I’m on a budget, and I don’t clip coupons . . .

I actually enjoy grocery shopping.  When I get really good food without spending a lot of money, I feel really clever, like I’m beating the system.  It’s a great feeling.

 

I have spent hours reading the blogs of supermoms who share their secrets for saving money on groceries. I’ve browsed websites where you can print all kinds of coupons.  And after all that, I hardly ever clip or use coupons.  And I’m okay with that.

 

There are a few reasons why I don’t clip coupons.  First of all, couponing in the Northwest is pretty much a wash.  We don’t have double or triple coupon days – well, maybe Albertsons still does that, but we don’t have Albertsons in our town.  And when I can only use three manufacturer’s coupons per purchase, it kind of takes the fun out of the whole idea of coupons.

 

Secondly, coupons don’t always give you the best deal.  Maybe our grocery stores (Safeway and Leprekon Harvest Foods) are just really expensive, but most of the time when I see a coupon I want to use, the discount is not as good as just shopping at Grocery Outlet.  And once in a while neither the coupons nor Grocery Outlet are as good as Walgreens’ sales.  This week Safeway has milk on sale for 14 cents cheaper than the cheapest milk in town and eggs for 30 cents cheaper.  But tomorrow Walgreens will have milk on sale for 20 cents cheaper than the cheapest milk in town and eggs for 70 cents cheaper.

 

Thirdly and most importantly, most coupons are for stuff I don’t buy.  I make most of our meals from scratch (or nearly scratch), I don’t have a pet or a baby, and I make my own cleaning and laundry products.

 

Now, I do use some coupons.  Safeway’s “Just for U” program lets you “clip” coupons online to your Safeway card, plus they offer personalized deals.  When I first joined Just for U, I did the majority of my shopping at Safeway and was saving 30-50% off Safeway’s retail prices, which was awesome.  But after the first couple months, I stopped getting so many good deals, and since part of the personalized offers are supposed to be based on stuff I already was buying, I can only assume that Safeway realized they were losing money by giving me 30% off produce on top of the sales on apples, grapes, and tomatoes, so they just cut back on things like that.  So now I hardly ever shop at Safeway, but once in a while they’ll do some really good sales so I have to keep checking every week.

 

Anyway, so in addition to Safeway, this is how my husband and I save money on groceries:

 

1) As I said before, I make a lot of stuff from scratch.  Generally, the more stuff you can make on your own, the more money you will save.  I’m sure there are exceptions.  Personally, I don’t make my own cheese or buy sprouted wheat.  I figure I’ll be doing well if I can whip up a batch of mayonnaise later this week.  But the things I choose to make rather than buy, do cost less than the store version.

 

2)  I plan meals.  This takes a little bit of time (not as much as you might think), but it saves even more time (not to mention money) at the grocery store.  I plan meals based on our schedule (because one of us has to have time to make the meals), current sales, and what we already have in our pantry.

 

3)  We make a list, and we stick to it.  This is probably the most important thing.  If you wing it at the grocery store, you will definitely buy stuff you don’t need or will never eat (especially if you shop when you’re hungry).  Or you may forget things that you do need.  But making a list is pretty pointless if you don’t stick to it.  I have a bad habit of getting additional stuff that’s not on the list, but it’s usually just to meet the quota I need to get a punch in my punch card, or because there happens to be a great sale on something we already buy.  My husband is a great list shopper.

 

4)  We comparison shop – to an extent.  This is a no-brainer, but we go where prices are the best.  However, if getting the best price on a product means driving out of town (we don’t have Costco in town), then forget it.  For our family of two, spending $30 on gas per trip plus an annual $50 membership is not worth the potential savings, especially considering that we don’t have the space to store all the items we would have to buy in bulk in order to save money.  Now, I know some people who do make regular trips out of town, shop at Costco, and it seems to work for them.  You have to figure out what works for you.


5) We use cash.  “Cash” to us doesn’t mean a debit card – it means actual physical bills.  We take a certain amount to the store, and what’s left over is our allowance.  For me, personally, using cash is a really good incentive to be frugal because I can actually see how much I have left and how much I’m spending.  For both of us, the knowledge that splurging (buying extra stuff we don’t need) means less allowance money, is great incentive to stick to the list.

 

Anyway, there are lots of ways to save money, whether it’s on groceries, clothes, toiletries, utilities, or anything else.  Most of the money we spend is discretionary – that is, we have some say in how much we spend.  From time to time we evaluate our current spending plan and see if it’s working.

