Getting geared up for fall and some lessons learned this summer

Lots to talk about. I know I haven’t posted much this summer, but I have taken tons of notes and hope to share what I have learned so I can help anyone else out there save some money.

I haven’t done any stockpiling or large coupon-heavy shopping trips since maybe … May I think. June, July and August I usually am buying mostly fresh food, due to all that is in season, and planning my stockpile for the winter.

If I had been better prepared, I would have done more with canning and freezing and taken advantage of things when they were at their peak of flavor and their lowest price. That was my goal this year, but a few things threw me off track at the worst times. Well, I will try again next year.

Also it’s been a really weird year. I had some truly unexpected and sudden events come up that demanded my time, energy, and mental focus at times I’d normally be working on house stuff. Well, everyone has that, so I had to roll with it and do the best I could. Everyone out there has had one or more of these things happening, often more than one at once, and often much worse than I ever had it. I’m lucky in so many ways and so grateful for what I have. Anyway, since the beginning of the year, our family has had:

  • Major deaths in the family, out of state for me
  • Serious house issues – floods, damage, structural problems
  • Serious and deadly health issues for core family members
  • The person who runs everything (me) having to be gone for extended periods of time due to emergencies
  • Health and lifestyle changes due to injuries, surgeries, illnesses (all recoverable but causing major shifts)

So we relied much heavier on our stockpile this year than any other time in our family history, Well, that’s what it is FOR! Everyone has a different definition of “emergency”. Emergencies don’t always announce themselves with a warning over the radio … it’s not always a hurricane, terrorist attack or earthquake that devastates your life. Moving, seasonal employment or unemployment, illness or deaths in the family, major expenses like a drain pipe bursting in your lower floor and flooding three rooms with drain pipe contents and causing serious damage, all sorts of things can interrupt your plans and throw your family into a state of emergency.

It was a big boost to my peace of mind knowing I had a well-planned stockpile when these issues that affected us hit us one after another this year. I did learn a lot after our first round of difficulties in the first three months of this year, and I’ve got a few more lessons to add to the list after these last three months.

  • You can never have too much toilet paper. Watch for the sales and buy it any chance you get.
  • Brine or marinate whole meat before you freeze it. Don’t freeze it in the butcher’s packaging, it’s too likely to freezer burn or crystalize. Use ziplock bags, coat with marinade or brine, and squeeze the air out. Double bag it. If anything fresh is in your refrigerator for three days, go ahead and freeze it, because you don’t know when you’re going to get back to it. Write on the Ziplock bag with a sharpie marker what is in the bag, because you are going to forget.
  • All dairy products are fine to freeze, but some will change texture when they thaw. Yogurt and sour cream in particular come to mind, when they thaw, they are watery and lumpy. The taste doesn’t change, so if you are going to use them in recipes, that won’t matter. All cheese seems to freeze well, even cream cheese. Butter, milk, cream, just about any other dairy product seems to hold up fine when frozen. Liquids may need to be shaken a lot when thawed.
  • Wash and re-use ziplock bags endlessly EXCEPT when you use them for raw meat (marinating, adding shake coating, etc.). I last bought zippered bags in August of last year, in all the sizes, in the heavy freezer and light sandwich style, and I haven’t had to buy any since. If you are just freezing blueberries, holding half a tomato until the next day’s salad, saving a single-serve portion of crackers, anything like that, you can wash and re-use the bag.
  • Always watch online for extras, rewards, bonuses, and coupon codes when you have a planned purchase. Use them when you have something sudden come up. Example – I had $28 in rewards money from the year’s purchases at Sears, plus I had a $25 gift card that I had from a different promotion, and they just had their back-to-school special and I had a $10 coupon. I was able to buy a nice pair of running shoes (normally $60 but marked down), 14 pairs of socks, and a long-sleeved shirt for $3.50 out of pocket, paying the rest with rewards and coupon and gift card. Find a way to organize your bonuses and rewards so that they don’t expire before you use them. I had a $10 credit (not a coupon but actual store credit on anything in the store!) at Rite-Aid and I forgot about it and it expired. Usually I’m more organized than that, I put expiration dates in my notebook so I’ll remember them on my to-do list, but like I said, it’s been a weird year. Some things fell through the cracks.

