splurge.  They came from Pottery Barn.  I really tried to find a cheaper alternative to this print but I loved it so much that I had to have it.  Sitting front and center is my little square inspiration pillow!

I love the idea of a bench at the end of a bed.  This is a coffee table that I repurposed as a bench.  I found this great animal print fabric at my local Fabrixx outlet.  I made the bench by cutting a piece of foam to fit, covering the foam with batting and then attaching the fabric to the underside of the bench using a staple gun.  I learned from my years of watching Christopher Lowell's design show that you can do almost anything with a staple gun and hot glue!  Someday I'd like to add a nailhead trim around the perimeter but that is one of the many projects I have on my mental to-do list.

Happy decorating Cheap Mama!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Virtual Blogger Award

That's right!  I've only been blogging a little over 3 months and I've already won a blogging award!  Move over, Pioneer Woman, here comes One Cheap Mama.

The rules of this award as told to me are as follows:

Thank the blogger who gave me the award and link back to them in my post.  Thank you, Mommie Couture!
Write ten FUN FACTS about myself.  
Showcase a few of my favorite bloggers. 

Ten Interesting Facts About One Cheap Mama

*I am left-handed but no one else in my family except a great-uncle is left handed.

*I have to physically restrain myself from going overboard with monogramming and toile print.  This was never more evident than after I had a daughter.

*I am a recovering perfectionist.  There isn't a 12 step program for this, but there should be!

*I am a homebody and prefer staying home than going out.

*I named my dog, McCormack, after Kevin Bacon's character in Footloose.  I grew up Baptist and could very much identify with the no dancing thing.  However, now I can totally give Elaine Benes a run for her money on the dance floor.

*I love homes and interior design.

*My college degree is in Microbiology.  It was as boring as it sounds.

*I like television shows that are scripted; I love to see what the writers do with the characters.

*Which leads me to my next fact.  I LOVE to read.  Love, love, love.

*I love any kind of pasta dish and could eat pasta every day.  I wouldn't complain one bit if Giada decided to be my personal chef.

There you have it!  Now check out the blogs of the following fabulous ladies!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Like Wal-Mart So Sue Me

Before you judge me outright, let me explain myself.  Before I became a full-fledged Cheap Mama I used to avoid Wal-Mart like the plague.  I loathed the idea of trekking across the vast parking lot only to be met with aisle hoggers and long check out lines.  However, when I started being a vigilant price-checker and committed to find the best deal I slowly realized that Wal-Mart wasn't all that bad.  Allow me to explain what I like about Wal-Mart and then we can talk about what I don't like.  Maybe then you'll see I'm not all that crazy.

Hang with me.

Let's start with what greets me as I walk into the discount behemoth.

I appreciate that Wal-Mart has a recycle bin for their plastic bags.  If you (like me) are going to use those white plastic baggies, the least we can do is to recycle them and The Mart makes it easy to do this.  The bonus is you get to say hello to the little elderly greeter.

For those of us who are trying to stretch that grocery dollar as far as it will go, generic items are an enormous help.  Wal-Mart's store brands, Great Value and Parent's Choice, are great options for the comparable branded items.  I have used a Great Value or Parent's Choice substitute on almost every item available that I purchase and I have yet to be truly disappointed.  In all honesty, if they weren't in the tell-tale white box with blue lettering, I wouldn't recognize the difference.  In the other stores that I shop, there are store brands also but not nearly to the extent that Wal-Mart provides.  I realize this is a strategic marketing move that Wal-Mart has made to entice frugal shoppers but at least I know that I took the bait.

My favorite thing about Wal-Mart, however, is the fact that they include the price per ounce on every single one of their shelf labels.  I learned early on in my study to become a Cheap Mama that price per ounce means everything.  It's the easiest way to compare prices between two objects especially if they are of differing sizes or if you're trying to figure out if the larger size is truly the more economical choice.  In the other local stores that I shop the price is only listed for the whole item.  This means I have to pull out my phone calculator and do the math myself.  This isn't always easy with two kids in tow so I love that Wal-Mart does the work for me.  If you see me shopping and peering at the price labels, 9 times out of 10 I'm looking at the small number to the left first to see what the cheapest option is, and then checking the total cost of the item to make sure it won't bust the weekly grocery budget.

I took this picture for a previous post so forgive the picture.  The total price is in yellow but the price/ounce is included in the orange box to the left. 

Another fabulous feature of Wal-Mart is that they will match any competitor's  prices as long as you show the circular at check-out.  I don't know if they will honor the price pulled up on your smartphone so if anyone knows, please leave a comment.  I really love this feature because let's say for argument's sake that I am addicted to diet coke.  I know the best value for diet coke and this week Target happens to have it on sale for the lowest available price.  Unfortunately, I cannot enter Target without completely losing my mind and buying unneeded clothes for my children so I really don't need to go to Target this week unless I want to blow this month's budget.  Never fear!  I can take the circular with me to Wal-Mart, show the price at checkout and get the item for the Target sale price no matter what the actual price is at Wal-Mart on that given day.  It's a win-win.  I get the crack cocaine diet coke and don't lose my financial mind at Target.

The last reason I love Wal-Mart is because they carry the zip-up hoodies that I can't seem to quit.  I don't know why I love them.  I only know I do.

For those of you who have stuck with me throughout this post (you deserve a medal!) let me list quickly the reasons I don't like Wal-Mart.  Hopefully this will be enough to keep me on your good side if you're a Wal-Mart hater.

Wal-Mart will never put their meat on sale.  Ever.  However, my local grocery stores run specials on meat almost every week so I purchase those items from the local stores.