 

What do you do to save money on groceries?

Fourth of July Rag Wreath

 

Edit: I got a new camera!  You can see the difference between the new one (first and last picture) and the old one (all the other pictures in this post).

 

Here’s a project that anyone can do!  I know because I first did this in second grade (except I didn’t have to cut the fabric then).  It’s easy, fun, and requires few materials.

 

You will need:

 

  • a foam or straw wreath (I got mine from Walmart for under $3.  I opted for straw because it was slightly cheaper than the foam, and because I figured if I didn’t have enough fabric, maybe I could leave some of the straw showing and it would look okay.

 

 

  • about 3 yards of cotton fabric – I used three different kinds (there are four in the picture but I didn’t use the red print).  Check your fabric scraps before you buy anything – the flag fabric is actually from  my mom’s scrap bin.  I spent about $10 on fabric but if I hadn’t bought the red bandanna print I could’ve spent a few dollars less.

 

 

  • a sharpened pencil, pen, chopstick, knitting needle – something that comes to a blunt point (too sharp and it will poke holes in the fabric, but if it doesn’t have a point it’ll be really hard to drive into the wreath) – I went through all my chopsticks and found one that was a little more tapered at the end than the others

Step 1. Cut all the fabric into 4-inch squares using pinking shears – not only is it cute, it prevents the material from fraying.  The best part is, it doesn’t matter if the measurements aren’t exact or if you don’t cut in a straight line.  The fabric is going to get all crumpled up anyway so it won’t make any difference.

 

 

 

Step 2.  Wrap a fabric square around your chopstick (or whatever) – you want the tip of the chopstick to be  in the center of the fabric.  Drive it into the wreath so that the fabric is secure.

 

Step 3. Repeat Step 2 until you run out of fabric. I alternated patterns, but you could also create stripes or a different pattern depending on what you want your wreath to look like.

 

 

 

 

And there you go!  The finished product is full, fluffy, and lots of fun!  I added some adhesive foam stars in red, silver, and blue (the silver showed up best).  I love my wreath so much I think I’ll make another non-patriotic one to put up for the rest of the summer.

 

 

The one thing I would have done differently is, I would have left the plastic wrap on the wreath.  That straw is messy!  But I ended up with a really nice piece of holiday decor for about $10!

 

Spring Wreath

 

I love my spring wreath!  It was easy to make and much cheaper than buying one.

 

I found lots of different grapevine wreaths on Pinterest, so I can’t point to one in particular that was my inspiration.  These were my materials:

 

  • 2 branches of silk flowers from Dollar Tree
  • 1 bunch of fake grass from Dollar Tree
  • 1 grapevine wreath from Walmart – I can’t actually remember how much it was, but I was surprised at how cheap it was because it’s huge!  I am pretty sure it was under $5
  • 1 bird’s nest from Dollar Tree
  • 1 bird accessory from Walmart (it was right next to the wreath, in the floral aisle)
  • There’s a spool of ribbon, but I ended up not using it.  It’s also from Dollar Tree.

The Dollar tree had several packages of the cute little bird nests, but every one of them had at least two of the eggs sunk in, probably during packaging and transport.  In a stroke of brilliance, I stuck a long needle through the end of each one and popped the plastic back out from the inside.  There was even a little hole in the seam of each egg already, so it wasn’t at all hard to do.

 

Problem solved!

 

 

 

 

The flowers were easy to attach – I just stuck the stems into the wreath.  I didn’t secure them with anything because they’re wedged in pretty tight.

 

The flower branches will stick straight out unless you tie them somehow.  Floral tape would probably be best, and hot glue would probably work to, but I have a ton of thin wire that I use for just about every project so I can get rid of it.  So I wired the flowers to the wreath.

 

Once the flowers and grass are in the wreath you can still adjust them – the grass is kind of covering the flowers in the picture above so I pulled and twisted a bit to get everything where I wanted.  I also pulled a few of the grass pieces apart and stuck them farther up on the wreath.

 

The bird’s nest was tricky to attach without hot glue.  I wired it in very delicately.  Then when I hung it up on my door, I realized it looked weird to have the nest hanging vertically, so I re-positioned it.  If you use hot glue to make wreaths, make sure you know exactly where you want things to go before gluing.  Wire is a lot easier to redo than glue.

