Thursday, November 13, 2014


Cleaning, surprisingly, costs us a lot of money.  We have to have one cleaner for wood, another for glass, an all-purpose, an abrasive, something for toilets, etc.  That doesn't even touch on sponges, cloths, brushes, or other instruments of delivery.  Nor does it address dishes or laundry.  So let's talk about savings in some of these areas.


Have you ever tried making your own dishwasher or laundry detergent?  I haven't done laundry yet, but I will need to sometime within the next few weeks.  I have made my own dishwasher detergent, though.  I made it over a year ago, and at only one tablespoon per load, I still have about 1/3 of the batch left!  The only caveat is that I've had to buy a lot more rinse aid than I ever have before, just to keep my glassware not only clean, but also looking clean (I always find coupons for Jet-Dri, though!).  Here are some detergent recipes to get you started:

Dishwasher Detergent (this is the one that I use, but I didn't bother with the Lemi-Shine or drink mix for fragrance) (and in case you're wondering about hard vs. soft water, I have very hard water, and this works just great!)
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Cubes (I think I might try these when my powdered stuff runs out)
Homemade Laundry Detergent

On pretty much each and every tutorial/recipe/blog post I've ever read about making your own detergent, it has said that you can just find washing soda (similar to, but different from, baking soda) in the laundry aisle.  I have never seen it in a store.  Ever.  I've heard rumors that you can sometimes find it at Walmart, and it is available on their website.  However, when I got mine, I actually bought it from a friend who had bought a package of three or four boxes of it on Amazon, which seemed to be the most reliable way to find it.  You can find it on Amazon here.


Dry cleaning.  Sometimes you just can't get around it.  But it's expensive, right?  Here is a tutorial on 3 Ways to Wash a Dry Clean Only Garment.

I can't remember the last time I used a dryer sheet at home.  Not for softening, not for static, and not for fragrance.  I use dryer balls exclusively.  Dryer balls serve many functions.  They get in between all your clothes, lifting and fluffing them nicely.  That helps them dry more effectively, and helps prevent both wrinkle and static.  All of that adds up to keeping cloth feeling softer as well.  Dryer balls do need to be replaced every so often, but the savings stretch out quite a bit.  There are a few different varieties as well:

the original "as seen on TV" dryer balls
aluminum foil dryer balls (great for absorbing static electricity) (and yes, they're safe -- my MIL uses them without any problems)
wool dryer balls (quieter than plastic, hypoallergenic, and they're more eco-friendly)
3 ways to make your own felted wool dryer balls (you don't need any sewing/crafting skill for these!) (the first method is the kind of dryer balls I have and love!)

If you still prefer actual fabric softener, you can still save money on it:

Homemade Liquid Fabric Softener Recipes Tested!
DIY Reusable Dryer Sheets


General cleaning. Instead of dish sponges, you can crochet or buy your own dish cloths. Here are some ideas for where to buy dish cloths:

Fjorn Scandinavian (super cute cloths!)
Amazon (an eco-friendly option)

Who doesn't love Mr. Clean Magic Erasers?  They're like a fountain of youth for cleaning walls of homes with young children -- a miracle potion!  But they're not cheap.  Compare a four-pack of the name brand original version at $3.47/box, with the generic "melamine foam" you can buy on eBay for $4.59 for a 30 count.

Swiffers are awesome.  They replace both broom and mop for regular (not deep-cleaning) use.  But replacing the cloth can add up over time.  You can make your own with fabric and some basic stitching.  Or you can even go way simpler than that with some of the suggestions found here: Homemade "Swiffer."

Homes in Northeast Ohio have beautiful hardwood floors, which offer a classic and timeless look, but also require maintenance.  In order to preserve the beauty and construction of true hardwood, you should use a hardwood-specific cleaner.  However, you can make your own that, again, has the dual benefit of being less expensive and all-natural: DIY Homemade Cleaners {Hardwood Floor Cleaner}.

There are a lot of cleaning products that you use regularly in your home that you can probably make, by purchasing ingredients instead of pre-made solutions.  When you do it this way, you know what's going into your cleaners, and you can save money by using the same ingredient for multiple cleaners.  Making it yourself also tends to produce a higher concentrate, which means you can make your solutions last longer than a store-bought product.  Plus, you get to turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab when you mix!  Here are 32 Brilliant Homemade Cleaning Recipes for a Frugal Household.


The last thing I want to share in the "cleaning" section is a book I came across several years ago.  My mom had this book, and it was so helpful that I asked her to send me a copy of it on my mission.  Technically, I suppose that was probably contraband, but it was helpful, and in no way distracting from preaching the Gospel.  Rather, it helped me keep my apartments clean and ready for the Spirit.  It's called Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean, and it's written by Linda Cobb, who has been widely recognized as the go-to cleaning expert for such television shows as Oprah, Dr. Phil, The View, The Today Show, and Live with Regis & Kelly.