I kept printing and collecting coupons, even since I haven’t done much shopping with them, but the past few months we’ve really been working off of our stockpile and just eating mostly fresh items. We eat a lot of meat, so I was checking the butcher counter at Bi-Lo every week for the “hot price” items, which would be different every time. If anything was 75% off or thereabouts, I would buy it, even if we didn’t have room and I didn’t need it then, because I could freeze it and use it when things weren’t on as great of a sale. That’s how we’ve been able to have nice cuts of steak, fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken all along without using coupons. The epic deal back in May with Hellmann’s mayo and free chicken stocked us right up until … I think now. I think I used the last package of chicken on Tuesday.

Without depending on coupons, there were some other savings tips I relied on that really helped.

  • Checking for the best deal online. I had signed up a few years ago for Teri’s “Grocery Game” website, which cost about $10 a month but it kept track of ALL the prices for me which really saved some time when I was stretched beyond what I could manage this year. When you log in, you can just search an item like “granola bars” or “cat food” or “apples” and it will let you know which store is having a sale, whether you need a coupon or not, what the final price is whether or not you have a coupon, when the sale ends, and if there is any other bonus associated with it (like, free bread with peanut butter, that sort of thing.)
  • Getting gift cards at a discount. You don’t always have this chance, so take the opportunity when it is presented to you. For example, Bi-Lo will give you fuel perks (discount off your gas) when you purchase gift cards. You get 5 cents off a gallon of gas, up to 20 gallons, for every $50 of product you purchase. So, a $50 gift card would get you $1 off a tank of gas (for those of you like me who have trucks and SUVs). Many times, like now, they offer double fuel perks on gift cards, so $2 off a tank of gas for a $50 gift card. If there was something you knew you had to get ANYWAY … like, for example, I knew I had to get some Round-Up at Home Depot this past week, I got the gift card for $50 and bought 3 gallons of Round-Up, which I would have anyway, and got $2 off a tank of gas. It’s a free $2 for doing nothing different than you would have done anyway. On rare times, like this past year they did it around Thanksgiving, they offer TRIPLE perks for gift cards. Also, right now Publix has a deal where you get $10 off a $50 Old Navy or Gap gift card. That’s 20% … fantastic. Wish it was other gift cards too, because I really just shop at Old Navy for Christmas presents, but since gift cards don’t expire, I’ll go ahead and get it and save it.
  • A new thing I’ve learned but already see the benefits – organize your recipes by type of food and that helps save money. Sure, sometimes you get a craving for something and you’ll go ahead and buy 10 things to make that dish no matter if it is on sale or not. I rarely do that. Usually what I do instead is let the item that is on sale guide the dish and use one of my recipes based on what I found that is on sale. I see in lots of blogs that many authors will say meal planning saves money and they decide what they want to fix a month or a week or two in advance. I guess that would work if your fresh ingredients are already in your freezer and you are basing your plan off of that, but otherwise, you are planning when you don’t know if you are going to get those items at the lowest possible price. I only get meat and dairy when it is 75% off … which can’t be planned … because that is when it is marked down in the store level beyond the sale price. So, I’ve been organizing my recipes, not in the traditional way like “appetizer, soup, dessert …” but by “whole meat, fish, ground meat, sauces, breads…” so that I start with what is on sale and build from there.
  • Sometimes the fresh fruit/vegetable stands are lower in price than the grocery stores, and sometimes they are higher but worth the higher price due to being fresher and tasting better. Matter of preference, don’t beat yourself up if you would rather pay 30 cents per pound more for the North Carolina applies versus the Argentina apples.
  • Keep convenience foods handy and easy to find by your family in case you get pulled away suddenly and are late for dinner or have some other problem where you can’t fix food for them right then. I keep stuff like granola bars, peanut butter and jelly, bagels, grapes, almonds, hard-boiled eggs, and other things that need little or no preparation because sometimes just getting a snack or a few snacks staves off hunger and keeps them from going through the drive-through at the chicken place and spending way too much on a crappy meal.
  • Keep a few things in every car too – bottled water, granola bars, sugar-free gum, and a few other small things because having those handy in case you have errands that run long or are suddenly called away on an emergency will keep you from spending money at a drive-through.
  • Speaking of which, I’ll do a post sometime on the things you should keep in your car. The things that you actually DO use that WILL come in handy. Quick note – I can think of a few that I have actually used recently – work gloves, plastic bags, windshield washer fluid, paper towels, Wet Ones, Lysol disinfectant wipes, hand lotion and waterless disinfectant, umbrella, extra pair of shoes, and that’s just within the past month. I’ve seen car kits of “emergency” stuff and 90% of that stuff you aren’t going to use. But you will REALLY appreciate the paper towels and plastic bags when you have a relative who unexpectedly gets car sick. And I used the work gloves one time when I was on a back road and had to drag fallen limbs out of the way of my car. And the extra shoes and umbrella when I was suddenly caught in a downpour and I had my cute high-heeled sandals that I didn’t want to get wet on at the time. And not that long ago my husband and I were driving and we saw a dead beaver in the road … and a very live one guarding the body while cars honked and swerved. I freaked out until he pulled over because I could tell these were mates … and the live mate was not going to leave while the other was in the road. I put on the work gloves and grabbed a plastic bag and rolled the dead body into the plastic bag, then carried it well off the road by a culvert that I could tell the beaver came from (the live one fled in that direction when I walked towards them on the road). I rolled the dead one gently out of the bag and positioned him/her near the culvert so the live one wouldn’t keep running into the road. Then I stuffed the icky bag inside of another plastic bag with paper towels, wiped down with the Lysol wipes, and we went on our way. Oh yeah, and always have tissues. I have tissues in the pocket of every door, in the glove box and center console.
  • Continue to print coupons even if you aren’t couponing right then. There are several reasons – first, the coupon companies have print limits, which means once they have reached that limit, the coupon won’t be available any longer. So rather than wait until I need it, I make sure to have it already, so I’ll have it if I need it instead of searching for it. Second, even if you aren’t planning a coupon trip, you might need to make one on short notice, so you’ll save time if you already have them organized. Third, you’ll get the chance to sign up for newsletters, giveaways, and other coupons if you go to the websites of the products you use most often, so you’ll stay on their list if you stay active and print and use their coupons. Fourth, someone else might need the coupons. I don’t have small children but I will save the diaper and formula coupons in a folder anyway, and give them to someone who might need them, or I just leave them in the store on the shelf by the diapers so any shopper who needs them can take them. There are more than these four reasons to continue to save coupons even if you aren’t using them right then, but these are good enough for me.
  • Watch the aisles for times that the store is out of product and get the raincheck anyway if they run out of something. Whether or not you need it right then, if you get the raincheck while it is at the lowest price, you’ll get the chance to prepare and get a coupon for the item and redeem it when you can get the best possible price for it.
  • Using non-coupon methods to save money like Saving Star where the discounts are right on your loyalty card and you don’t have to cut anything, and the Publix clip-free coupons where you just enter your phone number at checkout and they automatically apply the electronic coupons without you having to bring them to the store with you. A nice bonus when you were going to do it anyway.

