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  • Four small things I do to save money

    I do a few things that result in small savings, but that psychologically make a big difference to me. Here are three four of them:

    1. Buy gift cards at Ralphs for stores that don’t offer rewards. My main credit card is an American Express Blue Cash card, which gives 5% cash back for grocery purchases (after the first $6,500 in total purchases each year). Ralphs Rewards gives me $1 for every 100 points I earn (usually 1 point per dollar spent; Ralphs is our Kroger affiliate here). That means I get 6% back when I buy gift cards at Ralphs. I shop a decent amount at Target and Amazon, so I buy gift cards for those stores there at Ralphs. Amazon doesn’t participate in any cash back sites, so this is pretty much the only way I can save extra money there. And while Target offers 5% back every day when you use their credit card, I really don’t want another card. So buying gift cards while I’m at the store anyway helps save me money.

    2. Use online banking instead of sending checks. I save on postage by using my bank’s online payment service instead of mailing checks. It also saves me money on checks, since I use fewer of them and need to reorder much less often.

    3. Redeem cans and bottles for CRV (California Redemption Value – $0.05 for small bottles and $0.10 for large ones). We don’t drink that much soda or bottled water, so it takes me 3 to 4 months to collect enough to redeem for about $10. But still, that’s $40 a year I’m getting back, and it doesn’t take much effort.

    4. Use reusable grocery bags. Some stores give a credit when you bring in your bags, so I’ve become quite good about remembering them. The one exception is Target, where I find the cashiers extremely unreliable about giving me the credit, and where I have a hard time remembering to remind them (because I have kids vying for my attention, or there’s a coupon issue that makes me forget, etc.).

    I find that these small steps help me to be mindful of all savings, no matter how big or small. Each step by itself may not save much, but they all add up to a big savings in total.

    What small steps do you take to save money?

    My Favorite Internet Tool: Screen Grab

    Screengrab is a Firefox extension that captures screenshots, but its true functionality for me is that I can save an entire page, no matter how long it is. I use Screengrab for financial uses all the time. I started about five years ago by saving copies of receipts and payment confirmation for online purchases, as well as the confirmation pages of my online banking activities. This saves me ink, paper and time, because I don’t have to print any confirmations.

    Recently, I decided it was time to fully switch to paperless statements, so I began saving copies of bank and investment statements. If the documents are provided as a pdf, then they’re very easy to save. But last night, for example, I discovered that my credit union statement was in MHTML format, which as far as I could tell was not a format that actually saved a copy of the document. So I simply used Screengrab to save a copy of the entire page.

    One last tip: As you make the transition to being paperless, remember to back up your files on one or two other drives.

    And a side note: I use a program called Snagit for partial captures. Certain versions of Windows Vista come with a similar handy program called Snipping Tool.

    Tips for saving on only one grocery store trip per week

    Back when I was working outside of the home full-time, I still made more than one trip to the grocery store, mostly because I shop at multiple stores to get the best deals at each store. But that doesn’t work for everyone, so here are some tips for saving money while making only grocery store trip each week:

    1. Start with a good stockpile. You may need to shop at several stores for a few weeks or months, or simply going to Target or Costco to stock your pantry, but starting with a well-stocked pantry will make Tip #2 easier.
    2. Decide on which store to shop at depending on that week’s sales. If you already have a stockpile of staples, then you can go to Ralphs for the produce and meat deals and not have to pay $3 for a box of pasta. (If you don’t have a stockpile, don’t want to go out of your way to start one, and don’t want to pay full price for that box of pasta, explore the store and tinker with your weekly menu to come up with inexpensive meals based on what’s on sale.)
    3. Know which store has the lowest price on things you eat that don’t go on sale. For example, I would hit Trader Joe’s once a month to stock up on things that I can stockpile but don’t usually find cheaper than TJ’s every day low price. For example, they have organic American cheese at $3.49, which I can’t find at Ralphs or Vons, and which is more expensive at Whole Foods.
    4. Be willing to pass up some good deals. This is actually a key to maintaining your sanity and preventing burnout under any circumstances. (I’ve discussed it before in the context of The Drugstore Game.)
    5. Be willing to adapt your menu to what’s available. Plan on planning your menu and your shopping list after you see what’s on sale that week, and you should keep your eyes open as you go through the store and spot the unadvertised specials.
    6. Be willing to pay a (small) premium for your mental health. If hitting multiple grocery stores stresses you out, don’t do it! Even if it means you have pay a little extra for food each week. Unless your family is watching every penny out of sheer necessity, in which case hitting multiple stores is probably necessary and therefore less stressful anyway, your mental health is worth a few extra dollars.

    Must-have Money-Saving Skill: Sew a Button

    I think people who can make their own clothes are amazing, and I’ve tried to learn how to sew, but I just don’t have a natural flair for it. It’s not that big a deal, although I do get envious when I see Adrienne at Baby Toolkit post her latest project.

    What I can do is sew a button back on. It’s a valuable skill, since it saves clothes and therefore money. I was reminded of this when a button fell off a pair of favorite shorts and I sewed it back on, thus saving us the expense of buying a new pair of shorts. It seems like a basic skill, but I’ve discovered that it’s not one that everyone knows these days.

    The results of my efforts aren’t the prettiest, so I’ll direct you to these instructions at WikiHow (there’s a video at the bottom of the page).

    Works for Me: Freezing Bread

    My parents always froze bread when I was growing up, so I’ve always done it too. But the other day, my friend K. mentioned that she kept having to throw out stale bread and buy a fresh loaf for her son’s school sandwiches. And I realized that not everybody freezes bread to keep it fresh. But it really works.

    I’ve found that store bought sliced bread usually freezes great and it’s easy to peel off just one or two slices at a time.

    My homemade sliced bread seems to be more delicate, and I find that I have to freeze it with the slices staggered in order to guarantee easy removal. As you can see in the photo, I just slide the staggered slices into a zip top freezer bag. They never last long enough to suffer freezer burn (I make a loaf every one to two weeks, depending on how many sandwiches we eat).

    K. was worried that the bread would be frozen and/or soggy when her son went to eat his sandwich. But I assured her that bread defrosts very quickly, and would be thawed enough for her to cut the sandwich by the time she was done making his sandwich. Using an oil-based condiment such as mayonnaise (me) or butter (K.) prevents the bread from becoming soggy.

    Find more Works for Me Wednesday Tips at We Are THAT Family.

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