Are Coupons Killing Your Grocery Budget?

My budget says I spend $400 on groceries. My June spreadsheet says I spent $495 on food and July’s spreadsheet says you’re screwed now.

I spent $660 on food in July. With a $400 budget.

If you can’t look away from an accident, read on:

How to use coupons to save money on your grocery budget

My total budget for food and household items is $500.

I spent $1587.

I’m more than 300% over budget for July.

Holy Hell.

New month, new budget, move forward.

I need to look back though, to figure out where I went so terribly wrong.

I saved $240 by using coupons. I’m wondering: Are coupons killing my grocery budget?

Coupons are fantastic for household items like toothpaste and toilet paper and shampoo; I get great deals, free deals, they even pay me to take stuff home sometimes.

But for a family who eats mostly whole foods (not Whole Foods – my grocery budget would be 1k-plus!) coupons can’t do a lot to help lower the grocery bill.

Mixed in with the amazing deals on deodorant and disposable razors are amazing deals for Popsicles and the cereal even the kids would not eat even though it was full of sugar because it was so disgusting Hershey’s Cookies and Cream; food-like items that I normally wouldn’t touch.

I went through my receipts and added up the grocery items I would never purchase if I didn’t have a coupon for them: $23.44 out of pocket [that’s after coupons.] The grocery coupon matchups to these items totaled $31.13.

$23 worth of food I bought because of coupons did not kill my grocery budget after all – remember I was $260 over budget!

We thoroughly enjoyed every one of the dye-bright Popsicles and Pretzel Crisps with GMO soybean oil. We also got to try new items that wouldn’t have been on my radar if I didn’t have a coupon for them – yes, I realize that’s the entire point of coupons.

Still, $23 is nothing to sneeze at. For $23 I can take the kiddos on a daytrip to Disneyland. I’d rather have that experience than a pantry full of Kit Kat bags I scored cheaply with coupons. I’ll be paying extra attention to the nutritional and out of pocket costs for all food coupon items from now on.

Pinterest Fail: Can you bake potatoes in the Crockpot? No. No you can’t.

How do you make baked potatoes in a Crockpot?

You don’t.

Just don’t.

How to make baked potatoes in a Crockpot or slow cooker: Pinterest Fail

Don’t do it! You can’t make baked potatoes in the Crockpot!

I’ve seen this idea float by on Pinterest so many times.

It’s hotter than Hell here so I fell for it: Summer Crockpot Recipes! Keep Your Kitchen Cool!

Here’s what will happen – and please note that your results will be much worse if you follow the various instructions to wrap the potatoes in foil and/or oil and salt the skins before baking:

You will end up with moist and dense Crockpot-roasted potatoes.

You will not end up with fluffy and dry baked potatoes.

You’ll suspect it didn’t work when you remove the Crockpot lid and smell that damp potato smell. You’ll know for sure it didn’t work when you slice a potato down the middle and try to squeeze the ends to fluff it and it doesn’t fluff, or even smoosh. And of course when you go ahead and serve the roasted potatoes dressed up as baked potatoes, hoping no one will notice and you’re just being picky, they’ll notice.


Pinterest fail.

Baked potatoes in the Crockpot? Save your money. Save your reputation as an awesome cook. Save the baked potato making for cooler days and use the oven to make them the right way.

Don’t make baked potatoes in a Crockpot.

Save Money On Groceries: How To Use Up Every Bit Of a Pineapple

Save money on groceries the easy way by minimizing waste. That’s a fancy way to say don’t trash perfectly good food.

Jameson says I’m like an Indian because I use up every bit of the buffalo. Or pineapple. She’s extremely proud to be 1/16 Cherokee so don’t rain on her parade by pointing out that she should really say I’m like a Native American.

What do you do when you cut up a pineapple? I used to cut off the skin (rind? what is it that covers a pineapple?) and toss it, then cut the pineapple meat away from the core and toss the woody core.

Here’s what I do now to squeeze every penny from my pineapple purchase:

1. Choose your pineapple.

I read this trick somewhere and so far it’s held true: Try to pluck one of the pineapple leaves straight up from the pineapple. If it pops off easily, the pineapple is ripe. Jameson loves to test the pineapples at the grocery store. All of them. I usually still let the pineapple ripen for a couple of days so that it will be extra sweet.

