Christmas in May

11 05 2009

IMG_1694It’s May. And in North Carolina, that means it’s strawberry season. And in my house, for the last decade, that means it’s time to make jar upon jar of strawberry jam.

Granted, it’s a lot of work — the picking, washing, cutting, crushing, cooking, sterilizing and cleaning up. But when those Ball jars are filled and I hear that satisfying “ping” as the jars seal shut, I can’t help but feel just a tad smug.

All of that labor in the month of May translates to more leisure in the month December when I attach homemade gift tags to these crimson-filled jars and give them as Christmas gifts. And who doesn’t need a break in December?

IMG_1734So this past week, with temperatures in the 80s and my AC cranking to combat the heat emanating from the stove top, I was humming Christmas carols as I stirred juicy crushed berries picked from a farm less than five miles from my house.

Not only do I have my neighbor and teacher gifts taken care of seven months early, but I’m giving them something I made.  I’m giving them something affordable and I’m giving them something that is consumable in a container that is reusable.

In my quest to save some green, be green and lead a simpler life, I’ve got all my bases covered. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I would have to say my jam is a very good thing. 

The recipients of my jam are typically friends, family members, neighbors, my daughter’s teachers. I have a feeling that if I broke with tradition and delivered something different to my neighbors, there might be rioting on my tidy suburban street. OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement. But they would be sorely disappointed.

Throughout the year, my neighbors will make not-so-subtle references to my strawberry jam in casual conversation. Often, I will find empty jars left at my front door. A silent plea for more.

For a frugal girl, such as myself, making jam for gifts is an affordable way to let folks know how much I care about them. Here’s a breakdown on costs:

*at the strawberry farm nearest my home, pick-your-own berries are $1.50 per pound. It takes three pounds to make eight jars of jam. 

*at Harris Teeter, my grocery of choice, sugar is $2.27 for a five-pound bag; Sure Jell fruit pectin is $3.15 a box;  and a 12-pack of Ball jars is $7.99. Twelve replacement seals are $1.79. That’s roughly $14 to make eight jars of jam.

Of course, I’m always on the hunt to save even more money. This year, thanks to some nicely timed bargain shopping throughout the year, my jam is costing me only about $4 to make eight jars. That’s just 50 cents per gift. OMG. That’s the first time I’ve ever done the math. I can’t think of a nicer gift at such an affordable price.

If you’re interested in giving jam-making a try, here are a few tips:

*shop year-round for bargains on sugar, pectin and jars and seals. I have had great luck finding these on clearance. Last fall, for instance, I found boxes of pectin on clearance at Walmart for 75 cents a box. That was a great price, but I ended up paying just 25 cents a box after using the 50-cent coupon inside each box. Since the boxes were all dated 2010 and 2011, I bought enough boxes to last the next three years. This year’s sugar supply was free, thanks to a great coupon that tripled at Harris Teeter. The seals were also purchased on clearance for less than half the regular price.

*check yard sales for canning jars. Two or three years ago, I hit the jackpot, buying six boxes of canning jars that were still sealed in the boxes for $2 each. Someone’s jam-making plans that went bust turned into my bargain.

*encourage your jam recipients to return the jars and rims, which can be used over and over again. Only the seals must be replaced.

*ask your farmer if he has bruised fruit for sale at a lower price. In the height of the season, farmers at the farmer’s market are often willing to sell their culls at a lower price.

*finally, don’t be intimidated. Jam is not that difficult to make. I simply use the recipe chart included in every box of fruit pectin.

Later in the summer, I will make blueberry, peach and fig jam, depending on the availability of local fruit and the price. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be given fresh figs from a friend’s tree, which I turned into jam. 

There’s something almost magical about giving homemade jam as a gift, particularly at Christmastime. It’s reminiscent of simpler times. And reminiscent of spring.

As I often write on my homemade tags: “Bringing you warm thoughts of springtime on a cold winter morning.”





Triples update: I saved 87 percent on my grocery bill

29 04 2009

img_1698If you’ve had any lingering doubts about the power of coupons, check out my latest shopping trip to Harris Teeter. I saved 87 percent off my total grocery order. 

In other words, I paid 13 cents on the dollar for all the groceries you see filling my kitchen table. If that isn’t worth a couple hours a week clipping and organizing, I don’t know what is.

After three shops at three different HT stores — all a stone’s throw from my house — I paid $22.01 for $163.23 worth of groceries.

Harris Teeters throughout the Southeast are tripling coupons up to 99 cents today through Tuesday, May 5. Click here to read my original post, which includes a link to a substantial list of great deals for free and unbelievably cheap items.

Items I “bought” that were totally free: Grande tortilla chips, McCormick cinnamon, McCormick chili powder, Clabber Girl baking powder, Bumblebee Tuna, Lava bar soap and Lady Speed Stick.