The rough parking lots mean that I will darn near give the baby Shaken Baby Syndrome on the way into the store and on my way out of the store will inevitably bounce the cases of diet coke so much that they fall off the bottom shelf of the cart leaving me to load them back on in the middle of the parking lot.  Good times, good times.

The fact that there are always 900 check-out lanes but only 3 checkers available is something I will never understand.  However, this allows me time to catch up on the gossip rags so that I never have to pay for them.

Hopefully you now understand my love/hate relationship with Wal-Mart and maybe you'll be encouraged to give The Mart another try if you've avoided it as I used to do. 

Happy shopping, Cheap Mama!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day. Why Decorating Takes Time

I thought about naming this post "I'll Just Wait 'Til I Find It At TJMaxx" because that's the approach I've taken in decorating my house since I became a Cheap Mama.

One of my favorite things to do when I was working and blowing cash like it was a competitive sport, was to stop at a bookstore and purchase stacks of home decorating magazines.  I discovered a passion for interior design after it was too late to do anything about it, so I found my outlet in poring over beautiful spaces and looking at what made them work.  I still love to do this but now I read them at the public library while my son plays at the puzzle table.

The one thing I have learned by studying these rooms is to recognize true style.  When you understand style, you can recognize a good reproduction when you see it.  This is how I shop for my house.  I once read a quote in one of those fabulous magazines from a famous interior designer.  She said a well done room takes time.  I think in this era of done-in-a-day decorating shows we have somehow lost this truth about decorating.  Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say, and neither will be your house.  Decorating it and filling it with beautiful things will take time.  And, Cheap Mama, in this case time is on your side.

Because with time, you will be able to look for the inexpensive great finds that are part of your style.  You will be able to find those items that when placed correctly in your home, will look like a million bucks and no one will know there's a discount store sticker on the back that you never could scrape off completely.

I use these images that are catalogued in my mind from those magazines when I'm shopping places like Big Lots, TJMaxx, Ross, Tuesday Morning, etc.  It takes a shrewd eye to determine what is junk in these places and what will look great.  With the "idea rooms" in my mind I am able to be a discerning shopper and know when I've found a great deal; the item that is an excellent cheap knock-off of the real deal.

Knowing that decorating a home or room takes time and finding good reproductions takes time, I've begun exercising a lot more patience when it comes to feathering my nest.  I am sometimes tempted to give into the quick and easy purchase.  But I know if I do that, I will end up spending more money than if I had exercised a little patience know, waited until I found it on sale at TJMaxx.

Happy shopping, Cheap Mama.

Here are a few of my recent Cheap Mama finds.

Mirror from *gasp* Big Lots!

Slip-covered chair from a local consignment store

Rug from Big Lots.

Sofa table from Goodwill.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blog Redesign Update

As you can see, I finally completed my blog redesign.  My friend Kristen at Three In The Nest gave me some great sites for backgrounds and headers.  The sites are The Background FairyDelicious Design Studio and Dotty Dot Design.

My new design is from The Background Fairy and I used Picnik to personalize the header.  Both are very easy to use and free!

I hope you like the design!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why I Hated College is Why I Love Twitter

Acceptance.  The End.

Only kidding.  I'll actually write a little bit more about the subject.  When I went off to college I was an Oklahoma hometown girl going off to a university with 20,000+ students.  I didn't go with any close friends and went potluck on a roommate.  I never gave any of this a second thought because I figured that, just as I had made friends in high school, I would make friends in college.  I didn't pledge a sorority only because I was so utterly exhausted from all of the "have tos" that I had done in high school in order to get accepted to college that I only wanted to do the bare minimum required - go to class and sleep.

This meant that making friends and networking was an uphill battle.  I joined groups, put myself out there, talked to my classmates and slowly but surely made some acquaintances.  But the close friendships I had experienced in high school just weren't there.  For years I couldn't figure out why memories of college seemed a little sour and one day I figured it out.  In college, I never felt accepted for who I really was.

I always felt like my sense of humor was too dry, my laugh too loud and my wardrobe not designer enough.  I have little doubt that most of this can be attributed to the immaturity of college age kids but it still stung.  For me college seemed like a time when you had to keep trying on different versions of yourself in order to fit in and be one of the group.  This just wasn't something I was used to and wasn't something I wanted to do in order to be accepted.

The whole subject of acceptance comes to mind when I think of Twitter.  Perhaps it's because I've chosen to follow and connect with the right people (so far) but I love Twitter for the same reason I hated college - I am accepted for who I am.  There are always people with whom I disagree or who probably don't love every word I tweet but we are all civil with one another.  The even bigger bonus? I have found people like myself and find that we have the same sense of humor, laugh loudly too and our clothes usually come from Target.  I know that age and maturity probably has a lot to do with this but I find it so refreshing to find that we all seem to have figured out who we are.  And we put ourselves out there.  And find we are accepted.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blog Redesign

I have been trying to work on a blog redesign this week.  For some reason I am drawn to blog themes that look more like I'm decorating my daughter's room than designing a blog on chic, cheap living.  I know this is not the direction I need to go, but oh pink damask how I love thee.

Speaking of my daughter, her constant feeding and napping needs have made it difficult for me to finish the redesign in one sitting.  Not to mention having to have yet another discussion on Lego Star Wars characters with my son every three-and-a-half minutes.  Hence, the current appearance.

Until I figure it out, please kindly ignore the fact that my design looks half finished.  Because it is.

*To see how I got the finished product, check out Blog Redesign Update
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