 

 

 

Finally, I attached the bird – it actually came with a little clip, but that wasn’t very secure and it fell off, and then the clip broke off anyway and I had to tape it on.  Hot glue would probably be best for the bird.

 

I love the way my wreath turned out!

Miscellaneous Mini Projects

Okay, this isn’t a single project or a DIY tutorial, just a conglomeration of the other stuff I used to decorate, most of which I already had or was left over from another project.

You’ve already seen my Fall Leaf Garland, but the other part of the picture below is my red candles.  They came in a two-pack at the Dollar Tree, and each candle holder was also $1, so that’s $3 for those.

The sunflowers were left over from my Fall Ribbon Wreath, and the bud vase I had on hand.  The roses were left over from hair pieces I made for a group in last year’s Nutcracker production, and I scavenged the leaves last year from decorations my mom no longer uses.  The mason jars were on hand too.

Originally I was going to fill the jars with small nuts, or dried corn kernels, or something like that, but it’s too early to go scavenging for fallen acorns and I never got around to looking at the store, so I found a jar of dried rose leaves (collected over the years from dance recitals and so forth) and used that instead.  That makes the total amount I spent on flower arrangements $0.

 

I found this pumpkin thing last year at Walmart for $8.  They had at least three different designs of this thing. I had real votive candles in it before, but when I put it on my hutch I thought floralytes would be safer.  I found them at a dollar store in a 3-pack.  The leaves were more of what I had on hand or leftover from previous flower arrangements.  Total for this piece: $9.

 

Last, I got these candles at the Dollar Tree for $1 each – they are vanilla-scented so I figure I can use them for multiple seasons.

I was going to put them in mason jars also but they were too big!  So I was going to take them back and get smaller candles, but then I thought they might look nice in my candy dishes.  They used to be my grandma’s . I put more dried roses around them and I thought they looked pretty nice.  Total for these pieces: $3.

Five mini-projects (if you count the flower arrangements as two), and the total I spent on them was $15.  The best way to save money on decorating is to find new ways to use the old stuff you already have.

Fall Leaf Garland

 

A big, beautiful garland is a great way to decorate your mantel, banister, balcony, or (if you don’t have any of those things) hutch.  Buying one can cost close to $30 plus shipping at Afloral (my favorite place to buy silk flowers online) or as much as $80 at Hobby Lobby (which, FYI, has very reasonable shipping prices, last time I checked).  I made mine for $13 thanks to a great tutorial I found on Pinterest.  And I didn’t even have to buy grapevine.

 

Inspiration

(Source)

 

Unlike most of the other DIY garlands I looked up, this one is full, lush, and looks realistic – and it is a cinch to make!

 

Process

You can click the link under the picture for the tutorial, or you can just read on.

 

You will need:

 

– fake leaves (make sure they are the kind with a hole in the stem – see picture below) – I used four bunches that I found at Walmart for $3 each

– twine or yarn

– large-ish needle (it has to be large enough to accommodate your twine/yarn, but small enough to go through the hole in the leaf stems without pulling on the plastic)

– any embellishments you want – I used pinecones from my mom’s backyard and some little foam vegetable things from the Dollar Tree ($1 pack of 5 vegetables)

 

Sorry for the blurriness, but hopefully you can see the hole in between the leaf stems – this is what you need because it’s how you thread the leaves on the garland.

 

Step 1.  Measure your yarn (or twine) – I made my garland about 3 yards long – thread your needle, and knot it.  Make sure the knot is large enough that the leaves won’t slip off the end.

 

Step 2.  Take the leaves off their bunches and start threading.  I had two different colored bunches – a yellowish-greenish-brownish bunch and a reddish-orangeish-yellowish bunch – so I alternated.

 

 

Step 3.  Keep going until you run out of leaves.  Really, it’s that simple.

 

This is the point at which I diverged from the tutorial.  The tutorial above was, strictly speaking, for a garland to put on the outside of a house.  Mine was to put on top of my hutch (someday mantel, I hope), and I noticed that when I strung the leaves tightly together until the stems touched, the resulting garland was very, very thick:

 

Not only did that mean I would need more leaves to make my 9′ garland (remember, the goal here was to save money), but I wasn’t sure it would lay right on my hutch.  So I just spread the leaves out a little.

 

 

It may not look like it in the picture, but I thought it looked better.  So I kept working that way until I was out of leaves.

