Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dillon's Deals through October 30

$14.20 pre-tax
I found lots of great deals at Dillon's this week. First, Dole pineapple is $1 a can. After my 50 cent coupons which doubled, each can was just 50 cents.
Stove Top was not on sale ($1.29 each) but I had a coupon for $1 off two. Heinz gravy is on sale for $1 a jar and if you purchase both Stove Top and Heinz gravy, you will receive a $1 off a future order coupon at checkout.
Duncan Hines cake mix is on sale for $1 a box. No coupons but still a pretty good price. Cream cheese is also on sale for $1 a package which is about as cheap as you ever see it. Uncle Ben's is on sale on $1 a package minus coupon made the rice just 50 cents a package.
The yogurt is not on sale (90 cents each) but after doubled coupon was only 30 cents each.
The three packages of Crest, Hot sauce, carrots and noodles were all free after coupon. All together, I saved $19.09 with my coupons. Of course, I had to purchase a few essentials not on sale and for which I didn't have any coupons. My "total" bill was $36.13 (with tax) and according to Dillon's calculations (coupons and sale items), I saved 55% off my total bill. The percentage off would have been much higher had I only purchased sale items and coupon items.
I find free stuff almost every week (usually the item is on sale and after double coupon is free). If you don't have an enormous stockpile of toothpaste, you simply aren't trying very hard. At this point, I try to send toothpaste home with every guest as a party favor.

Aldi's Deals Week of Oct. 24

$11.39 pre tax

Aldi's has the cheapest eggs ($1.28) and butter ($1.78) in town. I checked the prices at Sam's clubs on butter today. Butter is about 50 cents a package cheaper at Aldi's and you don't have to buy three of them. I'm starting to think buying a Sam's membership was not worth it.
I had planned on buying Ocean Spray Juice at Dillon's for $1.99 but found this juice at Aldi's for $1.79. It tastes great. Tomatoes were $1.49, limes were 19 cents each, avocados still were 49 cents each and fig bars just 99 cents. There are a few things I don't like at Aldi's but over all I have found the Aldi brands very comparable to other brands.

Though I didn't buy one, fresh pineapple is only $1.29.
Best deal of all, bananas just 29 cents a pound (91 cents for this large bunch). Try Aldi's...I don't think you will be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is Sam's Club Cheaper than Wal-Mart or the Grocery Store?

I have resisted rejoining Sam's Club for a long time. It wasn't that I didn't want to shop there at times but it kills me to pay $40 for the "Privilege" of shopping at a store. So, for the last couple of years I have used the "Take Advantage of Friends and Family" plan. Otherwise known as the "I'm-too-cheap-to-buy-a-membership-will-you-take-me" strategy. 
When I went in the store to sign up, I was given the hard sell about upgrading my membership to some premium plan which cost $100. The main difference appeared to be you could then shop even more (starting at 7am as opposed to 10am) and an extended warranty plan on some items you purchase.  If you pay $100 to shop somewhere you are going to have to buy a lot of stuff to make back the initial cost of membership.
Before I went to Sam's, I did a little grocery shopping and wrote down some prices so I could compare to prices at Sam's. First, Apple Market.
I personally didn't find a lot of great deals this week at any of the Topeka grocery stores. At Apple Market, they did have Tostito corn chips on sale for $1.98. I had some $1 off coupons which made each package 98 cents. Rotel tomatoes were 98 cents each so after doubled coupons, I paid 48 cents a can. Roberts dip and sour cream were 98 cents so after doubled coupon, were just 18 cents each. I finally used my rain check for the 98 cent package sausage which was on sale last week. I bought hamburger at $2.99 a pound (cheapest I have found in town) and lettuce for $1.29.
Then on to Aldi's. Aldi's has the cheapest old fashioned oatmeal I have been able to find at $2.19 for a large container (used in my granola). Strawberries were $1.69 a package. Raisins were $1.79 a package, avocados 49 cents each (about half Wal-Mart's price), tomatoes 99 cents a package and Apple Juice $1.49. Aldi's has the least expensive marshmallows for 89 cents a package, cookies just $1.19 (similar cookies at Wal-Mart cost $1.88) and vegetable oil for $2.49 ($2.98 at Wal-Mart). I am a very picky eater. I can tell no difference between these brands and the national brands. I estimate I saved about $9 buying these items at Aldi's as opposed to buying them at Dillon's or even Wal-Mart. The difference isn't in flavor, it's in how much the company is spending on marketing.

