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  • 5 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Reusable Bags {Thrifty Thursday}

    Ways to Get Free or Cheap Reusable Bags -

    As I mentioned earlier this month, Los Angeles has banned shopping plastic bags, and we now have to bring our own reusable bags or buy bags at checkout. That means we need more reusable bags than ever, so here are some tips on getting free or cheap bags:

    1. Take advantage of free bag offers. Stores occasionally offer a free reusable bag to get you into the store. For example, Staples regularly offers a coupon for a free reusable bag plus 20% off everything you can fit in it. Stores like the Disney Store offer a free reusable bag every Earth Day, on April 22.

    2. Take advantage of free-with-purchase offers. Through today (1/15), Vons/Pavilions is offering a free reusable bag with a $25 purchase, 2 free bags with a $50 purchase, and 3 free bags with a $75 purchase (there was a coupon for the offer taped to the register at my store). Ralphs has given me a free wine carrier with the purchase of six bottles, though that was a while ago and I don’t know if that’s standard practice. I’ve also heard about other stores offering free-with-purchase reusable bags to ease their customers into the plastic bag ban.

    3. Reuse paper and plastic bags you already have. You probably still have some paper and plastic bags from purchases you made last year. If you’re not using them for anything else, they can be reused as shopping bags for as long as they last.

    4. Reuse gift bags. Some gift bags are very sturdy, and can be reused multiple times. As long as you don’t get them wet or make them too heavy, they should last for a while. And if you’re really lucky, someone will give you a gift in a reusable bag (I like to do this, and recipients like teachers love it!).

    5. Look for 99-cent reusable bags. I think every store I shop at sells select reusable bags for $0.99. They are usually branded with the store name, and tend toward the ugly, but they certainly serve their purpose and the price is definitely right.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

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    Image via by kraifreedom.

    5 Ways to Remember Your Reusable Bags

    Ways to Remember Your Reusable Bags -

    Locals, have you noticed? Los Angeles banned plastic bags in stores effective January 1. We customers now have to bring our own bags or buy bags in store.

    I have to admit, I’m a little sad because I’m a huge bag re-user. Plastic bags get used in the kitchen to collect waste on the countertop – it’s more efficient than constantly walking over to the trash can, and it’s also nice to have a double barrier of plastic on anything wet. Plastic bags also get used to collect muddy cleats after games, and so on. Paper bags get used to give stuff away all the time – whether to a friend, or donate to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, etc. I’m going to miss those free bags!

    But, I understand the motivation behind the plastic bag ban, and we already have more reusable bags than one family needs. The trick is remembering to bring the bags into the store. So here are some tips to make that happen:

    1. Keep bags in your car. Unless you usually bike to the store, in which case you should bundle up the bags and keep them in your basket. To help remember to put the bags back in the car, get in the habit of leaving them by the door once they’re empty, so you seen them on your way out.

    2. Keep extra bags in the car. You will, inevitably, forget to take the bags back to the car. So have enough bags that you always have a couple of extra bags in the car, even after your biggest regular shopping trip.

    3. Put some bags in your coupon bag or purse. Some reusable bags come with a nifty feature that allows them to become super compact. I have one that folds up and zips into a tidy little square, and a couple with a built-in strap and snap {similar to what’s on a folding umbrella}. These types of bags are great for keeping in your purse, for those occasions when you forget to take a bag out of the trunk, although they won’t be enough for a big shopping trip. And they won’t really help someone who doesn’t carry a bag while shopping, unless you get in the habit of keeping one in your pocket!

    4. Leave your cart near the registers or at customer service. If you realize while shopping that you forgot your bags in the car, just ask a cashier or someone at the customer service desk to keep an eye on your cart while you run out to the car for your bags.

    5. Have everything put in your cart, then fill your bags at the car. If you don’t realize you’ve forgotten your bags until you’re already being rung up, ask the clerk to put all of your unbagged items into the cart. You can fill your bags when you get to your car, and then return the cart as usual. Or, if you don’t mind leaving the register while your items are being rung up, make a quick run out to your car as soon as you realize you forgot your bags. {But many couponers like to keep an eagle eye on the register, so the first alternative gives you that option.}

    How do you remember your reusable bags?

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    Image via by kraifreedom.

    5 Menu Planning Tips

    menu planning tips

    Last week, I shared six ways that menu planning saves us money. Hopefully, that convinced you that menu planning is worth the effort!

    Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks that help make menu planning a little easier. Here they are:

    Plan monthly menus. I found creating a monthly menu plan daunting at first, but I got the hang of it after a few months. And now I find that I’m much more likely to plan for the week if I already have a starting point in a monthly plan. A monthly menu also allows me to space out different kinds of meals.

    Start with your schedule. I use a basic monthly calendar template in Google Drive to create my menu plan each month, and I always have my calendar open as I plan. This allows me to take into account social plans, the kids’ activities, and anything else that might affect what we have for dinner. For example, if we’re going to be out in the late afternoon but home in time for dinner, I’ll plan for something that I can make ahead and have ready when we walk in the door.

    When prepping your menu for the upcoming week, you may also want to check the weather report. I use the 7-day forecast to figure out which days I want to grill or bake, taking into account any rain or temperature fluctuations predicted.

    Decide on a weekly pattern. Some people do meatless Mondays, Mexican Tuesdays, pizza Wednesdays, and so on. Here’s how I like to plan my week:

    • 1 meatless meal
    • 1 pasta meal
    • 1 fish meal
    • 1 Japanese meal
    • 1 freezer meal
    • 1 breakfast meal {for dinner}

    Sometimes these meals overlap, such as when I serve misoyaki, which covers both the Japanese and fish meals. Or if I make my favorite bolognese sauce, I always make extra to freeze and it is also our pasta meal for the week. These parameters help me vary the meals we have throughout the week, as well as manage costs since meatless and pasta meals tend to be cheaper than Japanese and fish meals.