Grocery price comparison information

Here's the big one.  This is the catalyst by which I was asked to teach the workshop at Stake Women's Conference.  I sent the following to my ward Relief Society email list in May of this year, and received a lot of feedback.  Rather than re-type and re-explain it all, I'll just be copying the full text here.


I wanted to share something with you that falls into the "provident living" category. Bear with me, because this email is going to be long, but I hope that it will be beneficial to at least some of you.

For Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a coupon binder. It's a system that she's used for a few years now and has been successful for her. She made one for her mom (my mother-in-law), and I started expressing interest in it. I've long needed an efficient coupon system but never found one. So she made one for me for Christmas.

The binder has dividers for various categories (baby supplies, frozen foods, meat, healthy/beauty, snack foods, cleaning supplies, etc.) as well as sections for store-specific and restaurant coupons at the back. Each section has plastic sheet protectors for sorting the coupons into. Some people use baseball card pages, others use business card pages. But the idea is to get each coupon in its own slot, where you can see the front and back of it. There's also an index at the front, so if you don't remember whether rice is under "dry goods" or "international/ethnic food," you can check. (If you're creating your own categories, however, you can put things wherever you want…I'm just still using the categories my SIL set up for me.)

At the front of the binder is a store price comparison sheet, which actually gets to the crux of my email today. I finally finished my own version of this document, and thought it might be helpful to each of you as well. It might look overwhelming, so I'd like to offer some explanation.

To start, I chose five stores to compare: Giant Eagle, Heinen's, Aldi, BJ's, and GFS. A little quick info on each of these, if you're new to the area or aren't familiar with them:

  • Giant Eagle: the big grocery store chain in the area. Anything and everything you need, basically. Reasonable prices but not great ones.
  • Heinen's: a locally owned grocery chain. More upscale, trendy. Lower selection, higher prices. The only time I really shop here is when I need something now, because it's closest to my home.
  • Aldi: a low-cost grocery chain based out of Germany. Its parent company also owns Trader Joe's. Aldi carries a lot of propriety and/or "off" brands. They have consistently low prices, but not a ton of selection. They accept cash or debit cards, but no credit cards or checks. You need to bring your own bags. In order to get a shopping cart, you need a quarter, which you get back when you return the cart to the corral. As far as I know, Aldi does not accept manufacturer coupons.
  • BJ's: similar to Costco and Sam's Club, just less ubiquitous. Located on Richmond Road near I-271 in Warrensville Heights. BJ's has a $50 annual membership fee, accepts manufacturer coupons, and is otherwise a fairly basic big box store.
  • GFS is located on Cedar Road in South Euclid, just west of Warrensville Center Road. GFS is a foodservice distributor and paper goods store. You can purchase many basic items in bulk, similar to at a big box store, but without the annual membership. The selection is limited, and many of the brands are proprietary and/or generic. They've got disposable bakeware and storage for super cheap prices, though. GFS does not accept manufacturer coupons, but you can sign up (via email) to receive in-store offers and coupons.

I've lived in the Cleveland area for almost seven years now, and regularly shop at Giant Eagle and BJ's. But when I received this binder as a gift, I decided to actually do the price comparison sheet. I'd been to Aldi once or twice before, but had been mostly unimpressed. I wanted to force myself to really look at the products I purchase the most, and where I could find savings. So I made a list of 41 of the things I find most frequently on my grocery list, and/or things I like to keep a stock of. Then I got nerdy. I made spreadsheets. I spent several hours visiting all of the stores, and making notes. I wrote down brand names, prices, quantities, notes about the product, etc. I started at the beginning of March, and it's taken me until this morning to finish this project (with a few long breaks).

I've attached a copy of the spreadsheet, which is quite extensive. There are several pages to it – a couple of master sheets, as well as individual pages for each store. I also went seriously formula-crazy and brought all the individual information into one big summary page, which is what I will print out and keep in my binder. The page titles are as follows: Group sheet master, Group sheet, Individual sheet master, Giant Eagle, Heinen's, Aldi, BJ's, GFS. The master sheets are mostly for copy-and-paste purposes.

On the group sheet, I have not hand-entered any of the numbers/data. Each cell (brand, price, units) is linked to the corresponding information in the individual sheets. That way, if Giant Eagle changes their price on flour, for example, or Aldi changes the brand of chips they're offering, I can update my sheet in one location and all relevant changes are made, instead of having to find it in multiple places. Unit prices are determined by calculations, and are also not manually entered. I've also done my best to ensure that the unit measurements are the same within each item. For example, instead of using 2 lbs of cheese from one store and 8 oz from another, I changed it to 2 lbs and .5 lbs. That does not mean that all unit measurements are the same across all items. Some are pounds, some are ounces, some are fluid ounces, some are individual counts, etc. That's where the notes on the individual pages come in.

