Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Grocery Challenge Days 13 -22... Life

The past 10 days have been a roller coaster. First  it was great and then it was horrible, and now I'm trying to pick up the pieces and put it all back together.

Days 13 and 14
My husband decided he wanted to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary a couple weeks early so he took me on a short get away to Cincinnati. It was close enough that we could drive it in a couple hours but far enough to try some new restaurants. Since this was not in the plan when I started this challenge and he was footing the bill, I decided the best way to handle this turn of events was to add two more days to my grocery challenge and have it run to July 2nd.

Our children are finally old enough to leave alone for two nights. I left them a list of all the food that was ready to eat plus I made a pan of chicken enchiladas that they just had to heat in the oven for 20 minutes, then it was off to Cincinnati on Sunday night. We had a wonderful time and returned Tuesday afternoon.

Day 15
As I mentioned earlier I had a $10 ECB from CVS that expired today. Quite honestly there was nothing I needed at CVS and since I had been gone all weekend I hadn't had a chance to look at all the ads in depth and plan any shopping deals for things I might need in the future. I ended up giving the $10 ECB to my daughter because she wanted to buy make up.

Later that day the bottom fell out of my pleasant week. I found out one of my friends had killed himself the previous night.

Day 16
New grocery ad broke today but I was in no mood to look it over. Unfortunately, I also looked in the refrigerator and realized we had eaten all the fruits and vegetables in the house. My younger daughter was also reading a nutrition book and had a list of food she wanted... so, we went grocery shopping together... me without a list or a plan.

First stop was Kroger...

green pepper  0.99
head of lettuce  0.99
1.92 lbs of cherries  5.74 (ouch!)
1.11 lbs Roma tomatoes  0.77
1.11 lbs peaches   1.10
2.83 lbs bananas  1.56
cored pineapple  3.99
pint blueberries  1.67
half gallon skim milk  1.00
container of goat cheese 2.99
8 oz brie  4.99

Only coupon I used was $1 off the goat cheese that I found stuck to the container
Paid $24.79

Next stop was Meijer where my daughter primarily wanted a variety of Greek yogurt.

2 containers Meijer Greek yogurt @ 0.79 each
2 containers Siggi's yogurt @ 1.59 each
1 container Chia Pod @ 2.99 (aack!)
package of prosciutto 3.99 (I'm splurging so what the heck)
1 container mascarpone cheese 4.49 (daughter had to have it; it was over $6 at Kroger)
box of Medjool dates  5.69  (continuing my splurge...)
canister of oatmeal  1.99
8 oz cottage cheese  2.00

Total was $28.90. I used the balance of my gift card and paid $20.27 out of pocket.

So... Day 16 and I'm up to $136.35 spent.

Day 17
No spending. I think I ate about 5000 stress calories of food though.

Day 18
Today was Alex's memorial service.
Anger, guilt, emptiness, sadness. Those are some of a myriad of emotions I've felt this week. I suppose there are two things that stood out to me that I will always remember. One was that Alex and I had the same birthday - same day, same year. We were exactly the same age. We had joked once long ago that we were twins, then filed that information somewhere way back in our heads. Now it was somewhat disconcerting seeing your exact birth date in someone else's memorial service program.
Second was that Alex ran with me. He ran with me on my long runs back when I was trying to run my Boston qualifying time. He was the only one that ran my long runs with me. I didn't need anyone fast and I didn't need anyone to run the whole way with me but I just wanted someone to keep me company for part of the miles since long runs can get pretty boring when you're out there by yourself for a couple hours. He would run the first 5 or 6 miles with me. That was the lasting memory I had in my mind when I first heard the news. I got to his service and found that the photo of him next to his casket was the one of him after the 500 Festival Mini Marathon with his finisher's medal.

After his service a group of us went out to eat. I was beyond caring about my spending at this point.
Dinner with drinks... $19.62.

Since it was Saturday I stopped at Meijer to pick up 4 weekend papers. We were almost out of milk too so a gallon of milk... and, what the hell, I NEEDED some cookies so a package of 10 Lofthouse cookies... total $10.08.

Now I'm up to $166.05.