Items 25 cents or under: Dial soap three-pack, McCormick imitation vanilla, Texas Toast crutons, Planters Big Nut bars, Lipton noodles, Dole peaches, Multi-grain Cheerios and No Yolk noodles.

Items 55 cents or under: Pepto Bismol, Nestles Morsels, Eggo waffles and Breyers ice cream.

Everything else was under $1 except for the package of sirloin fillets, which were $1.76 after a $2 peelie, and Reynolds 100 percent recycled foil, which was $1.45 after triple coupons. But, I will end up getting this free — or possibly make money — after sending in my Earth Day try-me-free mail-in rebate.

After all that shopping, I’ll probably take a breather until early Sunday morning when the new coupons come out in the Sunday newspaper. Check here or here later today to see what coupons we can expect. 

In the mean time, I’d love to hear your best grocery savings stories.





It’s time for triples again

27 04 2009

My favorite grocery store, Harris Teeter, is at it again with another round of triples. It has only been one month since the last triples promotion, and according to folks with inside sources, it is another week-long event. Triples will begin Wednesday, April 29, and run through Tuesday, May 5.

This lends credibility to the rumors that Harris Teeter will be doing triples on a monthly basis. We coupon crazies can only hope.

And for those of you in the lands of no triples, such as Florida, my pantry runneth over in sorrow for you.

For those of you on the East Coast within driving distance of a Harris Teeter, click here  for a wonderful list of triples deals posted on the North Carolina-based deals forum, SavvyDollar.org. Many thanks to Faye Prosser, a North Carolina coupon guru and the author of the book, The Smart Spending Guide, for compiling the list, which also includes deals listed on HotCouponWorld.com, a national deals forum.

Looks like there are many free and nearly free items available to savvy shopper with the right coupons. During the first two days of the sale, we’ll be able to take advantage of those coupons with April 30th expiration dates. And Sunday will bring another new round of deals with the new coupon inserts in Sunday’s newspaper.

In these recessionary times, I can’t think of a better way to stretch that grocery budget.





Triple coupon “hidden deals”

26 03 2009

If you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of a Harris Teeter grocery store, you’ve probably been triple couponing at least once since the promotion began Wednesday. I was there bright and early to get my bargains before the shelves were bare.  (Just a reminder that there are no rain checks for triple coupons.)

I returned to Harris Teeter today to take a more leisurely stroll up and down the aisles looking for what I call the “hidden deals.”  The forums on SavvyDollar.org and Hot Coupon World do a great job of posting all the triples bargains, combining sales with coupons from the Sunday newspaper inserts. Those lists also include many of the deals using the so-called “peelie” coupons found on products and “blinkie” coupons from the little red machines attached to the store shelves.

But, often times, I’ll have coupons from other sources that turn out to be a great deal. I’m talking about coupons from magazines, free samples, product demonstrators, etc. See my post here about my top 15 sources for finding coupons.

A prime example of this was my purchase of  Uncrustables frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Using the 55-cent coupons available from the Sunday inserts, a $2.79 box would end up costing you $1.14. Not a bad deal if your family eats these all the time but more than I would spend for an item you can make yourself in seconds for a fraction of the cost.

But, I had coupons valued at 75 cents off from a word-of-mouth marketing campaign I took part in months ago that I was saving for just such an occasion. That made each box just 54 cents. As a treat for my daughter, I stocked up.

Another example is the Spot Shot carpet cleaner I purchased yesterday. Using the newspaper insert coupon and taking advantage of the BOGO deal, these cans would be 85 cents. A great bargain considering this product normally sells for $5. But with a $2 coupon I clipped from the All You magazine, I paid just 50 cents.

So today, with my coupon binder open and my more relaxed pace, I looked to see if I could snag an extra deal or two. I recognize this sort of thing isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re holding down a job or have a toddler hanging on to your legs. But since I’m the stay-at-home parent in our household and my youngest is in school, I  try to squeeze in the time to do this sort of deal reconnaissance mission every so often.

My “hidden deal” of the day? A half-gallon of Mayfield ice cream. Since we’re chocolate fanatics, I chose Extreme Moose Tracks. It is regularly priced at $5.65 but was on a BOGO special for $2.88. Tucked into a page pocket in the freezer section of my binder was a lone coupon for 55 cents off any Mayfield ice cream. I vaguely remembered getting it from a demonstrator a few weeks ago who was handing out small dishes of ice cream.

SCORE! I brought home a half-gallon of  ice cream for just $1.23

What hidden deals have you found lately?





The anatomy of a deal

24 03 2009

img_1616-1I got six bags of Doritos today at Harris Teeter, and did not pay a single penny of real money. I thought it would be interesting to blog about it to show how one deal can roll into another. And sometimes, when the coupon stars align, you get an unbelievable deal.

Today’s Doritos deal was one such deal, and on the eve of triples no less!

OK, here goes.

Doritos regularly sell for $3.99 a bag, though I couldn’t imagine paying four bucks for a bag of snacks. Total for six bags: $24.