Generally speaking, I chose the lowest priced brand. Exceptions to this were when I knew the brand wasn't very good (Giant Eagle's Valutime, for instance), or had little selection in flavors or varieties. There are very few items about which I'm brand-picky, and most of those aren't on this list anyway. I also recorded regular prices. None of the prices are sale ones, even if one of the products was on sale when I visited. I made sure only to compare base prices.

You'll see that I found more lower prices at BJ's than I did at GFS, and I imagine the results would be similar at Costco or Sam's Club. Remember though, that you pay an overhead for the big box stores, which is what helps keep those prices low. GFS requires no membership or commitment.

If a section is grayed out, it means that either the store does not stock that particular item, or that they didn't have it on the day I visited. The lowest priced store is highlighted in yellow for each item. I've tried to group similar items together (dry/baking goods, dairy, snack foods, condiments, etc.) in a way that makes sense to me.

Feel free to tailor this to your own family's needs. I'm sending it to you as a fully-editable Excel spreadsheet. You'll just need to download it in order to make changes.

Some suggestions for personalized changes:

  • Do your own price evaluations for Costco instead of BJ's.
  • Check prices for ground beef instead of ground turkey.
  • Check prices for condiments and sauces that your family uses a lot.
  • Switch prices to reflect your preferred brand on a particular item(s).

As I said, the products I evaluated are only ones that I was particularly interested in, and I know they won't be the same for everyone.

This is a tool that I hope to update for myself every year (possibly twice a year, now that I have the framework in place and it would be easy to just update where necessary). I hope that it will be beneficial to many of you as you navigate the family budget.


You can find the spreadsheet/workbook here, and you can download it to personalize for your needs:
Grocery Price Comparison Sheet.

In the kitchen

Groceries are probably the biggest money-sucker for most of us, and the area we want to cut our budget most, so that we can spend money elsewhere.  This post includes just a smattering of suggestions to help in that department.

Put it on ice!
Freezable Foods

How many times have you purchased a bundle of cilantro, parsley, or basil at the grocery store, used the 1/4 cup called for in a recipe, and ended up throwing out the rest?  Stop doing that!  You can freeze and/or dry fresh herbs so easily, saving money on dried seasonings later on, and not wasting what you've already purchased!

Drying Herbs: Easier Than You Think
Freezing Herbs (just the leaves by themselves...yes, you can!)
Freeze & Preserve Fresh Herbs in Olive Oil
Pesto Freezing Method


Just like furniture and electronics are available at the lowest prices during difference times of the year, so are groceries.  If you have the space in your home to stock up, buying certain items in bulk when they're at their lowest, and storing them, can save you a lot of money.

Grocery Store Cycles -- When Do Things Go On Sale?

Knowing how much you're spending (or how much you could be saving somewhere else) can also make a big difference in your bottom line as well.  I address this more in-depth in another blog post, which you can find here: Grocery price comparison information.


Many people use a lot of pre-made dry mixes in their home, for baking.  Have you ever thought about making your own versions?  There are so many you can do!  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Mixes, mixes, mixes! (includes brownie, all-purpose, tortilla, pancake/waffle, cornbread, and muffin mixes)
Universal muffin mix
Copycat Recipe -- Homemade Bisquick
Marie Callendar's cornbread copycat
Garlic bread topping
14 Homemade Herb & Spice Blends
Homemade "Cream of" Soup Mix


Other things you can DIY in order to save money in the kitchen:

  • Homemade Microwave Popcorn
  • Bake your own bread.  This can seem really daunting, but it doesn't have to be.  Here is a great tutorial to get you started with baking bread, and understanding different aspects of it. I have a Pinterest board dedicated just to bread.  There are a lot of recipes on there for quick breads, various types of sweet or savory rolls, and more, but there are also several varieties of sandwich-style bread.  This is the recipe that I really like to use.
  • Did you know that you can actually freeze bread dough?  It might sound odd, and it is a little tricky at first, but I've done it successfully several times.  This blog post will walk you through the steps of how to do it.  Basically, after the dough finishes its first rise, you shape it and put it into the loaf pan, wrap it up, and freeze it directly in the pan.  When you want to use it, you need to pull it out of the freezer several hours in advance, because it will need to thaw completely and finish its second rise before you can bake it.  If you want bread with your dinner, you'll need to pull it out of the freezer at breakfast time.  If you want to bake it in the morning, get it out after dinner the night before.  This way, you can make bread/dough once a week (or every two weeks, or whatever) and have hot, freshly baked bread whenever you want!
  • Make your own pizza crust.  This is a pretty straight-forward recipe, which I use and love.  (My only tip on it is to actually weigh the flour, rather than trying to convert to volume.)  This dough also freezes pretty well, but like the bread, needs adequate advance time to thaw completely.
  • DIY smoothie freezer packets can be found here, here, and here.  They're all basically the same, just with different ideas for ingredients.  Really, you can just freeze all the fruits/veggies you want to add, and even the yogurt.  Just be sure to add your liquid directly to the blender when you make the smoothie.