Quite honestly I considered throwing in the towel on this challenge on Saturday. I didn't want to be frugal anymore. I wanted to buy whatever the hell my mouth wanted. I have plenty of money. I don't HAVE to do this. I suppose though that this would not be a CHALLENGE if it was easy. So, I am continuing on, tracking my spending. I've come to the realization that I very well may go over $200 but I'll track it nonetheless to see how close I can get.

Days 19-20
No spending.

Day 21
As far as food for the family, I am doing pretty good. However... I wasn't going to compete at the Fair this summer... but then I had a change of heart... and suddenly I WANT to try out some new recipes. I SHOULD wait until July to do this but I have a span of days off this week and I had to try out some recipes... and I needed a couple of things...

From Marsh...
bag of walnut pieces  5.99 (ouch!)
cranberry bread  4.99 (don't even ask!)
pint heavy whipping cream 1.79

Used 0.50 coupon on the whipping cream. Paid $12.27.

Day 22
No spending.

Total spending for the month so far $178.32.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Grocery Challenge Days 8 - 12

So... I've been fairly good the last couple days. Also, you'll notice that I tend to make lots of small grocery trips instead of one big one once a week. Couple reasons for this. First is that I'm kind of a control freak and I don't like to hand over 20 coupons all at once to a cashier because I'm afraid she'll miss one - not on purpose but sometimes coupons tend to stick together or the coupon doesn't scan immediately but if the cashier is going through a huge stack they tend to miss that and keep going. I always have a pretty good idea of how much my total should be but lots of times I've had the total end up higher and I can't find the mistake on the screen so I have to look at my printed receipt after the transaction is completed and then go back to customer service to get it fixed. It's much easier for me to buy less items at a time, go thru the USCAN to make sure everything rings up like I expected, then either scan my own coupons or hand over less than 10 coupons to the cashier. I have the luxury of shopping this way because I live where I pass all these stores to and from either going to work or running my kids around so most of the time I'm not making any special trips just to go to the grocery store. Other main reason is that I prefer to fly under the radar. I really don't want to be known as "the coupon lady."

Now onto Day 8. I fell to temptation. It was the last day Kroger had Turkey Hill ice cream on sale for $2.50 and I decided I really wanted to stock up on ice cream. June is Dairy Month by the way, so lots of dairy deals this month. Bought 4 containers of ice cream. Used 4 $1 off coupons.

Paid $6.00

Day 9, I hadn't planned on buying anything. I worked all day, then my daughter came home at 9:30 pm and told me she needed 4 2-liter bottles of soda for the cheer camp party the next day. Ugh. I hate it when the kids spring things like this on me. I went back to Kroger where the 2-liters were on sale for $1 and spent $4.28.

Day 10, no spending.

Day 11. More Kroger shopping to take advantage of their Mega Sale. I decided the Cascadian Farms cereal was a great deal so I should stock up. They also have Crunchmaster crackers on sale and they are my favorite cracker. I've found that the gluten free crackers are a great substitute for chips  because they are so crispy. They are usually $3.99 but I could get them for $0.49 this week. I broke this up into two transactions because I had 6 Crunchmaster coupons and the Kroger policy is 4 like coupons at a time.

6 Crunchmaster cracker bags @ 2.49 each
3 boxes Cascadian Farms cereal @ 2.99 each
3 bags Armour frozen meatballs @ 2.99 each
2 containers Laughing Cow cheese wedges @ 2.49 each
1 box Harvest Stone crackers @ 2.99
2 bottles Body Armor sport drink @ 1.00 each

Everything was part of the "Buy 5, Get $5 off" Mega sale except for the Body Armor. The Body Armor is a new sports drink and I wanted to try it.

$15.00 instant savings for Mega Sale items
(6) $1 Crunchmaster coupons
(3) $1 Cascadian Farms coupons
(3) $1.50 Armour meatball coupons
$1/2 Laughing Cow coupon
$1 Harvest Stone coupon
$1/2 Body Armor coupon

Paid $11.49

Next was a trip to Meijer.

First transaction
3 small containers of Marzetti veggie dip. I had heard that there was a Catalina coupon printing for $2.50 off your next order when you bought 3 Marzetti products and that the small individual size dips were working for this. The dips are 0.89 each but there is also a Marzetti coupon out for 0.75 off any Marzetti product. I did this first by itself because if the coupons didn't scan I wasn't going to buy it and, if the coupon printed, I was going to use it to buy my other stuff. Transaction went off without a hitch. Coupons scanned and Catalina printed.