2. Soak the pineapple in a 1:5 vinegar to water solution right when you get it home.

I do this to almost all of my fruit and veggies to help kill germs and mold spores. I know it works because my pineapples used to grow nasty mold on the bottom from sitting on the counter to ripen for a couple days; now I never see mold on a pineapple when I’m ready to cut it.

3. Cut off the top and bottom, then cut the rind away from the sides. Don’t throw away the top, bottom, or rind yet!

Go deep enough that you don’t have to keep cutting away to get rid of the brown eyes. Are they called eyes on pineapples like on potatoes? Google says yes.

4. Cut the pineapple meat away from the core.

I like to cut the meat off in four pieces, leaving a rectangular core. An average size pineapple will give you about 1.5 pounds of pineapple.

How to save money on groceries: Don't waste! How to cut up a pineapple to minimize waste.

Pineapple meat: about 1.5 pounds.


OK, this is where the Indian part comes in:

5. Over a bowl or measuring cup (anything wide enough to not drip all over the counter), squeeze the top, bottom, and rind to make freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

You’ll get about half a cup of juice, depending on who is squeezing, how ripe your pineapple is, and how deeply you cut into the pineapple. This is great fun for Jameson. I wouldn’t bother letting anyone under 6 wring out the rinds as they’d probably make more mess than juice but not everyone has my low threshold for sticky. Serve it up right away; once I left it in the fridge for 2 days and it was already moldy.

Save money on groceries by minimizing waste in the kitchen. How to cut up a pineapple.

2 mini cups of freshly squeezed pineapple juice!


6. Cut the core into strips, then into chunks.

Save money on groceries by minimizing waste. How to cut up a pineapple.

Save the pineapple core to use in smoothies!

You can eat these; sometimes I do. But I’ve decided that the best way to use a pineapple core is in a smoothie. I flash freeze it then bag it so that the chunks stay separated in the freezer.

And that’s how you save money in the kitchen: you don’t throw away anything before considering potential uses for your scraps and leftovers. With each pineapple purchase you now get two bonus products: a serving of freshly squeezed pineapple juice and a cup of smoothie fixins.

What do you use up that other people throw away?

Awesome Mom of the Week: Rachel Martin – Finding Joy

Awesome Mom of the Week: Rachel Martin of Finding Joy.

I’ve been Amening every facebook update by Hands Free Mama but just realized this morning that she often quotes Rachel Martin – and I know why: Rachel Martin is the little old lady at the grocery store, the one right behind you when your big kid is driving the cashier crazy by pushing his secret code on the credit card keypad and your little one is fingering all of the forbidden kid-level delights, who smiles and sweetly says, “Enjoy it, Honey. It goes by so fast.”

You know, the sweet old lady you’re pretty sure was horrible to her own kids and entertains herself by twisting a knife in the gut of a naive young mom because she can get away with it – because no one ever questions old people.  The sweet old lady you’d tell to fuck off if only your kids weren’t right there, miraculously listening and not listening I’m not buying gum – Yes it’s the cutest little doll put it back – Jefferson, you heard the cashier – lay off the keypad simultaneously.

OK so we can all agree that we hate the guilt-inducing old lady at the grocery store. Rachel Martin is that old lady, except she’s a mom. A mom with little kids, not grown up kids – I can trust someone who is in the trenches. She has a great outlook on living life with small children. Yes it’s still guilt-inducing but that’s my hangup, not her intention.

dear in a minute mom

“In a minute, Caleb.

I kept moving. Finishing all I needed to do. The book? It just sat there on the old plaid couch next to the leaf pillow on a stack of books that were waiting to be read. It sat there till the next morning, this morning, when I sat down with a piping hot mug of coffee and my netbook and a quiet house with which to work. I looked over at the book, the well-worn and read book, and thought of that six year old sleeping upstairs waiting for the in a minute minute to come.”

How To Save Money On Groceries: Use It Up!

The easiest way to save money on groceries is to not waste food.

Food costs money, so wasting food is wasting money. Simple enough.

I won’t waste food even when the waste is negligible. Case in point: mustard.

This is a job for Super Spatula, but of course you can’t use a spatula on a squeeze bottle. You can, however, make your palm sting like a bitch for an hour by smacking the bottom of said squeeze bottle until every last drop is squirted out and your entire counter is coated with a fine mustard mist.

Jameson goes through a bottle each of mustard and ketchup every two weeks so I always stock backups. “More in the back” is the enemy of frugality: I’m way more likely to waste food when I know a fresh bottle, bag, or container is in the pantry. 