On to Sam's Club....
I found a few items which were less expensive at Sam's. The Kaiser rolls were $1.87 for 12 buns. The snap peas were $3.47. A much smaller package normally sells for about $2.99 at other stores. Whole milk was $3.14 a gallon. Milk is selling for $3.50-$3.75 (was $3.37 at Wal-Mart on same day). However, milk is often on sale at other stores for around a dollar for half a gallon. When on sale, milk prices will be significantly lower than Sam's price. When not on sale, buy at Sam's.
The paper coffee cups with lids (perfect for camping) cost $7.86 for 50 cups. At Wal-Mart, similar cups cost 26 cups for $4.37. So, if you could buy 50 cups at Wal-Mart, they would cost $8.40. I saved 54 cents. Think about will have to buy 80 items in which you save 50 cents per item before you recoup your $40 membership fee.
Here's what I found which I thought was significantly lower. Equal sells at Sam's for $9.88 for 800 packages. At Wal-Mart, equal sells for $4.98 for 250 packages. The same amount of equal purchased at Wal-Mart would cost about $6 more. Trash bags sell at Sam's for $9.68 for 150 bags. Wal-Mart sells similar trash bags for $11.57 for 88 bags. It takes a lot of math to compare prices. Stores are gambling we are bad at math (a pretty good gamble).
Items are not sold in the same quantities. To compare, you must figure out the price per number of items in the container. In this comparison, Sam's trash bags cost .0695 per bag and Wal-Mart is charging .1314 per bag. To buy 150 bags at Wal-Mart (not sold in this quantity) would cost $19.71. I saved about $10 buying these trash bags at Sam's. I estimate I "saved" around $18 on this trip as opposed to buying at Wal-Mart. It will actually take at least three similar trips to Sam's before I "save" anything since  I haven't saved enough to recoup my membership fee yet.
But not everything is cheaper is Sam's....

This Wolf Chili is being sold for $7.69 a case (I think 6 cans). Last week this chili was on sale at Dillon's for $1 a can. After double coupons, you could purchase it for just 20 cents a can.
At Sam's you can purchase 48 cans of cat food for $21.98. At Wal-Mart, you can purchase 24 cans of Friskies cat food for $10.98 (or two 24 can cases for $21.96). Two cents cheaper at Wal-Mart and you didn't have to purchase a membership. Ah yes, I'm starting to remember why I resisted buying a membership for so long. That, and the fact that I get really freaked out when I must spend something like $100 to buy 7 items. Do you really want to buy everything in bulk?
Club crackers, two boxes for $4.48. These crackers are frequently on sale for $1.99 a box at other stores or have coupons.
Here's what made me craziest while shopping at Sam's. I went on my smart phone to look up a comparison price at another store. Each time I connected to the Internet, it took me straight to an advertisement for AT&T phone service which I could purchase at Sam's!!!!! This is downright dirty. I felt like my phone was being held hostage. I was very mad.
So like every other store, Sam's is cheaper on some items and the same or even more expensive on others. Always compare prices.  I will continue to let you know what I find cheaper at Sam's and what is more expensive. Please tell me what items you have found less expensive at Sam's. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

How to Make Comfort Food: Stuffed Chicken Breast

Chicken has been selling for less than $2 pound on and off for several months. Most recently, this week (ending Oct. 23rd), Dillon's is selling skinless chicken breast for $1.89 a pound. I noticed Sam's Club had skinless chicken breast for $1.77 pound. As a result, we have been eating a lot of chicken at my house. I never thought I would miss good old hamburger.
Here is an easy chicken dish that looks gourmet but isn't: Stuffed Chicken Breast. It takes very little time to make and looks like you really put a lot of work into it.
To begin, you will need a box of stuffing mix. Any brand will work, I use the really cheap Wal-Mart Great Value brand. I cannot tell a difference between it and Stove Top. After all, it's just dried bread and some spices. You will also need an onion and a package of sausage. I bought this package of sausage at Apple Market when I it was on sale for 98 cents a package. This is shaping up to be a pretty cheap meal.
First fry the sausage will some onion. How much onion you put fry depends on how much you like onion. I like onion a lot.
Add some seasoning. I used salt, pepper and about a teaspoon of sage.