I spent $0.42 off my gift card and got the $2.50 Catalina.
Essentially I got "paid" $2.08 to buy the dip.
This deal ends on 6/12 so I only had a chance to do it once.

Second transaction
5 packages sliced cheese @ 2.99 each
2 jars Ragu pasta sauce @ 1.50 each
1 box Creamettes spaghetti noodles @ 1.45
4 boxes Tai Pei frozen pot stickers @ 2.00 each

5.00 instant savings for 5 packages of cheese
1.00 mPerks coupon for buying over $10 of cheese
1.45 mPerks coupon for free Creamettes pasta when you buy 2 Ragu
(2) 1.00 Ragu coupons
(2) 1.00 off 2 Tai Pei
2.50 grocery coupon from transaction #1

Spent $13.45 off my gift card
I spent a bit more than I really wanted but the kids like the pot stickers as an easy meal and I needed more sliced cheese. I didn't really need the Ragu and pasta but it was just a great deal as it ended up being $1 for the 2 jars of sauce AND pasta after coupons so I went ahead and bought it. "Great" deals like this and convenience items seem to be my downfall in spending so let's hope it doesn't come back to bite me at the end of the month.

Final stop was at the gas station (Speedway) to pick up 4 weekend newspapers for the coupons. Spent $5.00.

Day 12, no spending

Total spent so far for this month: $91.29.
I still have $8.63 left on my Meijer gift card and a little over half the month to go.
I also have a $10 ECB at CVS that expires on 6/15 so I'll have to figure out the best way to spend that this week.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Grocery Challenge Days 6 and 7 - A Couple Essentials

Yesterday (Day 6) started with a small trip to Marsh. We were completely out of bread and would soon be out of milk. I hadn't been to Marsh yet this sales week (grocery ads here run Thursday to Wednesday) and I knew I wanted to get eggs there and I had free milk there. Eggs are on sale for $0.88 a dozen. My "buy" price on eggs is anything less than a dollar.

2 dozen eggs, 0.88 each
half gallon of milk  1.99
2.12 lbs of bananas @ 0.59/lb,  1.25
loaf of bread  0.89
1.36 lbs of beefsteak tomatoes @ 0.98/lb, 1.33
Used coupons for free milk, 0.50 off tomatoes, and 0.50 off bananas.

Total paid: $4.23
Total was cheaper than an Extra Value Meal at McDonald's.
Think about all the French toast this would make!

I had one more small trip to Market District in the evening.

loaf of olive oil bread  2.99
cantaloupe  1.99
0.21 lbs organic Medjool dates @ 6.49/lb, 1.36
Used store coupons for $2 off the bread (bakery item), $1 off the cantaloupe (produce), and $1 off the dates (bulk food).

Total Paid $2.34.

I'm perfectly capable of baking my own bread but with the amount of time it takes for the risings and the electricity it costs to bake it I have no problem paying about a dollar for a loaf of bread. The dates were a splurge but I have had a craving for bacon date scones. I fried up some bacon when I got home and made the scone dough to bake in the morning.

Ever eat food just because it all just tastes so good? That was me last night after I made the scone dough. I had leftover bacon. It was perfectly crisp with a little bit of grease... and the olive oil bread, oh so soft and chewy, was just staring at me. A slice of bread folded over a strip or two of bacon was heavenly. I think I ate three slices of bread with bacon before I stopped myself. Ugh!

Breakfast this morning...

Bacon date scones and cantaloupe. Exactly what I wanted!

Total spent so far for this month: $64.52

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Grocery Challenge Days 4 and 5 - Getting Coupons

Saturday (Day 4) I bought 4 newspapers from CVS for $1.25 each and used $3 in ECBs, paid $2 out of pocket. I usually buy 4 weekend papers every week solely to get the coupon inserts out of them.