Around the home

Decorating your home can get expensive quickly.  Sometimes the only way around that is to not decorate.  But there are ways to feather your nest without draining your nest egg.

Here are some sites with home decor money-saving tips.  The biggest tool you have, though, is to upcycle and reuse what you already have at home -- move things around from one room to another if you need to freshen a little!

11 Ideas for Designing on a Budget
20 Low-Cost Decorating Ideas
The Budget Decorator
Ways to Save Money on Home Decor

The last decorating idea I'll give you is a link to my Pinterest board about art in the home.  Most of the things that I've pinned there are projects that are meant to be made, rather than purchased, and can/should be personalized to your own colors, etc.  I recognize that many of these ideas may not be very widely applicable to everyone's tastes or decorating styles.  It's meant only as a starting point, and a demonstration of the power and versatility of doing it yourself.


Decorating and/or furnishing your home is one area in which you also have to spend money (usually) before you can save money.  For example, I know several families who don't use paper napkins.  At all.  They have several sets of cloth napkins that they rotate through and wash between uses.  It's an investment at the beginning, but over the long-term, saves money.  You can either buy napkins already made, or find fabric on sale and sew your own.  Here are a couple of tutorials/patterns for sewing napkins.  They're super easy, even for a beginner.

Sewing 101: Mitered Napkins
Sewing Cloth Napkins
How to Sew Simple Cloth Dinner Napkins (includes suggestions for upcycling cloth/fabric that you already have!)


Did you know that certain things are less expensive at specific times throughout the year?  If you know when to buy, you can save money.

Best Time of Year to Buy Essentials
The Best Time to Buy Things, Month by Month

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Canning resources

Canning, if you've never done it before, might seem very daunting.  If you have done it, you know that it is definitely a lot of work and time, but it's also quite gratifying.  Here are some sites that can help you get started with understand the science and processes, as well as some recipes also.

Fresh Preserving (Ball's website)
The Ohio State University Extension's Fact Sheet on canning basics
A Beginner's Guide to Canning | Serious Eats's Canning Store
my Pinterest board on canning

Gardening resources

Gardening can seem like an expensive endeavor, and it is at first.  But if you do it right, and tend it well throughout the season, the fruits (literally) of your labors will not only save you money in the long run, but will leave you quite satisfied.  Here are some resources for you to get started and keep going.

I Dig My Garden forum
Farmer's Almanac
Smart Gardener
OSU School of Agriculture
my Pinterest board on gardening
make your own Miracle-Gro
make your own weed-killer (this has the double benefit of saving money and being chemical-free!)

Secondhand shopping

There are a few different ways to shop secondhand.  You can do it virtually, or in a brick-and-mortar store.

Here are a couple of websites where you can find secondhand deals:

Craigslist: Cleveland
Cleveland East Side Area And Suburbs Sell, Trade, Swap, Barter & Buy Facebook Group
Cleveland, Ohio East Side Freecycle

And some local secondhand stores as well:

Unique Thrift
Salvation Army
Plato's Closet (consignment)
Once Upon A Child (consignment, owned by the same company as Plato's Closet)
Clothes Mentor (consignment)
Avalon Exchange (consignment and vintage)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Deals sites

Who doesn't love a good deal?  Here are some "group deal" websites that are both popular and reliable.

Amazon Local
Plum District

Other daily deal/flash deal sites that aren't dependent upon the number of orders received:

Amazon Gold Box Deals

Rewards sites

Here are some rewards sites out there.  In other words, you get money back just for doing what you already do.

A search engine that pulls results from Google and Bing, but is ad-funded.  As you earn bucks, you can redeem them for rewards, sweepstakes entries, or gift cards to popular retailers such as Target and Amazon.  There are a variety of ways to earn, including surveys, polls, and shop-and-earn, in addition to just searching.

A cash-back/shop-and-earn rewards site.

Snap by Groupon
A new app from group deal site Groupon.  Download the app to your smartphone (or use the website), do your regular grocery shopping, snap a quick picture of your receipt, and upload it to the app/site!  Once you reach a certain cash-back threshold, they'll send you a check.  You get cash back on a variety of items, and it doesn't matter where you do your shopping.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Art of Living Providently, and the Economics of Saving Money

The following is roughly the text that I worked from to make my presentation.