Sausage is greasy. Drain the sausage. You may want to keep the drippings to make gravy. I did.
Now, cook the stuffing mix according to the box directions. Most mixes just require you to boil some water and dump in the stuffing and spices. Easy and cheap.

Next, add the fried sausage mixture to the stuffing and stir.
Take one of your cheap chicken breasts you just bought on sale. I usually marinate mine in a little Hendrickson's salad dressing but you don't necessary have to do this. Trim off the fat.
Now cover the chicken breast with a piece of plastic wrap and pound it thin. If you do not cover with plastic wrap, you will end up with raw chicken pieces all over your kitchen. Feeling a little stressed? This is great anger management therapy.

Congratulations! You have now successfully beat up a chicken. You probably have a great career ahead of you as a bouncer in a biker chicken bar. I know it looks a little yucky but deal with it.
Spread your sausage/chicken stuffing mixture on top of the pounded chicken breast. 

Just roll up the chicken breast and place in a greased pan, seam side down. If you have some stuffing mix left over, you can put it around the chicken breast.

Bake at 350 degrees for at least an hour. It may take longer depending on the size of the breast and how many you are baking. Never depend on the stated baking time, your oven may vary, the size of the breasts vary, the number of breasts, etc. Just set your timer and start checking after an hour. They are done when they are done but usually an hour is about right. I think these took about 75 minutes. Keep in mind stuffed chicken breast should reach an internal temperature of 165-170 degrees.  

I served with mashed potatoes and gravy. They were yummy.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How Long Will Potates Store?

There have been some great deals on potatoes lately. This week (ending Oct. 16) HyVee had potatoes on sale for $1.48. HyVees deal of the day yesterday was the same potatoes for 99 cents. We're talking 10 cent a pound potatoes. That is some cheap eating.
The question is how to store potatoes? Most people probably don't realize potatoes last extremely well when stored properly. There are two important factors when storing potatoes: light and temperature.
First, potatoes must be stored in the dark.  Have you ever peeled a green potato?  Potatoes are alive and when exposed to light turn green due to chlorophyll. Green potatoes are bitter and should be thrown away. The glycoalkaloids (family of poisons found in plants) in green potatoes can actually make you sick. You can't just peel off the green part and use the rest of the potato because the unseen glycoalkaloids will be through out the potato.
Potatoes are part of the nightshade family of plants (also tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tobacco, belladonna and about 2,800 other species). Alkaloids in these plants can impact nerve-muscle  and digestive function. Cooking lowers the alkoids by about 50%.  Unless you are very sensitive, you will likely not be bothered by the alkaloids which help protect the plants from insects and disease. Most normal people would have to eat about 4.5 pounds of potatoes in one sitting before they began experienceing neurological symptoms.
(This does remind me of a story my Grandma told me about my Grandpa. People used to believe you would die if you ate raw tomatoes. My Grandpa and a friend ate some raw tomatoes when very young boys  and then watched each other to see you who would die first. Both survived, of course.)
So, store your potatoes in a dark place. Second, store between 40-55 degrees. Third, potatoes are 80% water and prefer a humid environment or they will shrivel. Four, potatoes need some air circulation. A dark corner of your garage or basement will usually work just fine. Potatoes will store for several months if you meet these conditions so feel free to stock up on them.
Like a lot of people, I keep some potatoes under my sink (the rest I keep in my garage on a shelf). I am highly envious of people with fancy cabinets with pull out drawers. But part of simplifying my life means learning to be content with what I have.