    Have some tried and true recipes to incorporate into your menu plan. I like to plug these recipes in when I’m first starting my monthly menu plan. These recipes are particularly handy because I have a good idea of how long it will take me to prepare them, and I know which ones I can make ahead for the busy days on my calendar.

    Collect recipes you want to try. I used to have a large three-ring binder for my recipes, but I now exclusively use Pinterest. As I plan my monthly menu, I peruse my Pinterest boards for new recipes I want to try. I take into account the season, what’s languishing in my pantry, and of course, whatever captures my fancy. As I mentioned last week, regularly trying out new recipes keeps things interesting at home and reduces the temptation to eat out just because we’re bored of having the same foods.

    If you have a menu planning tip or recipe to share, please leave a comment!

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    Original menu image via by Sujin Jetkasettakorn.

    Six Ways Menu Planning Saves Money

    You’ve probably noticed the icon to the left in my weekly menu planning posts. And if you’ve been reading CFO for a while, you’ve also probably noticed that I’ll go through periods when I give up on menu planning.

    This past summer is a great example – if you go through the archives, you’ll see that I stopped menu planning when summer vacation started, and didn’t start again until last month. Like almost everything else, menu planning is easiest when it’s part of a routine, and my biggest problem this past summer was that I didn’t have a routine. The kids didn’t go to camp, they had crazy sports practice schedules, and I felt like I was barely maintaining my sanity.

    But by mid-September, I’d regained my footing, and although life is still crazy, it’s manageable because I have a routine! So I’ve been menu planning lately, and I’ve noticed anew how the practice saves us so much money:

    I waste less food because I use what I buy. My biggest problem when I don’t plan my menu is wasted food, because I end up buying more than we need, or I’ll buy something that catches my eye that I don’t quite know what to do with. With a menu plan, I tend to stick to my list, so I don’t buy more than I need.

    We try new meals. You might be wondering how this saves us money, so let me explain: I have better control over the impulse to buy something novel (i.e., those things I don’t really know what to do with that I just mentioned). By planning for meals that are new to us (I love my Pinterest boards for this), I can plan to use the novel ingredients so they don’t go to waste. Plus, constantly eating new meals reduces the urge to eat out simply because we’re bored.

    I waste less food because I can plan to use what I have. During these last few weeks of menu planning, I’ve really noticed what ingredients I have on hand, and what I’m running low on. I’ve also noticed what’s been sitting around for a while and needs to be used up. Menu planning allows me to incorporate those ingredients into a meal so they don’t expire and end up in the trash.

    I can plan truly frugal meals. I generally take the view that any meal we have at home is going to be cheaper and/or healthier than any meal out, so it doesn’t really matter how much it costs. I regularly plan a $40 sushi and sashimi meal, which would cost double that if we had a similar meal at a restaurant. But menu planning also means I can plan a really cheap meal. For example, tomorrow I plan to serve bean and cheese enchiladas. I use a can of refried beans ($0.99), Mexican blend cheese ($1.75 for a half bag
    of RBST-free cheese at TJ’s), tortillas ($1.49 for a half bag), and store-bought enchilada sauce ($1.49 for half a bottle). I add a salad, and figure that’s $0.99 for a half bag + $1 for avocado + $1 for jarred roasted red peppers. That works out to a total of $8.71 for a meal that serves at least 4 people!

    We eat out less. Except for pre-planned social occasions, we usually eat out for two reasons: convenience or cravings. Usually, it’s convenience – I don’t feel like cooking, or the timing doesn’t work out for a home-cooked meal (such as when games end at 7 p.m.). But when I plan our meals ahead, I can take timing into account. Sometimes we’re just too far away from home, but more often than not, a meal waiting in the slow-cooker or the fridge will work just fine. I just have to make sure it’s waiting for us when we walk in the door. And as I mentioned before, regularly trying new recipes drastically curtails our urge to eat out.

    We have leftovers for lunch. My husband is fantastic about brown-bagging his lunch, so almost every day, I pack him a lunch with what’s left of our dinner from the night before. I do my best to make it a desirable bento (these containers are a favorite), and frequently supplement with fruit and a cookie. Each lunch he takes to work saves us at least $5, and that figure is probably closer to $15!

    Next week, I’ll share some strategies that make menu planning easier.

    My New Favorite Way to Save: Price Matching

    As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I shop at Target all the time but just price matched for the first time ever there.

    I loved it!

    And I will definitely do it again.

    See this basket?

    Lego gift basket

    I just put it together for a fundraiser at school, after collecting money from other parents and purchasing the Lego sets at Target. The giant box at the back of the basket is the Lego Star Wars Sith Fury-class Interceptor, which had a shelf price of $89.99. I was standing in the store, talking to a mom I’d run into, when it suddenly occurred to that it might be cheaper at Amazon and that I could price match if it was. And it was! When I looked it up on Amazon on my smartphone, it came up $71.36.

    Naturally, I headed over to Guest Services, and asked them to match Amazon’s price. They have to look up the item on the Target-owned iPad to verify the price, and I was told that for Amazon, the item has to be “sold and shipped by Amazon.” (Luckily for me, the Lego set was sold and shipped by Amazon at the time, because it’s over $130 from a third-party seller right now!)

    It seems like once the Target team member has verified the other store’s price, it’s a simple matter to change the price when ringing up the item. My receipt shows the item at the price-matched price, and underneath that, it says “Regular Price $89.99.”

    You can read Target’s full price-matching policy here.

    Do you price-match?

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