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Monday, August 9, 2010

saving on kids and food - part 4, kids and clothing

So, both of my children are in elementary school (last year for my son...wahhhh!), and clothing is starting to become an issue. Not that they are asking/demanding/throwing a fit, but just that they are noticing more. Personally, I have never been one to bow down under peer pressure to wear only certain brands of clothing, and I am doing my best to raise my children to be the same. Right now, they get most of their clothing from WalMart, KMart, Target, or wherever I find decent, appropriate clothing on sale...most often clearance. As they are still growing, I find it senseless to spend more than $10-$20 on ANY piece of clothing, except for winter coats. Walmart shoes, while inexpensive, are the choice of both children because they have learned that, when they outgrow their current pair, it's not going to break the "mommy bank" to go out and get another in the next larger size. They also know that, if they want a certain label, they will either have to save money from their allowance (more on that in another post), or wait until it goes on sale, at which point, it might not be in their size (but they also might have gotten over the "need" for the item).

If you've been to the stores recently, you will notice that fall/winter clothing is starting to hit the floors, and summer clothing is starting to go on clearance....this is the time to buy for NEXT year. Yes, I know....let's use my daughter as an example....we just did the pre school closet/dresser clean-out (for both children), and she ended up with almost NO summer clothing left. Fortunately, there was a good sale going on and I found her some shorts (in her current size) for less than $4 a pair. I bought her 2 pairs in her current size as well as some in the next size up....seriously...if I waited until next year, instead of $4 a pair, I would have had to pay $8 a pair....nope, not me. Bathing suits are the only thing I hesitate to buy early...simply because they don't always fit correctly, and you can't tell that without trying them on...and DD doesn't like trying a ton of clothes on unless it's something she So...I tend to wait until we need them to get them, and I force her to go with me.....avoids the possibility that the seemingly demure 1-piece is actually a butt-thong, high-leg tramp suit.....don't get offended....I'm talking about a bathing suit for a 1st grader!!!

Keep your child's favorite colors and interests in mind if you aren't taking them shopping with you (safer and cheaper if you don't take them with you) and you can usually get them a good amount of outfits (mix and match if you really work on it) that will last the school year. For my daughter, we have gravitated toward pink, purple, and turquoise/light blue. She can mix and match nearly her entire wardrobe, which actually means less clothing we had to buy, and more outfits because of all the versatility of the pieces. Buying basics can also help save money....a few good pairs of jeans, some plain skirts or jumpers, and some neutral sweaters and shirts and you have the general idea. Of course, if you have a girly-girl, you need to add in a special dress or 2....and that means that besides sneakers, you need some dress shoes....and tights in addition to socks...

For boys, at least if they are like mine, you will need jeans, sweatpants, short-sleeve tshirts, long sleeve tshirts, sweaters or sweatshirts, 2 pairs of slacks (dockers work fine), sneakers, and dress shoes, plus dress socks in addition to regular sport socks.....

ALL of these items go on sale throughout the year, but make sure to ALWAYS check the clearance sections before heading right to the main clothing section (case in point, though about my husband and not my children - he needed new dress shoes and I was hunting for a good pair. All the ones in the main section were $45 or more, but then I stumbled on the clearance section - not clearly marked in the store I was in - and found a pair of dress shoes, in the size he needed and style he wanted, for $13!!!)

Have fun and see shopping as an adventure....think of how much fun you can have while actually SAVING your family money.....make it a game...set a limit (and this also goes for groceries) and see if you can get everything you need for that amount...or less.....

saving on kids and food - part 3, kids and food

Ok...this is really more for those who have school-age children....let's start with lunches since my children are already begging for all the dyed, sugared, CRAP that they see in the store.

Be smart and read the children like yogurt, provided it's a "crush cup" or "gogurt"....but not all products are made the same. If your child has a food allergy, please keep that in the forefront as you buy these products. Now, since yogurt is fairly healthy (I say fairly because so many that are marketed towards children have a mess of things that we don't need, but that make it more appealing), I tend to purchase it for my children - but, only if it is on sale or if I have coupons (bonus if I have a coupon AND it's on sale). Don't be afraid of purchasing some if it is near the expiration date. Instead, put it in the freezer! When you pack it in your child's lunchbox, it will stay cold and be edible by the time lunch time comes, and you are actually "extending" the life of the yogurt by freezing it (really just slowing down the decomposition/spoiling, but still, getting more days that it will be good to eat).