I have found that 4 sets of coupons is the right number for my needs. I used to get more but I've found that I really don't need to pay for any more. Part of it is that I am not a reseller so I'm not out to buy a 100 of something just because it's on sale. Other reasons are that lots of coupons now have wording that says you can't use more than 2 or 4 of the same (like) coupon in the same transaction or the stores have policies that say you can't use more than 4 of the same coupon in the same transaction - so if you have 8 coupons for 8 items, you can only buy 4 at a time - and, past experience has told me that if you hand a cashier 10 of the same coupon sometimes they freak out... I prefer to fly under the radar.

Once I get my inserts, I file them by date...

When I need a coupon, I look it up on an online coupon database. There are many out there. I use the one at Hotcouponworld - - where I can put the name of the item in the search box and it will tell me if there is a coupon out for that item and, if so, what kind of coupon it is such as newspaper insert, internet printable (IP), etc. I find this much easier and less time consuming then cutting out all the coupons which you may or may not use then sorting through them. Once I find the coupon, I can simply pull the insert and cut just the coupon I need.

If there is a crazy good coupon out there that I absolutely have to have multiples of, I will order them from a clipping service. Again, there are many out there. I use They are called clipping services because they are charging you a service fee to clip the coupon. Legally you cannot sell a coupon.

I'd say over half the coupons I use these days are internet printables. The most common sites are,,, and You have to download a coupon printer from each of these websites. Most will let you print two prints of each coupon per machine. We have three laptops and a desktop computer so that means I can potentially print 8 of the same coupon if I wanted. By same, I mean same item coupon. Each coupon prints with a unique ID. You cannot copy coupons. Many manufacturer's websites or their Facebook pages will also offer coupons.

The other source of coupons are the stores themselves. This is where you can find deals on stuff that you otherwise would not have a coupon for such as meat, milk, and produce. I have customer loyalty cards to every store I shop and take advantage of both their digital and paper coupons. For instance, this is what I have available (digitally) on my Marsh card right now...

These are some of the paper coupons Market District sent me...

It's all stuff that typically will not show up as a manufacturer's coupon.

So yesterday I bought 4 newspapers. That was all.

I stayed out of the grocery store today as well. I found the last of last summer's blueberries in the freezer and made a pie. Some seasonal produce is worth freezing, blueberries being one of them. I am waiting for them to get down to $0.99/pint and then I'm going to stock up. I have paid as much as $4.99 for 6 oz of blueberries in the winter when I "needed" them.

my family's favorite pie

Also baked a batch of coconut chocolate chip cookies.

Total out of pocket spending so far this month: $57.95.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Grocery Challenge Day 3

Confession... I went back to the store last night.

I had two more coupons that expire on June 6th that I wanted to use. They were for the contact lens solution that my kids use. That stuff can be expensive but it's something you can't run out of. Again, it pays to shop around. Here's what it cost at CVS (excuse my crappy phone camera)...

(and what the heck are eyelid wipes)

... and at Meijer

Hands down, I think CVS has the most expensive prices around. However, I continue to shop there because I can shop for almost free with the right combination of sales, coupons, and CVS offers. I had $3 off coupons for the Complete. Last month CVS had a deal where it was "Buy One, Get 50% Off" on contact lens solution. Then I had a $5 off $15 purchase CVS coupon as well as a $2 off any contact lens solution CVS coupon, plus my $3 off coupons, AND CVS was giving out a $2 in Extra Care Bucks (ECB) if you bought two bottles of Complete. So...

 Had to buy a candy bar to get my total over $15

...but I still had two more coupons to burn. The Meijer by my house was out of the Complete yesterday morning. I checked the Meijer in Carmel while my daughter was at dance and snapped up their last two bottles. Spent another $5.53 off my gift card but no out of pocket spending.

Then, while I was at it, I had to swing through CVS. I had a CVS coupon for $2 off any personal care product expiring on 6/5. They had Pure Silk shave cream on sale for $1.99. I don't really need the shave cream but my daughter will use it AND CVS was giving a $1 ECB when you bought it. So...

I essentially got paid to buy the shave cream. $2 coupon gets adjusted down to the price of the item and I walked out paying NOTHING but got the $1 ECB. I don't see anything I'm really going to NEED at CVS this month but I'm planning on using some ECBs this weekend to buy my newspapers.