When we talk about “Provident Living” in the church, what do we usually talk about?

  • Food storage
  • Water storage
  • Staying out of debt
  • Having a savings account

Those are all good things, but we’re not going to talk about them today.  Those things tend to fall under the idea of “provident planning.”

What happens if you flip the words around, and instead of “Provident Living,” we talk about “Living Providently.”  What do you think of then?

  • Saving money on a regular basis
  • Paying off debts
  • Being a wise and prudent steward
  • Not being wasteful
  • Couponing
  • Recycling, reusing, upcycling

Provident Living can sometimes induce guilt, or feelings of “not good enough” – not enough food storage, not a good couponer, etc.  We’re going to talk today about being provident on a daily basis – living the idea, instead of just preparing for it.


I’ve been thinking about this class for about a month and a half now, and the best title I could come up with that was the most all encompassing was “Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget,” but I didn’t think that it would be approved as an appropriate title for a church activity.  Other working titles I came up with included:

  • “Not Your Mother-in-Law’s Couponing Class”
  • “Fabric Napkins: Not Just for Guests Anymore”

Here’s what this class isn’t:

  • This isn’t a couponing class.  I’ll talk about coupons, but it’s not a couponing class.
  • This isn’t a budgeting class.  I’m not a numbers girl.
  • This isn’t a guilt-inducing class.  We give ourselves enough grief already.

What I hope to accomplish is to give you some tools that can help you stretch your budget, and to get you thinking about where and how you spend your money.  There’s a scientific principle that says that the act of observing something changes the very nature of the thing.  And that’s how I came to be teaching this class.


How many of you use coupons on a regular basis?  How many of you don’t, but wish that you did?  Why don’t you?  For me, I never had a good system.  I’d forget that I had clipped them, and forgot to bring them with me.  So I bought a small accordion folder, and sorted them into categories.  I stored the folder in a drawer in my kitchen, and forgot to bring it with me.  Finally, I decided that coupons just weren’t worth it for me.

But I know that they can be.  My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are big couponers, for things that they need and use.  And I was raised by a couponing mom.  I’ve seen first-hand what couponing, done right, can do for money saving.  I wanted to make them worth it for me.

For Christmas last year, my sister-in-law gave me a coupon binder.  It’s a copy of her system, and I’m pleased to say that it’s worked for me.  It’s big enough that I can’t just tuck it out of sight and forget about it.  It goes on a shelf in my kitchen, right next to my recipe binder, so I see it and reach it (or next to it) often.  It’s a simple three-ring binder, with divided sections for different categories, and page protectors to hold coupons.  Mine has business card sized sleeves, but baseball card ones would work, too.  The thing that really caught my interest, though, was at the front of the binder: a price comparison sheet.

A brief tangent: I’ve lived in Shaker Heights for seven-and-a-half years now.  I’ve shopped primarily at Giant Eagle, and either Sam’s Club or BJ’s the entire time I’ve been here.  I’ve tried Aldi a few times, but I found it unsatisfying.  I know a lot of people who shop there almost exclusively, though, and love it.  I decided to try an experiment.

Over a month-long period toward the beginning of this year, I visited five different stores, and recorded price information on about 40 grocery items at each one.  I visited Giant Eagle, Aldi, Heinens, GFS, and BJ’s.  I wrote down which brand I was recording, the price, the unit size, and any other notes that I thought might be relevant.  It was a lot of work, especially with a toddler in tow.  But I really felt like it was something I needed to do, if for no other reason than the scientific principle I mentioned earlier.  Once I collected all the data, I put together a spreadsheet to compare things.  I plugged in formulas, cross-referenced, and color-coded.  I calculated the per-unit prices of each of the 40ish items I evaluated, to find out where they were the least expensive.  I found that Aldi and BJ’s had the lowest prices in general, which really came as no surprise.

(By the end of this project, I decided that I had put so much work into it that I couldn’t just keep it to myself.  I knew that others could and would benefit from it, so I sent the spreadsheet to my ward, along with a long explanatory email.  That email is what brought me to the attention of the stake Relief Society presidency, and why I was asked to teach this class today.)

I mentioned before that I found Aldi unsatisfying.  There were too many things that they didn’t carry, so I still ended up going somewhere else to buy them anyway.  And without having an Aldi already conveniently located along my route, plus having to return the cart to get my quarter back while I’ve got a toddler with me in the snow, well, it just wasn’t worth regular visits.

However, I’d now observed how much money I could actually be saving if I shopped at Aldi instead of at Giant Eagle, or somewhere else.  Having seen those numbers, I did change my shopping plans somewhat.  I still do most of my regular weekly (or bi-weekly) shopping at Giant Eagle.  Every couple of months, though, I visit Aldi for a stock-up trip.