Here is my cheap improvisation of pull out drawers under my sink. For less than $25, I was able to buy these plastic pull out bins at Wal-Mart. They work just great. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

How to Organize Your Grocery Coupons and Save Big

I am always curious to see how others shop for groceries. I pick up tricks and tips from people of all kinds.
I have found the more prepared and organized I am, the more I save.  To start, I go through all the grocery advertisements.  I circle any items I want to buy that are on sale. I try to make special note of any items that are on sale for which I also have coupons--double savings! I decide which items are worth "stockpiling" based on how well it will store and the price. I usually will not stockpile an item unless it is at least 50% off the regular price.
By stockpiling, you will eventually have a cupboard full of items which you bought all on sale. As you incorporate these items into your menu's, combined with current sale items, you will find your grocery budget shrinking. It took me 3-4 months before I really began to see a large savings. Don't get discouraged! You will probably actually spend a little more in the beginning as you build up your savings inventory.
To begin, you must have a very organized coupon system. I use a plastic shoebox I purchased at Wal-Mart for around $2.  I made my own dividers   and keep my coupons separated by category (about 20 categories). I choose the shoebox because it was cheap, is big enough to hold a lot of coupons  and is easy to flip through as  I shop. Plus, it fits in the seat of the cart. I call it my coupon baby.
As I take out a coupon to use, I just throw it under the box but on top of the lid. It makes for easy coupon storage until check-out. I'm sure cashiers hate crumpled, wadded up coupons pulled from someones pocket and dumped in a heap on the conveyor belt.
I see some women at the store who have invested in huge coupon organizers which are really just baseball card holders.  They separate out their coupons and put them in the see-through plastic slots. They seem bulky and it appears hard to pull out the coupons. I see others with envelopes or cardboard holders--I call them amateurs. Really it doesn't matter what system you use as long as it works for you. You can't use a coupon if you can't find it and it gets frustrating to dig through hundreds of coupons to find that special one.
Before I go to the grocery store, I check a couple of different websites to see if I have missed any spectacular savings. I usually use, and/or These websites match up coupons to sales. The work is already done for you. I also often check the store's website to see if I want to load any coupons to the store's loyalty card or if they have unadvertised specials or "deals of the day".  Be careful about loading coupons to your store card, they do not double. Paper coupons which double are usually the best savings.
I try to never go to the store without a plan. First, I make my week's menu, trying to incorporate as many sale items as possible. I estimate how much each item on my list will cost. As I go through the store, I write down the actual price of the item. My goal is to never go to the check-out without knowing how much I am spending.
Right before check-out, I add up the items, subtract off my coupons and include the sales tax. If over my budget, I decide what I can live without and put it back. This is called "budgeting" people. I never cease to be amazed at people who spend what they want, then pay what bills they can with what little is left over.
Let's take today's shopping trip as an example. I needed bread, celery and cottage cheese. I also had a few coupons for sale items at Dillon's that I wanted to use. If I have time, I try to pull out the coupons I plan on using before going to the store but I take my whole box because I don't know what other great deals may be available.
I knew Wold Chili was on sale for $1 and after the 40 cent coupon was doubled, I could get the chili for 20 cents a can. I also knew Campbell's Chunky soup was on sale for $1.25. After the $1 off four can coupon, it cost $1 a can. These items generally cost around $2.25 a can. Sometimes when I just don't feel like cooking, I open a can of Campbell's soup and pour it over Rice or Noodles. It's a cheap, easy meal. My husband calls it "ER" soup--because we usually eat it in an emergency.

I also try to always check the clearance rack. Today, there were five Arm & Hammer deodorants marked down to 50 cents each and several packages of tampons for $2. I had a $2 off coupon for the tampons making them free. I spent less than $9 for all of the above items. (I also wanted to mention you can get really great croissants at Dillons for 2 for $1.) I saved 59% off the total bill.
The best part was the coupons which printed at register. A free package of carrots, $5 off future order of $50 or more and $2 off when spending at least in frozen items.
There are always great deals out there. I think the key is just being organized and paying attention.

How to Make Easy Moist Banana Bread

I love fall. It's that time of the year you finally start feel like baking again. There is nothing more homey than the smell of something baking in the oven when you walk through the door on a crisp day.  I like those days where there is a chill in the air but it's still a little too warm to turn on the furnace for the first time...perfect baking weather!

