Welcome to Frugal Homemade! This week, I am going to address the balance between savings and time. To me, this ties into Frugal Homemade because I have always had to be judicious with the amount of time I spend on the frugal to make sure I have enough time in my days to cook from scratch, tend to my garden, do DIY projects, and everything else that constitutes the homemade.
But this topic is also very timely for me because of some upcoming changes in my situation. This will be my last Frugal Homemade post, as I will be leaving the Mashup Mom team so that I can prepare for a return to working full-time outside the home. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend much of my daughter’s early years as a stay-at-home mom and virtual assistant here at Mashup Mom. While I am excited about my new endeavor, I will really miss this community and the excitement of the deals.
So, how to we save the most with the least amount of time and effort?
I will still try to save as much as I can, but my time will be more at a premium than anything else once I start my new job, so I have spent some time thinking about my savings efforts and what to focus on to get the best value for those efforts when my time becomes limited. Everyone’s needs and options are different, but I hope my discussion of mine and other observations helps you think of how you might conduct the analysis.
Which actions translate to the most savings?
Are there things you can do that save a ton of money easily? Are there things you are doing that aren’t saving you enough?
- Saving on produce. Like many of you, I cook most of my meals from scratch and the main thing I need from week to week is all manner of produce. So my main store should be the store that has the best prices on produce, right? Not necessarily, as it turns out. I have always been a Caputo’s shopper, for the produce and deli deals, the fact that they carry all of the unusual ingredients I find myself needing, and I also just like the place. But unfortunately, when I look at my last three trips, only one time did I buy more than a bag or two of produce. The produce deals are excellent, and the percentage savings over other stores are high, but the actual dollar savings over buying the same things elsewhere is not as great as I have been assuming. I might save $10 over buying the same produce items elsewhere, but that savings would be quickly negated if I also had to buy grocery or non-food items in the same trip, since those items tend to be expensive there. Stores like this are great if they are really convenient to you, but not always ideal for one-stop shopping.
- The drugstore game. These can be the best places for many things like health and beauty needs, certain grocery items, and milk. I have purchased countless net $1.99 gallons of milk at CVS. The problem with drugstores is that the “game” requires weekly attention to maintain your level of deals. And then there is the potential empty shelf, expiring RR or ECB, or other frustration of drugstore shopping. It is important to assess whether what you are getting and saving is worth all of the required effort.
- Specific items. Are there items that make a huge impact on your bottom line? For me, the first thing that comes to mind is cereal. My husband goes through a LOT of a specific type of cereal. Since the shelf price is very high, putting some effort in to stocking up when the price drops to its lowest can save me a ton with reasonable effort. And since it is a long-lasting item, the savings can be multiplied even more.
Where do you find the best overall value?
Shopping in fewer places saves time and energy on so many levels. The idea of one-stop shopping, or something close to it, is very appealing to me for time savings but also for mental health reasons.
- Stores that sell everything. I have been shopping at Meijer more and more, and with good reason. Occasionally I have compared shelf prices of various grocery items to Jewel and found them to be consistently 10% lower at Meijer. This is comforting if I just need something and don’t have time to shop around for it. And while produce prices are generally higher than market stores, they are lower than Jewel or Ultra. I am constantly stocking up on grocery and non-food items at Meijer as well. There are sales and promotions often enough that a little stocking up is all it would take to make a huge dent in the cost of those items. Some people have similar luck at SuperTarget or Walmart (especially if you are good with price-matching).
- Warehouse clubs. I only recently joined Costco, so I can only speak to this in a limited capacity at this point. But ROTISSERIE CHICKEN! Is it crazy to say it might be worth the membership just to buy a couple of chickens a month??? They are huge and $4.99. And not sold out when I go to buy one at 5:30 pm. The last one we got fed my family of three generously for three dinners! We ate some as-is the first night, I sliced some of the breast meat to put on club sandwiches another night, then I made pot pie with the rest of the meat another night. Finally, the bones went in to my last batch of stock. There are also other items I have found to be great fall-back prices for us: whole bean coffee, organic half & half, some snack foods, etc. The specifics will be different for everyone, but definitely a resource to take advantage of for some things if you have a membership.
Which store perks are worth your time?
Couponing and deals can be a lot of fun, and that is valuable in itself, but it has to be weighted appropriately.
- Games. As much as I was a sucker for the “games” Jewel has run in the past, I really don’t think the “fun” is enough to draw me in when my time is limited. The Cuisinart promo is only working for me because they have allowed stickers to be earned on alcohol and I find one of the Jewel stores near me to be a great place to buy wine. And even at that, I am on track to earn ONE pan by the end of the promo.
- Awesome clearance. No store will really ever match what I used to find at Dominick’s, but some Jewel stores near me can be pretty fantastic. I also find great clearance at Meijer now and again, especially meat, which makes it fun to shop there. No matter how busy I am, it is always going to be fun to find a surprise great deal.
- Monetary rewards. Another huge plus in the Meijer column for me is mPerks REWARDS. I cannot say this enthusiastically enough. I am still mostly buying only the very best deals and easily earning my rewards. If I were spending more there to save time, it is nice to know the rewards will only come faster to help keep my OOP down. Pete’s also has a rewards program, as does Mariano’s right now. Catalinas and other forms of OYNO coupons are also something to consider.
- Electronic coupons. Besides rewards, mPerks also has coupons. I cannot tell you how many times I realized I needed something, didn’t have the related coupon with me, but then found it on mPerks. You can’t beat the convenience of clipping on your device as you shop.
How much effort is involved in your savings methods?
I always feel compelled to get the best net price on things, but sometimes I have to stop myself from engaging in time-consuming behaviors that end up saving me very little.
- Complicated deals. I will be the first to admit, that with all the time in the world, or at least the three hours that my daughter is in Pre-K each day, I love me some Target. I can get great deals on my Tide, Starbucks coffee, and all sorts of things in the store that sells everything. But could the deals possibly be more complicated? Stores like Target are the reason we all need people like Rachel! Threshold coupons, store coupons to stack with manufacturer coupons, gift card deals, Cartwheel, and cash back apps, oh my!
- Distance and number of stops. Part of this is how far you have time to travel. Another part is transportation costs. My closest store used to be Dominick’s, and I miss it dearly. Until Pete’s Fresh Market opens in its place, my three closest grocery stores are all Jewel. I do love Jewel for liquor deals and surprise clearance, one cannot live on wine and yogurt raisins alone! Adding a stop to your trip not only adds time, but requires more planning.
- Coupons and cash back. Are you getting a whopping quarter from Checkout 51 each week? Maybe it is time to cash out and move on. Are you clipping coupons each week only to toss them expired in the trash weeks later? Are you finding expired items in your pantry that were net free after RR, ECB, Catalina, or rebate? Would you have even noticed never having those items? It is important to take a hard look at your behaviors and make sure they are still serving you as you intend.
Which savings strategies give YOU the most savings for your time and effort?
Be sure to check back each week for something new! I will be bringing you how-tos, advice, and articles on everything pertaining to easy frugal living: From DIY, to recipes, to practical tips and tricks. To help balance out the couponing and deal chasing we do a lot of here, I’ll talk about easy ways to incorporate frugality into everyday life and to do more from scratch.