At this point, I want to stop talking about numbers, and talk about finding balance in saving money.  Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of having to pinch ever available penny, stick rigidly within a budget, and struggle to make ends meet from one paycheck to another.  I will talk a little later about that.  Other times, we either want or need to save money in order to put it toward a vacation, a car, a gadget, a nest egg, or something else.  Or we just want to live prudently.  In those cases, we sometimes have the luxury of choosing our savings battles.

How many of you are parents?  As a parent, have you ever found yourself on one side of a fight with your child, only to realize that the struggle isn’t worth it?  As parents, we find ourselves constantly choosing our battles – what’s worth arguing over, and what isn’t.  Each family will evaluate these situations differently for them, and often even differently for each child within a family.  Saving money also requires choosing battles.

Will you drive all over kingdom-come just to save two dollars on three boxes of cereal?  Or is that not worth it to you?  How much are you spending in gas, in order to visit four different stores?  How much time?  Do you have children in tow, that make errands longer and more stressful?

We each need to evaluate our own situations, and find a good balance between saving money and saving sanity.

For example, I use a lot of ground turkey in my cooking.  Giant Eagle only carries it fresh, not frozen.  It costs $8.99 for 3 pounds, or $3 per pound.  Aldi carries frozen ground turkey, for $1.69 per pound.  That’s barely over half the cost as Giant Eagle.  That’s a huge difference, and for me, it’s worth making the out of the way trip, and stocking up.  Fortunately, I have a deep freezer, so I’m able to buy a lot of it at once.

By doing a stock-up trip for ground turkey and other things, I only visit Aldi about once every 2-3 months, instead of weekly.  That’s a good balance for me.

Another savings battle to think about is brands.  Do you only buy brand name, or do you buy generic products?  Generic is almost always less expensive, but sometimes it’s also significantly cheaper.  The difference is that you get what you pay for, sometimes.  And sometimes, those savings aren’t worth it.  I, for example, will never again buy a generic brand of plastic wrap.  The last time I did, I probably got to use less than half the roll, because it stuck to itself so badly that I kept throwing it in the trash and getting more.


How many of you create meal plans on a regular basis?  Do you do it based on what you already have in the house, or do you do it before you do your grocery shopping?

Going to the store with a plan in hand will help you save money.  You’ll be less likely to make impulse and/or unnecessary purchases when you have a specific list.  I plan out my family’s dinner meals about a week-and-a-half at a time, and then build a grocery list based on what ingredients I need for those meals, and then round out the list with other household staples (bread for lunch sandwiches, eggs and milk for breakfast, chips for snacks, fruit, etc.).

This is also where you can use coupons more effectively.  Some people clip coupons for anything and everything that catches their eye.  Sometimes I do this.  I don’t actually use all of them though.  The way to do coupons right is to use them for things you’re already buying anyway.  Things you know you’ll use.  Sometimes these things are on your list, and sometimes they’re not.  I mentioned that I shop at BJ’s, which is similar to Costco – it’s just closer to my house.  BJ’s sends coupon books to its members, and one thing I frequently find coupons for in their books is large bags of Craisins.  My daughters and husband love to snack on Craisins.  So even if I don’t necessarily need more right then, I’ll buy them while I have the coupon, because I know that we do and will eat them.

One trick to using coupons effectively is to not marry yourself to one particular brand of anything.  If you only ever buy Ragu pasta sauce for example, you’ll miss out on savings from coupons for Presto and Bertolli.

Another trick is to make sure that you’re actually saving money.  If Ragu is $1.99 for a 24 oz. jar, and Bertolli is $2.49 for a 24 oz. jar, and you have a coupon f or $0.25 off a jar of Bertolli, it’s still cheaper to buy the Ragu.  It may even be less expensive still to buy generic.


I’d like to talk a little bit about what to do when we’re in that situation where we absolutely, positively, have no other choice but to pinch those pennies.

When I was a young teenager, my family found ourselves in dire financial straits.  I won’t go into the details, but I will share a little background.  My dad was making about $103k per year at his job.  Due to a number of reasons, my family moved out of state, and my dad took a new job, making only about $52k per year.  We were a family of five, and he had just taken a 50% pay cut.  This is why I was raised by a couponing mother.  I remember driving around to the three big grocery stores in town, buying the best deals, and maximizing our coupons.  We stacked and doubled them.  (Stores don’t double coupons nearly as much as they used to, and it’s not always easy to find stackable coupons either, which are when you use a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item.)  We had a big food storage.  We had, a few years earlier, come out of a period of unemployment, and weren’t sure we weren’t going to be finding ourselves there again.

