Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for the 'Shopping' Category

Coupons

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: ninjapoodles

Hardcore couponers would probably accuse me of blasphemy for saying that couponing may be a waste of time but even Crystal of Biblical Womanhood and Money Saving Mom thinks it’s ok to take a break every once in awhile, see her post on it here.   As for me, I wasn’t raised by a hardcore couponer and have only recently discovered the benefits. Living with my mother-in-law for a year also helped spark my frugal side. I do feel there are a couple of problems that I have encountered over the past year or so with using coupons.

First off, MITBeta and I do not buy the newspaper. We have in the past, but found it piled up and was only good for starting the charcoal grill and filling our recycle bins. Nowadays we get all of our news online or through our local NPR affiliate WBUR.  Most of the time we are lucky enough to have our parents save the fliers from their papers, but when things get busy we may not see them for a week and then we both forget. Because of this I may end up missing a few of the sales that correspond to the current sales fliers. Another option is to stop at a coffee shop or the library on a Sunday evening and pick up a newspaper that may still have the sale fliers, but I usually don’t have time to do this, let alone remember that I can.  On occasion I have bought the paper, only to find that the filers were not included. That made me very mad, so I probably will not actually buy the paper again!

We also don’t tend to buy a lot of processed food, which makes up the bulk of the coupons in the sales fliers. I do like to take advantage of CVS’ing (see this post if you are unfamiliar with the term) and that usually does require the coupons. The nice thing is that if we do get fliers from our parents and they come a few weeks late it is usually ok for CVS since the CVS deals hardly ever line up with the current sales fliers. Also a lot of products that tend to go on sale at CVS may have coupons available to print online.

Since I started using coupons and making more frugal shopping choices in general, I feel that I do have a handle on the costs of items and try to save where I can with or without the coupons. This may mean buying in bulk if that is feasible, buying generic or waiting for the good sales.  It always means checking the unit costs in order to buy the cost effective size.  I also try to buy only seasonal produce and by menu planning I’m able to more fully utilize all the food I purchase without having food go to waste.

I’m not exactly sure how we are doing with our grocery budget, but I try to be cognizant of the total at the checkout, while at the same time choosing healthy options whenever possible. I have stopped by the local farmer’s market a few times this summer as well to pick up local produce.  I typically don’t spend over $100/week on groceries for our family of 2 + a toddler and in the past we have tried to have a $75/wk budget.  How about you? Are you a hard-core couponer or do you just try to shop wisely? What is your weekly grocery budget?

06.30.2008
Cake

Noah’s Ark for a 1st Birthday Cake!

A great book we found back when we were earnestly baby gear shopping (can’t believe our little one is a year and a half now!) was Baby Bargains. Grab the latest version from the library to save even more! This book has a lot of reviews and recommendations on baby gear. It tells you what you need, what you don’t and which products are worth the money and which you can get on the cheap. Definitely talk to friends as well, to find out what baby gadgets are worth the money and which are not. I found tips from other moms invaluable when buying for baby. It’s amazing how quickly a baby outgrows different toys and items. Some items make your life more manageable (the bouncy seat allowed me to shower for the 1st 8 mos!) and some seem like a waste of money (I bought a little food mill and found that it always jammed. It was easier to either use a fork or get out the food processor).

Yard sales and craigslist are a great way to pick up toys and books on the cheap, typically in great condition. I have purchased a lot of great books at yard sales. Since they were 4/$1 I rounded out her collection of board books for $10! Our daughter can sit and look at her books for what seems like hours (or at least enough time to do some dishes!) I also hit the town yard sale and picked up a lot of summer clothing. Since our daughter was born in the winter we did well with presents for winter/fall clothes, but didn’t have any summer items. I was able to buy shorts, bathing suits, water shoes and t-shirts for under $20 to complete a summer wardrobe. I have also had great luck looking for specific items on craigslist. I wanted to buy the Little People’s Noah’s Ark to use for her first birthday cake. I found out that the all plastic version I wanted was no longer sold. I was able to find one locally on Craigslist. People use baby items for such a short time. There are always bargains to be had in the second hand market. Currently I’m in the market for two items: A push around trike or buggy for walks around the neighborhood and a toddler swing (we are getting the swing set as a hand me down from my sister). MITBeta is looking for a toddler trailer for his bike.

One other frugal tip I found out from a friend is, you should never spend $14 on a pregnancy test. I did not know there was any other option! It turns out that you can obtain very affordable pregnancy tests online for around $1 each! Check out Early Pregnancy Test. You can also pick up tests at the Dollar Tree for a $1 as well. For everyone who has ever spent a fortune on tests this will save you a ton of money! They are also just as accurate as the $14 versions at the drugstore.