When you want to pack fresh fruit (and this will probably draw criticism), opt for the small packages of pre-cut apples. They will stay fresh longer, and you won't have as much getting thrown away because of the apples being "brown" (why children can't get that the apple still tastes the same is beyond me, but if the apple is brown, my children won't touch it). Buying large bags of baby carrots is a better bargain because you can divvy them up into smaller bags for single servings. At some salvage marts, you can even find small containers of peanut butter for rock-bottom prices, and those can also be used as part of the snacks (a place near me was selling them for $0.10 each, and the containers are fairly decent sized - enough to have a small apple with and maybe even have some left over!).

If your children want to purchase lunch from school, like mine do, one thing that might work for you is to have them choose a few days a month, with meals that they REALLY like, with the understanding that they will be packing the rest of the time. When my children bring home the lunch menus, I go through it with each of them (separately works best) and mark which day each child wants to buy (by using their initial). Some days, even if they want to buy, they don't get to - barbecue and corn dogs are days that neither buys because I know the food will just end up getting thrown away, and that's $2 in the trash...not in my Set a limit....I've said that $20 per month, per child is the most I will pay for that means each child gets no more than 10 school lunches in a month....that's the most...which means half bought and half from home....most often, they choose less because they would rather see what snacks I have packed for them :-)

Be reasonable....don't expect children to want to try new things in their lunch....the old stand-by in our house is PB&J, but of course, if there are allergies, don't use that.... When you send in a thermos, fill it part way with the drink (water, juice, even milk) and put it in the freezer the night before. In the morning, finish filling it and pack it in the lunchbox - it will stay cold until lunch. As with the family dinners, try to make sure you have a variety of foods...proteins, carbs, etc....peanut butter has protein, as does lunchmeat, but sometimes there are additives that our children don't smart, read labels. A typical lunch for my children (from home) will include a sandwich (usually PB&J), either some fresh fruit or veggies, juice, and either cookies or crackers. Before you get indignant, the cookies are most often homemade, which means I control the amount of sugar in them instead of purchasing the processed, additive-filled cookies from the store. On special occasions there might be a small piece of chocolate in their lunch as a surprise (birthdays, most often).

If your children are older, have them help with making purchases for their lunchboxes as well as making their lunches. By the time they are in 3rd grade, they should be able to tell what an acceptable lunch is and pull the items they need to make it. Because I have my children work with me to get their lunches together, they are less likely to ask for junk and more likely to make smarter choices when we are at the store or meal-planning, it just takes practice and consistency! up next.......

saving on kids and food,-part 2, food cont'd

Start planning....keep in mind your family don't want to plan a meal that takes long to cook when you have activities planned that get you home later than normal....those are the nights for simple meals - soups and sandwiches, a roast that's been cooking all day in a slow cooker, something along those lines (and yes, sometimes our family does chicken nuggets and french fries because they are fast and easy, the kids will eat them, and it gets everybody back on schedule when we have late nights).

If you do a roast and have a good amount leftover, it does NOT have to stay as a roast. You can add the leftovers to a vegetable broth with fresh veggies and have a yummy soup; throw shredded roast in with cooked (and cooled) rice, some soy sauce, veggies and you have a beef stir fry; slap some on some bread, add cheese and heat, and you have a quick and delicious sandwich....there really are LOTS of recipes you can use to turn leftovers into completely different meals. The trick is to go through your cookbooks (or find recipes online or check out some books from the library) and have some ready to go.

Remember to have variety...while you might like red meat several nights a week, most people's bodies can't properly digest a huge amount....alternate with poultry (ground turkey instead of ground beef in spaghetti makes a healthier meal with little to no taste difference), seafood, or even meatless meals (3-cheese tortellini in marinara sauce, for example), and change up the vegetables as well....don't always have broccoli or some other vegetable as you and your family will get sick of it...alternate....have fresh salads every few nights, introduce new veggies every now and then (a big one in our house is the California blends either plain or with cheese - these are broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots..nice and healthy).

Those are the you get more confident, you can add salvage stores to your shopping routine - GREAT discounts on the supplemental foods - side dishes, condiments, drinks - but seldom on, take a deep breath and get started!.....Next up...basics of saving on the things kids need....

saving when it comes to kids and food - part 1, food

So, it's almost time for the kids to head back to school...time to get ready to start saving in a pretty big way.