These are the best tips I’ve had this year while my life went not-quite the way I planned. I can’t believe it’s already August. It is time to gear up again and do a serious review of my stockpile and get ready to do some coupon shopping for the fall and winter, when the deals are best, and prepare for who even knows what for next year. I’ll keep in touch about what the best deals are on stockpile items – see my “stockpile” tag for examples – and feel free to write to me to ask a question or make a suggestion.

If you are looking for links on some of the helpful stuff I mentioned, here’s a list of links below:

  1. (goodies, bonuses and giveaways) Laura’s Lean Beef Grill Giveaway
  2. (recipe organizer)Cook’N recipe organizer software with bonus 20% off, directly from the software manufacturer.

    If you would prefer to buy it from Amazon instead, maybe you have other things you want to buy, here’s a link to get it at a discount from Amazon with free shipping:

    Cook’n Recipe Organizer Version 10 – as of today, $39.99 plus free shipping

  3. (recipes based on the type of meat) If you’re interested in the cookbook I’m starting with, here it is:
    Preparing Fish & Wild Game: The Complete Photo Guide to Cleaning and Cooking Your Wild Harvest
  4. (getting the best grocery prices tracked for you) The Grocery Game
  5. (not clipping coupons but getting money back on your purchase)If you do not already do this, I would recommend trying SavingStar. This is a program separate from coupons, you can shop as you normally shop, with or without coupons, and when you use your store loyalty card, savings are automatically posted to your account and you can claim the money online with Paypal. It won’t change anything about your checkout process.

    Link to sign up for SavingStar

  6. Printable coupons – click on any of my “new month, new coupons!” links pages because I update those once month. Oh yeah, I had not done that yet for August. Whoops. On the way next. 

2 responses to “Getting geared up for fall and some lessons learned this summer

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