Today I have manicotti cooking in the crockpot and sirloin thawing in the refrigerator and I'm off to work.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Grocery Challenge Day 2 - Shopping Day

Grocery day. I admit, I love grocery shopping. When I first started couponing I did it out of necessity. Now I'm addicted to the game.

Meijer shopping this morning...

First transaction was for a $50 Meijer gift card. I had a Catalina coupon for $5 off a $50+ Meijer gift card, so $45 out of pocket for a $50 gift card is like $5 in free cash. I'll track $45 as my spending but won't track anything I buy with the gift card.

Next transaction was mostly "10 for $10, Get the 11th Item Free" deals. All of these were $1:
8 packages Angel Soft toilet paper 4 pack
4 bags Chex Mix
4 packages Butterball turkey bacon
1 can Old El Paso enchilada sauce
2 boxes frozen waffles
1 travel size toothpaste
1 16 oz container cottage cheese (free item)
1 package broccoli crowns (free item)

Plus I needed cat food and it was on sale, buy one get one 50% off, so I got 2 16-lb bags of cat food ($9.99 X 2, - $5), and I needed manicotti shells ($2.05) which was the only full price item of the day.

Had coupons for:
(8) 0.45 off Angel Soft
(2) 0.50/2 off Chex Mix
(4) 0.55 off Butterball
0.50 off Old El Paso product
9.00 mPerks reward

Paid $21.97 with the gift card. I'll get 0.50 back from Savingstar for the Chex Mix.

Not a bad haul for $21.97
I checked my mPerks account when I got home. I have a personalized reward in there where I will get $9 off my next order if I spend $400 in 28 days. That's how I got the $9 reward I used today. Meijer gave me credit for "spending" $44.03. I'm not sure I'll hit $400 this month since I'm trying to watch my spending but we'll see!

Next stop was Kroger. They are having another Mega Sale that lasts til June 14th where you get $5 off if you buy 5 Mega Sale items. The kids wanted granola cereal. Cascadian Farms cereal is on the Mega Sale list and I have $1 coupons, making the cereal $0.99 a box. If you're not careful, cereal can cost as much as meat. My "buy" price for cereal is $1.50 or less a box. Here's where it pays to shop around and know your prices. This was the Cascadian Farms cereal at Meijer this morning...

... and at Kroger across the street

It was worth the trouble to go across the street

I also wanted more ice cream. I have a stack of $1 Turkey Hill ice cream coupons burning a hole in my pocket. It's on sale for $2.50 this week, so $1.50 for 48 oz of ice cream - killer deal in my book.

Ended up with...
3 boxes Cascadian Farms cereal @ 2.99 each
2 boxes Laughing Cow cheese wedges @ 2.49 each
4 containers Turkey Hill ice cream @ 2.50 each

5.00 instant Mega Sale savings for Cascadian Farms and Laughing Cow
(3) 1.00 off Cascadian Farms cereal
$1 off 2 Laughing Cow cheese
(4) 1.00 off Turkey Hill ice cream

Paid $10.95, plus I'll get $1 back from Savingstar for the cereal.

Paid $10.95
Since I'm working on trying to not buy a bunch of junk this month, here's how I broke down the purchases:
Not Food: cat food, toilet paper, toothpaste
Real Food: cereal, cheese, bacon, broccoli, cottage cheese, pasta, waffles, enchilada sauce
Junk Food: ice cream, Chex Mix
The reality is I'm too busy to make my own pasta sauce or enchilada sauce. I know the canned stuff has extra sugar but putting all the pieces of a dish together at home is still better than a frozen pre-made meal and certainly less expensive than carry out. I can make homemade waffles but the kids like the convenience of popping one in the toaster whenever they want. Therefore, all that stuff gets categorized as "real" food.
Total out of pocket tracking for the month so far is $55.95. I have $28.03 left on my gift card though so hopefully out of pocket spending next week will be less.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Grocery Challenge Day 1 - Taking Stock

No shopping for me today. Today was the day to take stock of what I have and try to meal plan.