I have been meal-planning for well over a year now (after a brain-fog induced break of about 3 years), and the money I've managed to save has allowed for us to pay off a car, reduce the amount of our home equity loan by a huge amount, and upgrade some thing that we normally stick to the lowest level of (kids shoes, for example). A friend of mine recently asked if I was still working on saving money and then asked if she and i could sit down one day so that I could show her how to get her grocery budget under control. With 4 children, I can see where she's coming from, so I said that once the kids were back in school, we should get together and I'd sit down and show her what *I* do, understanding that it won't be exactly the same for her.

So, here's the basics to get going on meal-planning and saving money.......

Initially, it will require a little bit of time because one of the key components of getting this to work is knowing what you already have available to you. So, a couple of days before you are ready to shop, you should start taking a food inventory. Yes, I said a couple of days....if you try to do it all in one day, you will end up tired, frustrated, annoyed, and ready to trash the whole plan. Start with 1 of the following: pantry, fridge and attached freezer, cabinets, or...if you have one....a separate freezer. Just plan on taking the inventory of 1 of these...if you get to more than one, consider yourself in bonus-land! Since I've been doing this for a while, I can take inventory of all the places we store food in less than an hour. You are NOT taking stock of things like salt, herbs, spices, oil, etc., but instead are looking for the bigger ingredients, side dishes, etc. (soups, pasta, veggies) as well as main ingredients (beef, seafood, poultry).

Plan on your initial inventory day(s) to total about 3 hours of need to be fairly accurate when taking inventory so that you don't find yourself in a jam later in the month. For example, instead of writing ground beef, write "3 lbs ground beef". For me, I tend to purchase the value packs that weight about 5 pounds and divide it into separate ziploc bags of 1 pound each (or thereabout since my small kitchen scale seems to keep hiding from me...just make the amount in each bag close to equal). This way, you can see that, depending on the recipes used, you can make 5 nights of spaghetti, tacos, hamburger stew, or other recipes that call for 1 pound of ground beef/hamburger.

Ok, now that you've gotten an accurate list of what you have (and hopefully you have like things grouped together - makes things MUCH easier! - try putting all beef together, all pork, all poultry, all seafood, all veggies, then misc), it's time to see what you have and what you need to purchase....well, almost......this is where you can take 1 of 2 paths. The first is to start planning meals based on what you already have without seeing what is currently on sale at the local grocery stores. The second path is to set your inventory aside and go through the circulars from the grocery stores, making a list of what they have on sale (which is what you are going to be buying more of than anything else).

I switch back and forth between these 2 steps depending on what we have on hand when I do my inventory (which, after you've done your first month of planning doesn't take anywhere near as long!). Currently, I have meals planned out through 8/23, mainly using what we had on hand, with minimal grocery purchases. Payday is coming up, though, so it's time for me to double-check what we have left and plan as far as I can, then go through the circulars and coupons to prep for the next grocery run.

So, say you want to go the circular route first. You need to have your inventory out as well because, if you have a lot of poultry, you don't really want to buy too much more, especially if your beef inventory is small or non-existent. Go through ALL grocery store circulars, even if they aren't stores you typically go to....if they are stores you pass in your daily travels, even if you haven't shopped there before, make a note of what they have on sale that you will use. That's a BIG thing...a bargain isn't a bargain if the item will just sit and not get used by the family. I tend to have a notebook with me when I go through the circulars and I have a page for each grocery store where I write down everything, including the price, that I'm interested in buying (it also helps if you note the NVgranola bars for Nature Valley instead of just writing granola bars - makes for easier coupon matching later).

Once you have your potential shopping lists done, do a quick read-through to compare the prices at each store - cross off the ones that are most expensive, but make sure they are identical items....don't cross of steaks at one when another store doesn't have steaks, but has roasts...make sense?? Now you start your planning. You should do your best to have a meat, veggie, and carb at each meal....sometimes it will be difficult (especially if you have picky eaters), but do your best.

By now, some of you are probably ready to give up because this is too hard or takes too long, or you have small kids and no time....baloney! Kids sleep, and you can do this in little chunks of time....or, it mustn't be important enough....Our grocery bills have been cut in half (if not more) since I started doing this on a regular basis....that's a decent amount of money (say, close to $500 a month) that I have been able to put towards paying off debts....your choice.

Ok....try to have a variety of meals during a week - heck, you can even start by just planning for a week to get used to meal planning. Also, remember that leftovers are our friends, not something to wrinkle your nose at, then toss when they go bad. If you have children, try to keep their tastes in mind, but do NOT cater to them. They need to learn to try new things, and in our house, the rule is that you must have at least 2 bites of something. If you don't like it, you are more than welcome to make yourself a PB&J...but nobody will make it for you.