Ending today, Harris Teeter had them BOGO. (Buy one, get one free.) That reduces my total to $12.

Next, I used a $3 coupon and a $2 coupon that I received in the mail this week as part of a Pepsi promotion I did back in January. My new total: $7.

I paid with an American Express gift card I received back in January from Home Depot as an apology for a promotion gone wrong. My out-of-pocket expense: $0.

To sweeten the deal even further: I will use the receipt from this transaction to cash in on a beer rebate offered by Budweiser for $5 back when you spend $5.01 or more on snack foods. No beer purchase is required. So ultimately, I will MAKE $5 on the deal. Don’t you just love it when a deal comes together like this.

What great deals have you run into lately? Please post below how you work your coupon magic.





A triple coupon marathon

22 03 2009

Word on the Web has it that Harris Teeter, my favorite grocery store chain here in North Carolina, is going to be offering triple coupons again this week —  but with a twist.

This time, the triple-coupon event will begin on Wednesday, the first day of the new sales week, and last for a full week. This is pretty much unheard of in the couponing world. Triple coupon events typically last three days — or at the most four. Talk about a couponing marathon.

With just 2 1/2 days to go until triples begin, I’ll be spending a lot of time matching coupons in my binder with items that will be on sale. Many thanks to the folks at Hot Coupon World and SavvyDollar.org, two sites that have posted the contents of the weekly sale paper and a list of grocery items that will end up being free or a few cents each.

This is extremely valuable information because more casual shoppers won’t see the sales circular until they open their Wednesday morning newspaper. The early shopper gets the deals.

If you’re new to couponing, a triples event is a great opportunity to stock your pantry. Concentrate on buying the free and nearly free items, and any items that are an exceptionally good deal that your family eats or uses all the time. But don’t be fooled into thinking all triples deals are the best deal you will find. Many times, a double coupon offer — when combines with a “buy-one-get-one-free” sale — will end up being cheaper. So know your sales.

The three main coupon policies to remember when shopping a triples event at Harris Teeter:  The store will triple up to 20 coupons per day per customer. No more than three like coupons will be tripled. Coupons will triple up to 99 cents in value. I’ve never seen a coupon valued at 99 cents, but if there were such a thing, it would be valued at $2.97 during triples. To read the store’s full coupon policy, click here.

Now it’s back to work on my coupon binder. See you in the aisles.





January spending scorecard

3 02 2009

As promised, I am reporting in on how much money we spent — and how much we saved — at the grocery store and pharmacy during January. Click here to read the original post. 

Over the last few years, I’ve tried to stay within a $50 per week budget so I’ve always known — within a few bucks — how much I was spending.

 But I’ve always had to guess how much I was saving. From the volume of coupons I clip and the weight of the coupon binder I tote with me on every shopping excursion, I knew I saved A LOT. But now I have my first month’s worth of solid evidence:

I brought home $908.79 worth of groceries, cleaning supplies and health and beauty products. That’s full price, which, of course, I would never dream of paying.

I saved $284.35 by shopping sales and using my loyalty cards. I saved another $346.25 using coupons for a total of $652.92 in savings.

I paid $56.23 using various gift cards, which I received as gifts or earned through various promotions, leaving $199.63 that I paid out of pocket. Crunching the numbers, that means I saved 78 percent on grocery and drug store items for January.

For those of you following my no-spending-in-February challenge, I was happy to see that when I tallied the final receipts I didn’t go over my standard $50 per week budget. I wanted to go into the challenge with the same amount of food and household supplies that I normally do to keep the experiment honest. (Click here and here to read the first two posts on the no-spend challenge.)

 My only real shock — and I have to admit, disappointment — was in the number of shopping trips it took to obtain this level of savings. After tallying my receipts, I discovered I made 28 trips to seven different stores. I shopped at Harris Teeter 11 times, CVS seven, Kroger four, Food Lion three and Lowe’s Foods, Super Target and Super Walmart once each. If I were working outside the home, I seriously doubt I would make that many trips. But since I am at home, trying to get the most out of one salary and save substantial amounts for retirement and college, I see it as part of the job. And thankfully, all of these stores are within a mile or two of my home, with the exception of the Super Walmart, so I’m not burning up too much gas to go after my bargains.

But still, I never realized I was shopping that frequently. With the help of a large freezer bag, I do try to group some of my shopping trips together to save time and gasoline. Even so, I think I could do a better job of consolidating. I’m hoping maybe January is an aberration. I guess we’ll see as the year wears on.

One final note:  My $50 per week budget covers a full-time family of three (two adults and one 10-year-old) plus two college boys who come home about every two weeks to do their laundry and raid the pantry.

How much do you spend per week on your groceries and household supplies? Do you keep track of your savings? Do you go to several stores per week to chase the deals or do you stick to one store to save time? I would love to compare notes.