Going through my cupboards, couple things are obvious. I have a HUGE amount of jarred pasta sauce. I may sound like a Wall Street trader but I have certain "buy" prices for food when it goes on sale. Last month I could get both Ragu and Bertolli jars for 0.67 after sales and coupons so I bought a large amount. My "buy" price for jars of pasta sauce is less than $1. I still have some Ragu coupons left - heck, it's a $1 off a jar - but they don't expire til next month so I'm just holding onto those and will use some of this pasta sauce this month.

I have several bags of shredded coconut. I guess we like coconut. We'll be having coconut themed desserts.

I have an ungodly amount of Crystal Light lemonade packets. I haven't bought Crystal Light in years. The reason I have so many is that Crystal Light is always a cheap "filler" item every time Meijer has one of those "Buy 5, Get $5 Off Instantly" sales so I would use it if I needed a fifth item as it usually came to 0.99 a box or less. I decided not to buy any soda this month (admittedly I have several cases in my basement) so I'll be making more lemonade.

I have lots of cheese - both shredded and chunk. I stocked up when it was 0.99 last month at Marsh. The cheese is usually around $3.99 so I was excited. I cut up some of the blocks so we'd have some easy snacks.

I am going to use these sauces...

They were all recipe helper type items - add a protein and a carb and you have a meal - that were nearly free when they first came out on the market and I just haven't gotten around to using them. I'm using them this month... and it's obvious I don't need any more of them since I don't use them!
Looking in the freezer, couple things that I will definitely thaw out this month...
A turkey. Yes, a whole turkey. We got them at work for Thanksgiving. We went to my in-laws and my parents' homes for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and we were in Florida for Easter so this never got cooked. It will be Thanksgiving in June some day this month.
10 lb bag of frozen chicken leg quarters. I got this when Kroger had them on sale for 0.39/lb - so $3.90 for the whole bag. I was busy that week so I shoved the whole 10 lb bag into the bottom of the freezer, where it solidified into a huge brick of chicken. Obviously we're not going to eat 10 lbs of chicken at once so I've been ignoring it. Today I ended up throwing it on the concrete like a bag of ice, repeatedly, then pried the chicken apart and bagged it up into more manageable servings. Note to self - DON'T DO THIS AGAIN! 
Couple packages of wild game that have been sitting around forever - venison, wild boar, and walleye.
Other things I've stocked up on I'll probably use - ground chuck, buy price was $1.99/lb or less; chuck roast, buy price was $3.99/lb or less; sirloin, buy price was $6.99/lb or less; strip steak, buy price was $8.99/lb or less; chicken breasts, buy price was $1.99/lb or less.
So food prep for today...
I wanted some easy snacks. My family is lazy. If it's not cut up and accessible, they freakin' won't eat it! One of the kids requested celery a while back. I bought a whole stalk. It hasn't been touched. Today I cut up the celery. There's a bag of already peeled baby carrots that's been sitting in a bag in the veggie drawer. I suppose it's out of sight, out of mind. Put those in a clear plastic container. Also had a bag of pita bread that I sliced and baked into pita chips. A bag of pita bread is $2 at Meijer. It's cheaper to make your own chips than buy them. All of these will go with my stockpile of hummus - heck, it was 0.49 after coupons at Kroger last month.

For the sweet tooth, I baked 3 dozen coconut lime sugar cookies.

If I have time tonight I'm going to make coconut chocolate chip cookie dough and freeze it in balls to pop in the oven later.

Dinner was parmesan chicken breasts over linguine noodles and pasta sauce. I breaded up about 2 lbs of chicken; half of it I froze for later.

Now it's off to plan my grocery shopping for tomorrow. Originally I wasn't going to shop tomorrow as obviously I already have a lot of food. However, there are some coupons that expire tomorrow that I want to use. Sometimes it's a big debate for me whether to just let a coupon expire vs. run out to use it. This time I have 0.45 off a package of Angel Soft toilet paper. When I got them, I knew that Meijer runs the Angel Soft on their 10 for $10 sale all the time so I've been waiting... and it goes on sale tomorrow with the coupon expiring tomorrow too. Am I in dire need of toilet paper? No. Is it a good deal? Yes. It's 0.14 for a roll of toilet paper so I'm spending some of my budget on it. Hopefully it won't come back to bite me later in the month.
Thawing out salmon and ground chuck for the next couple days' meals. Might look up some crockpot meal ideas after that. See you tomorrow!