My mom went to great lengths to stretch our money as far as she could.  Like I said, there were other circumstances that I won’t go into, which made things a bigger deal that they may sound like on the surface.  We didn’t just use the coupons that came in our Sunday paper or our weekly circular.  My mom contacted the local newspapers, and spoke with the person in charge of whatever department dealt with the coupons, circulars, etc.  She learned that whatever newspapers (and coupons) were printed and not distributed, were just discarded.  All those coupons that could be used, that manufacturers authorized, went to waste.  She made arrangements to come once a week and collect the unused store ads and manufacturer coupons.

A lot of times, store coupons will “limit one per customer per visit.”  There are ways around that, which we did use, but my mom preferred to stay above-board.  I do remember times when she would go through one line, I’d go through another, and my sister would go through a third, maximizing our use of coupons.  One thing I didn’t know then, but that she told me while I prepared for this class, was that she also spoke with the store managers.  When we first started this (perhaps) extreme couponing journey, and each time a store got a new manager, she would approach them, explain our family’s situation, and how she legitimately obtained additional coupons.  In each case, the managers thanked her for being upfront with them, and didn’t object to our methods.  The mantra she lived by at this time was “never take ‘no’ from someone who doesn’t have the authority to say ‘yes.’”

Even within couponing and driving around, she found other ways to save.  One simple way was that instead of buying individual lunch-sized bags of chips, she bought a big bag of Cheetos (or whatever was on sale), and divided them up individually.  That saved so much money in packaging.  At the time, my brother, sister, and I were all in school.  We each packed a lunch.  That’s 15 lunches per week, not to mention my dad packing a lunch to work.  If you assume that we each packed a sandwich, a bag of chips, and some grapes (for example), that’s 45 individual baggies per week.  A 100-count box of Ziploc sandwich-sized bags would be gone in two weeks.  So much for saving on packaging.

This was an area that ended up coming as an embarrassment to us as kids, but that (apparently) saved the family a respectable about of money.

We didn’t not have resealable bags in our home.  We just didn’t use them as often.  My mom saved bags of every stripe, and reused them.  The bag from one loaf of bread, now empty, could be knotted in half, cut just below the knot, and used for two sandwiches.

We washed and reused the resealable bags that we did have, within reason.  If they’d been home to raw meat and marinade, they usually just ended up in the trash.  Same thing with aluminum foil.  As a teenager, I hated all this.  It was embarrassing, it was a hassle, and I just didn’t understand the whole picture enough to know why we needed this.

I was old enough during that time in my family’s life that I remember clearly the way things were.  The sacrifices that we made in the grocery arena allowed us to still maintain a reasonable quality of life in other areas.  We still went out to dinner as a family about once a month.  We still had ice cream and treats.  The scrimping and saving that my mom did, and the hours that she spent obtaining, clipping, and organizing our coupons, she did so that us kids wouldn’t notice a huge change from before.


My mom is a strong woman, and she loves her family fiercely.  She didn’t do all this alone.  I mentioned before that my siblings and I went with her on these grocery errands.  But more than that, she involved us in the process.  Remember that math from a few minutes ago?  Three bags per lunch, 3 lunches a day, 5 days a week = 45 bags?  We talked about that in Family Home Evening once.  We talked about working together to save money, with the bread bag technique, bagging our own chips, and more.

I think my mom involved us kids partly so that she and my dad weren’t alone in the journey, and partly for the same reason I made myself do the grocery price comparison I talked about earlier.  She wanted us to be mindful.  When we knew more, we understood better why we did certain things.  This, I think, is an eternal principle.  The scriptures tell us that “…unto whomever much is given, of him shall be much required.”  We are encouraged to seek knowledge, and greater spiritual understanding.  With those things comes greater accountability to the Lord.  As my mom involved us in the process, we came to better realize the consequences – good or bad – of choices that we made.

While I again admit that I really did not like some of the reusing methods my mom employed at the time, I am forever grateful for the lessons I learned from her and my dad in my youth: lessons of prudence, frugality, stewardship, and hard work.


Alright, to finish up the class, I’d like to talk about some practical real examples of things you can do to save money, and things I do.

Did you know you can make your own dishwasher detergent?  Laundry soap?  Lots of other home cleaners as well.  Not only does this have the benefit of saving money, you also cut down on chemicals in your home.

How about cereal?  I have a homemade granola recipe that it to die for.

How well do you know your over-the-counter medications?  What is the generic name for Tylenol?  Advil?  Aleve?  When you know the generic names (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen, respectively), you can get them much cheaper by buying generic brands.  I have occasional allergies, not bad enough or frequent enough to need a prescription.  I usually get by just fine with Alavert, which is loratadine, 10 mg.  Alavert, however, is expensive.  The last time I bought some, I ended up getting the generic Walgreen’s brand for about a third of the price.  I don’t know why I’d never looked for the store brand on it before, because I do all the time for pain-type medications.