Here are some of my top frugal buying tips:

1. Try not to get any “real” clothes for a baby under 3 mos old. You won’t want them in anything but onesies and one piece sleepers anyway. You can save the “real” clothes for when they are older.

2. Since you will be doing laundry so frequently with a new baby you probably won’t need 20 of any one item. As they get older and the laundry stretches out to every 2- 3 days you start to need more (i.e. we need about 5 pairs of spring jammies)

3. Buy things that morph or can be used for longer periods of time: our bouncy seat converts into a toddler rocker that she loves using now.

4. Skip the highchair and just get a travel seat. Our travel seat is always attached to our kitchen chair, but we had it for outings as well. Now she’s big enough for a high chair at restaurants, but the travel seat still works great at home. Space saver as well!

5. Babies/kids don’t need a million toys. Our daughter has entertained herself for days by putting her babies and stuffed animals in a cardboard box and pushing them around. It doesn’t take bells and whistles (and batteries) to entice children.

6. Since you will have the need for some battery operated items, invest in a good charger and rechargeable batteries.

7. Some safety items are not worth the money. We have all the outlets covered, tot locks on the dangerous cabinets and the door to the outside has a knob cover on it, but I found items like a toilet latch, toilet paper cover and table guards are not necessary. I found just teaching her not to touch the toilet lid was enough and since I NEED a shower every day she has spent 95% of my showers hanging out with toys in the bathroom. Some safety items actually attract the child to the hazard. Better if they hadn’t noticed it at all or learn that some things are not toys and should not be played with. Save some money but make sure you are equipped with adequate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and have a quality car seat. Wait and see, you might be surprised what your own child gets into and what they avoid.

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Frugal Baby Part II: Feeding Baby

Author: ScrapperMom
05.26.2008
Baby Foods

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: twelve paws

Obviously with another mouth to feed it might stand to reason that the grocery bill will increase. Fortunately, we have managed to keep the grocery bill in check with a few frugal baby solutions. Some of these items may not work for everyone, but these are the things that worked well for us when feeding a baby on a budget.

Breastfeeding: This one is a no brainer when it comes to saving money, but I understand that it doesn’t work for everyone. I was determined to make breastfeeding work for us and made sure I had a lot of resources ready in case I got in trouble. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally for either mom or baby. As MITBeta and I found out, it is also a multi-person sport in the beginning, so don’t worry about leaving those Dads out! We realized early on that in order to get the baby positioned correctly and to keep her awake we needed about 4 hands. Also remember in the early days that it is important to watch your baby for clues and not the clock. Breastfeeding works on a system of supply and demand, so in the early days you really want to feed the baby whenever she seems hungry. This will help build a good supply of milk. Visit KellyMom for some great tips on all aspects of breastfeeding. This website is invaluable. The first fews weeks are long and I spent a lot of time on the couch or in a chair, but just made sure the MITBeta had a little table supplied for me with snacks and a drink and I soon became a natural. In the coming months I forgot all about the hard first month as it gradually got easier and easier.

A friend gave me some great tips when I was pregnant and they all helped make the process go smoothly after our daughter was born. Make sure you get all the support you can/want/need in the hospital. Ask all the nurses to check to make sure the baby is latched on correctly. They typically have lactation consultants on staff that can make sure you are doing it correctly as well, so you can avoid problems that can quickly derail your breastfeeding experience (latch-on, supply, and pain are some common ones). Make sure you buy some lansinoh (this product is very important in the early days). We also had a nurse make a home visit (this was covered by insurance because we were in the hospital less than 48 hrs after baby was born) and that was a great opportunity to ask questions and correct any potential problems. We also had a birth doula who came to see us for a post-partum visit as well.

I also found it advantageous to have a pump on hand (you can rent hospital grade pumps, buy cheap manual pumps or invest in a pump that would be good for daily pumping sessions if you plan to pump and work). I have an Ameda pump. My milk came in a few days after we got home from the hospital and even though my little one is took to breastfeeding like a champ, she sometimes just couldn’t handle that kind of volume! Plus I was back at home and now had no one around to help me out. I found it very useful to have my pump all set to go, just to relieve some of that early discomfort and make it easier for the baby to latch on. Now even if you decide you don’t want to breastfeed, having some type of cheap pump may be helpful, since your body will think you want to make milk no matter what, at least in the beginning. Having the number of someone you can call if you run into troubles is a good idea. This could be a lactation consultant, doula or LLL leader (see below).