I call this phenomenon “Costco Syndrome”.

Save Money On Groceries: Use It Up!

As you can see here, an “empty” mustard bottle gave Jefferson not one, but two BLTs worth of mustardy goodness. I probably didn’t even save a penny, but it did make me happy. And maybe some day I’ll forget to buy mustard and we’ll need it, and because I saved now it will be there. Maybe not. But I like to keep the Use It Up mindset all the time, so that I am constantly saving food and money. This Depression era chant [made popular by WWII propaganda posters] is a constant hum in my brain:

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, Or Do Without!

What grocery items do you use up completely?

Teaching Kids Compassion: Family Does.

How do you teach compassion to your kids?  My flippant answer is that as human beings they’re wired with a conscience and one facet of a conscience is the ability to feel empathy and sympathy for other humans.  But think about how we power through our days now:  Kids go to school, to activities, to more activities, home for more school — beyond the “Awareness” bake sale or the photo op ladling soup at the shelter, when do kids get to learn that we humans are morally bound to feel for and to help one another?  (That’s help with time and physical effort, not money.  Money is necessary of course but it’s not the tie that binds.)

Unfortunately the most common opportunity to teach kids compassion is in an emergency:  sickness or death or an act of God.  There are some fun opportunities too, like helping someone move, or taking a meal to a family with a new baby, but real compassion goes beyond just helping out; as my cousin told my grandma who was fretting yesterday about all the trouble she was giving everyone:  “Family does.  We’re in a crisis situation.  Family does.”

This is how you teach kids compassion:  You take them with you to help in crisis situations.

How do you teach kids compassion?  Let them help!

This is what we’re working on today: Washing Grandma’s laundry.

You don’t leave them with your husband.  You don’t put them in the back room to watch TV.  You don’t say, “They’re too little; they can’t help/understand/see this.”

Obviously there are exceptions to this — don’t expose your kids to anything horrific or dangerous.

Do give your kids the chance to feel for someone else, to really work to make life better for the people closest to them.  You’ll be amazed at what kids are capable of when they’re allowed out of their bubble.

I took the kids with me yesterday to help my grandma get things out of her house and clean them.  She had an electrical fire last week and found out the hard way that her insurance does not cover cleaning or replacing any of her belongings.  I really didn’t have a choice whether to take the kids as I don’t let anyone watch them except my grandma.  My plan was to put them in the back room to watch TV at my aunt’s house (next door to Grandma’s) while we worked.

I told the kids we’d be there a long time, maybe all day, and that they really needed to be on their very best behavior so that they wouldn’t worry Cathy (my cousin) or aunt or grandma.  I  didn’t plan for them to help at all.

I knew they were curious about what Grandma’s house looks like now so I told them to take a deep breath and hold it, run in and look, then run back out and breathe. Of course they stopped short when they saw how awful everything was, and gasped and tried to see the hole in the roof which was just a big black void as there was no electricity — I think that was more scary than seeing the actual hole in the ceiling.

They ran back outside and I thought the’d start complaining — “Ew, it stinks!”  “What a mess!” etc.  Instead, they started helping.  They followed me into the house over and over, carrying Grandma’s clothes out and over to my aunt’s house.  At first I stupidly tried to dissuade them from helping:  I don’t want you breathing the smoke in there.  Just stay at Bonnie’s.

“Please, please let me help! I’m not too little!” pleaded Jameson.

I’m so happy she gave me the chance to correct my major parenting error by not backing down.

The kids did their fair share of TV watching too — Jefferson said, “You know that phrase ‘too much of a good thing’?  We had too much of a good thing today with the TV.”  But they both worked hard at jobs they could do — like taking the clothes out and washing down hangers and asked what else they could do to help.  Do.  Family does.

I am sorry for all of the trouble my grandma has to go through because of the fire. But I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn compassion this crisis offers my kids.  And I’m thankful that my persistent kids didn’t let me miss that opportunity.

Awesome Mom of the Week: Hollie McNish, Breastfeeding Advocate: “Embarrassed”

Awesome Mom of the Week — maybe of the year in my book.  I’ve seen Hollie McNish’s “Embarrassed” everywhere — GOOD!  Though I’m past the breastfeeding stage I am always happy to watch media take hold of a social issue to inform and sway the opinions of morons.