Do you thrift shop?  I don’t very much.  The size clothing I wear tends to be pretty hideous from thrift stores, if I can find it at all.  I have a lot of friends who are much smaller than I am that find great stuff at thrift stores all the time.  I should still shop there more frequently for my kids, though.  My husband suggested I share his most recent thrift shopping experience.  He wears dressy slacks to work every day.  So he needs several pairs to rotate through.  All his pants seem to wear out at the same time, too, which is frustrating.  A new pair of dress pants for him could cost anywhere from $40-$90, assuming he needed them now, instead of being able to wait for a sale.  With the amount of wear he gets from them, they might last two years.  Instead, my husband spent about 30 minutes at Salvation Army, and came home with three pairs of dress pants.  Total damage: $15.  That’s $5 per pair.  Even if he has to replace them each year, it’s still a savings of $15-$40 per year, per pair of pants.

Group deal sites for entertainment can be great.  Groupon, LivingSocial, Zulily, and Amazon Local/Amazon Daily are popular ones.

There are a lot of “money back” rewards sites out there as well.  Swagbucks, Ebates, and a new app by Groupon called Snap.

If you shop at Target a lot, and you aren’t using Cartwheel yet, you’re missing out in a big way.  It lets you add discounts to things you’re buying, often on top of already reduced sale or clearance prices, and you get to do it without coupons.  If you use a Target RedCard on top of that, you’ve got even more savings.

You can use Fuelperks from Giant Eagle to create additional savings for yourself.  Do you have a big home improvement project coming up soon?  Instead of just going to Home Depot or Lowes and buying your supplies, stop at Giant Eagle first, buy gift cards for those stores, and then go spend the gift cards.  The money spent at Giant Eagle will go toward your fuel perks discounts, and you still get to buy what you need at the other stores.  The only caveat is that you usually can’t use the gifts cards until the next day, so you need to plan a little in advance.  And Fuelperks do expire.  But you can do this for home improvement, dining out, or buying gift cards as gifts.

When you have errands and shopping to do, and you’re gone for several hours, do you usually eat out?  When you know you’ll be gone that long, pack a lunch to take with you.

Do you take long road trips?  Even if it’s only once a year, fast food tabs can add up quickly, especially when you’ve got several children to buy for as well.  This summer, my family drove to California and back.  We took our time driving, taking shorter days so that our girls could have time out of the car each day, instead of all of us going crazy together.  The nights that we were staying with friends or family members, we camped.  Our car was packed with two large buckets containing clothing, shoes, and toiletries; camping equipment including an ice chest, a tent, sleeping bags, pillows, a cot, cooking supplies, a stove, and more; entertainment; and I honestly can’t even remember what else.  We planned meals out in advance for our drive, and tried to eat fast food only once a day.  For lunch each day, we took breaks at rest stops, where we used the bathrooms free of charge, and made our own sandwiches.  We shopped along the way, and restocked our ice daily.  I can’t tell you how much we saved.  Plus, we didn’t have the constant gassy bloated feeling that comes with days on end of fast food and sitting in a car.

Make cookies for your kids’ lunches, instead of buying pre-packaged ones.  One friend of mine baked about ten different varieties in August, before school starts, and freezes them.  She can pull them out of the freezer in the morning, put them in her kids’ lunches, and they’re thawed by noon.  Most cookies freeze well, and you can even freeze the dough, too, if you want a fresher taste for each batch.


Being economical doesn’t mean you have to be stingy.  Figure out why you’re saving money, and work from there.  You may find that you have a little more leeway than you think.

Being mindful of needs versus wants, and having a better understanding of the whole picture can help you make decisions as well.  Involve your spouse, teach your children, and focus on living providently and prudently, instead of just “saving money.”

Remember that sometimes you have to spend money in order to save money.  Growing a garden and canning can be great money savers.  But buying seedlings in the spring can feel like a big expense.  If you’ve never canned before, building up your stock of canning jars is an expensive startup, not to mention the canner itself.  But if you look at the long game, these things can save money.

One other thing I would like to mention is tithing.  I hadn’t initially thought to include tithing in my class, but as I listened to a Sacrament meeting talk on it last week, I realized that it’s vitally important to a topic such as this.  The Lord has promised us that if we pay our tithing, He will “…open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”  Not all blessings that come from tithing are financial.  In fact, most probably aren’t.  But tithing is one commandment we have been given in which we can be completely perfect in our obedience.  If we are faithful in paying our tithes and fast offerings, the Lord will bless us and see to it that our needs are met, one way or another.

Finally, at this time of year, I’d also be remiss to not tie gratitude into my lesson.  Being grateful – and expressing gratitude – for the things we have can go a long way to being happy and satisfied in life.  Being grateful, in and of itself, won’t improve our temporal conditions.  But it will improve our attitudes, our families, and increase our happiness.