Your local La Leche League is also a great source of support and encouragement. They typically have meetings once a month. I have been going to the LLL group meetings in my area since our daughter was born and I find a lot of great support there for a lot of parenting issues, not just breastfeeding. It’s always good to run things by other mothers who have been in a similar situation so you can make sure that everything is normal.

If you have tried breastfeeding and have decided that formula is the way to go for your family, you should check out this post about taking advantage of the great deals at CVS. By playing the “CVS” game you can save a lot of money on formula.

Homemade Baby Food: This sounds like a lot of work, but is surprisingly simple. The nice thing is that you really only have to do it for about 4 to 6 months. I started introducing new foods around 6 mos. I tried one new food every few days. I would make a batch of one type and freeze it in small portions (ice cube trays work great for this, see photo above). After a few weeks I had built up a little stash of different items. Some examples that we typically had on hand were sweet potatoes, squash, apples, pears etc. Most things can be cooked until soft and mashed up in a blender or food processor or even just with a fork. Things like mashed potatoes, avocado and bananas are super easy. No special tools needed.

By around 10mos your baby will probably be trying to eat what is on your plate, so you can usually find something on your own plate that you can mash up and give her. Our daughter was grabbing for what we were eating by around 10 mos and by 12 mos I was not pureeing anything anymore. So it was a short amount of time and definitely a money saver. This is a great website: Wholesome Baby Food that has a lot of information on introducing new foods and recipes and tips for pureeing foods. It also gives you tips on when you should introduce different types of foods.

We took a road trip to Washington DC when our daughter was around 8 months old. I brought a lot of frozen food cubes in freezer baggies, along with yogurt and string cheese. We had access to a freezer where we were staying so it was easy to continue feeding her on the road. I was also breastfeeding so that made things easy while we were out and about sightseeing. I fed her in all kinds of places, including the Air and Space Museum and the top and bottom of the Washington Monument!

Hopefully these tips will get you off to a good start, and if you’ve got any more, let’s hear them in the comments!

04.14.2008

I participated in my first blog carnival this week at the Carnival of Personal Finance. I submitted my article about the parallels between losing weight and growing wealth. You can see it and all the other great articles at this week’s host Gather Little By Little. This week I also joined the conversation on a number of topics at other blogs. Some of the blogs that mentioned me or in which I participated were:

  • Lynnae at BeingFrugal.net solicited the best financial advice that her readers had ever received. My words of wisdom were 1.Pay yourself first and 2. Anything you can measure can be improved.
  • Glblguy at GatherLittleByLittle.com wondered why he still has to carry cash. I don’t usually carry much cash, and it tends to sit in my wallet for a long time. In the comments I shared my strategy for using my rewards credit card for everything I can.
  • Frugal Dad at FrugalDad.com wondered whether it was cost effective to buy a new car for the explicit purpose of saving on gas mileage. I suggested that for people who continually carry loans, the cost of gas is minor compared to the other operational costs of a car.

Another article that caught my eye today comes from the Boston Globe’s Personal Finance Section which reported on a new study being conducted at my alma mater which will “explore how people make decisions about their money, and how technology can shape and assist in these choices.” This study is part of a new Center for Future Banking that seeks to understand how changes in technology will affect banking. This study will explore many of the questions that fascinate my about the social psychology of money decisions. It is a bit dubious, however, that Bank of America is providing the financing for the study… Lastly, I made some updates to my Blogroll at the right this week. Check out some of my fellow bloggers sites if you haven’t already. b

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Frugal Scrapping

Author: ScrapperMom
03.10.2008

This post is for all those scrapbookers out there who are also trying to watch your spending, which can at times seem impossible with the myriad of tools, papers, embellishments available. Since we try to keep on a fairly strict budget and scrapbooking falls into the discretionary category, I have become the Queen of frugal scrapping. It’s not necessary to sacrifice style to cut costs and listed below are some tips for scrapping on a budget.

Throughout this post I have incorporated some examples of layouts from my own collection, so you can see these techniques at work. Hope you enjoy the layouts and tips and can start saving money while still having a great time scrapping and preserving your memories.

Save your scraps.

Color BlockingEach piece is precious. Ok, you don’t have to save every piece, but if it’s bigger than a 1″ x 1″ square it’s worth saving. If you have a good system to organize your scraps by color or theme you can use them later to make cards, punches and small die cuts. A technique I love is color blocking and it is also a great way to use old scraps. Also if you only have one piece of patterned paper using it in blocks can be very efficient and a great way to incorporate a lot of photos. You can also use one smaller piece on a plain background if you don’t have a full 12×12 sheet. Sometimes this is all the pattern you need for your layout. Read the rest of this entry »

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