 

 

Step 4.  Add your embellishments.  I used Tacky Glue to add my pinecones directly to the yarn, but to glue the little vegetables to the leaves, hot glue is a better option.  I also coated my vegetables in Mod Podge and sprinkled them with green glitter for a little sparkle.

 

Result

I’m very proud of my garland!  And it was so easy to make, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Block Letters

UPDATE:  I did another set of these for my mom, and they turned out (I think) a lot nicer than the ones I did for myself.  I might redo mine sometime.

 

 

 

 

I love the trend of using words to decorate!  I wanted to include some in my fall decorating, but I also wanted to save money.  I made my blocks for free using materials I had on hand.

 

Inspiration

I found these pictures (among others) on Pinterest:

(Source)

 

(found on Pinterest)

These things are all over the place; I’m sure you’ve seen similar things before.  I wanted to recreate a similar look, but without using a lot of money (or power tools).

 

Process

You will need:

– wooden blocks (the number depends on what words you’re writing)

– paint

– paintbrush

– Sharpie (or a small paintbrush if you are painting the letters on)

– stencils (optional – see Improvements)

– Mod Podge

 

At first I thought of putting letters on mason jars.  Then I remembered that my mom had a ton of wooden blocks sitting up in her attic that haven’t been used since we were little kids.  They were already sanded and there were several of the same size.  My mom said I could take as many as I wanted.  I picked out a few different sizes.  My idea was to write letters on the front and back of each block, so that I could turn them around to go with a different season (in this case, Thanksgiving and Christmas).

 

After rinsing off the dust, I painted one side of each block.  I wanted to use two different colors.

 

 

 

 

 

They dried pretty quickly in the sun.  I painted the opposite side as well.  Then I did another coat of each color because these particular blocks absorbed a lot of the paint.

 

I did the letters freehand (see below for Improvements).  Before writing the letters, I had printed them out so I had a sample of the font I wanted to use.  On most of them I just used a Sharpie.

 

(These are the blocks that I planned to write on both sides of)

 

(I’ve only done one side of these but I’ll probably add another side later on)

 

I used paint for the second side of my larger blocks.

 

 

After they were dry, I just finished them off with a coat of Mod Podge.  And that was it!

 

Result

 

 

Improvements

The most obvious way to take these blocks a step up is to use a stencil for the letters.  I have another set of blocks that I’m going to make for my mom, so I’ll try that with them.

 

If you’re really good with a paintbrush, you can also embellish the background of your blocks so it’s not just a solid color.

 

If you have cubes, and you want to go for maximum versatility, I bet you could recreate these blocks which can be made to spell 16 different seasonal words!  (The link isn’t a tutorial, but it pretty much tells you how to do it).  I might try it myself!

Fall Ribbon Wreath

 

Fall is coming, and as I browse Pinterest I am getting more and more excited about decorating my small apartment for the season and its holidays.  I thought I’d start by trying my hand at making a ribbon wreath.  Since I didn’t actually look for a tutorial, I completely made up my design, and although I’m happy with how my wreath turned out, I don’t recommend you follow my method.  Instead, I recommend this step-by-step tutorial.

 

A beautiful wreath can cost a minimum of $20 and upwards of $100 if you buy it.  My wreath cost less than $10 to make with the following items:

 

– wreath form from the Dollar Tree, $1

(I used a wooden form because I didn’t know what I was doing; you should use styrofoam for a ribbon wreath, and they sell those at the Dollar Tree too)

– four spools of wide ribbon,  also from the Dollar Tree – $4

(You will probably need more ribbon than this if you use the tutorial I posted – the more ribbon you have, the fuller and richer your wreath looks.  The spools at the Dollar Tree only have 3 yards of ribbon each, so look for spools that have more than that.  If you want to order online, I highly recommend JKM Ribbon – and BBCrafts – great selection and amazing prices).

– sunflower bunch from Walmart, $3

– one spool of goldish 3/4″ ribbon from the Dollar Tree, $1 (I later took this off to use elsewhere; it didn’t add much)

– thin wire I had on hand

(the tutorial I posted uses straight pins – trust me, don’t do it my way)


Total: $9

 

In case you want to know, what I did was I wired loops of ribbons together and wired them onto my wreath.  It was time-consuming and poky, and while again, I’m happy with the overall result, I think it would have been much easier and less painful if I had used a styrofoam wreath form and pinned the ribbons (in bunches) onto the wreath.  I’ll try it that way come Christmas.