A couple of weeks ago HyVee had bananas on sale for 29 cents a pound.  I bought a few too many so decided it was the perfect time to make a little banana bread. Banana bread can either be the most moist wonderful concoction in the world or the devil's dry dust. It's an art. I have spent most of my life working on finding the perfect banana bread recipe.

Here's a basic recipe I have played with over the years.  This recipe makes two loaves. To begin, cream 2 sticks butter (softened) with 2 cups sugar. Do not be fooled by this picture of my giant 4 cup measuring cup. It really is two cups sugar and 2 sticks butter or what I like to call a perfect start.

Now add four eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Blend together.

Here's the secret to really good banana bread: ripe bananas. I mean pungent "black" bananas. Some people might consider throwing these bananas away just when they have achieved the perfect state of ripeness for banana bread. My Grandpa would only eat a banana once it was about the consistency of mush.

But what if you have over ripe bananas and aren't in the mood to bake?  That's easy. Just peel the bananas and place in a plastic bag. Freeze. Take out another day, thaw and bake away. You will not be able to tell a difference.

Add 4-6 bananas and blend.

Most recipes tell you to mix all your dry ingredients together and then gradually mix into cream mixture. I'll be honest, I usually just throw in a half teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons baking soda. Then I gradually add 3 cups of flour, about a cup at a time until blended. But hey, if you want to do it right, mix all three dry ingredients first, then add flour mixture slowly, though I have a feeling it won't make a lot of difference.

The second secret to great banana bread is to not over work the batter. Mixing too long will make the bread "tough".

Just mix until all ingredients are combined. It will be about the consistency of pudding.
Preheat your oven. I usually bake my banana bread at about 325 degrees. Be sure and grease your loaf pans.
The real challenge is how long to bake the bread. Many recipes will say 35-45 minutes. Who are they kidding? Mine usually takes at least an hour and often longer. I think every batch is different. The consistency of the bananas will likely change the baking time. So set your timer for about 50 minutes and start checking every 10 minutes after that. Of course, it is done when a knife stuck into the bread comes out smoothly. Anything else you add to this batter, such as nuts, will also likely affect the cooking time. Now is not the time to indulge your ADHD tendencies. You have to focus and check the bread. Don't go off and forget it.

If you stay focused, you should be rewarded with a perfect loaf of banana bread. Wait a few minutes for it to cool before slicing.
The best thing about making your own banana bread is you can make the slices as large as you want. As demonstrated in this picture, my husband seems to think a third of a loaf is a good portion size. Yummers!

Monday, October 8, 2012

How to Organize Recipes

Recently, my grandmother gave me a cardboard box full of recipes. Some were torn out of magazines, others were cut from newspapers, many were handwritten on the backs of envelopes or checks with notes such as, "LaVene's--GOOD!"

There are a disproportionate amount of recipes for pickles and beets and zucchini dishes and jello salads. I will likely pass on Bernice N.'s "Red Hot Jello Salad" which combines red hots, applesauce, sour cream and red jello. I also hope Maxine Mile's never learns I didn't make her "Ribbon Salad", containing lime and cherry jello and one cup mayonnaise along with various other ingredients. I feel a little guilty about this one because it did receive the designation "real pretty and good salad".

However I am looking forward to "Dora's Fudge" (real good) and "Better Than Sex Cake," frustrated author unknown.  I remember my Grandma making this cake when I was a child and really liking it. I wasn't allowed to call it, "Better Than Sex Cake" but told to just call it, "Really Good Cake".   

The recipes that intrigued me the most were the family recipes. Recipes handwritten by my great-grandmothers who I never met. I consider the box a true treasure trove.

While I have looked through the box, I have not yet attempted to organize any of the recipes. This is more of a winter project. Along with a family cookbook I have longed to put together.

Recipe Treasure Trove

Most of us do not have a lifetime of recipes to organize but it is easy to quickly accumulate lots of recipes printed from the Internet or torn out of magazines at the doctor's office. What to do?

Recipes on the Loose

Here's what I do. I buy photo albums. I re-purpose the photo albums into recipe albums.

Photo albums for 4x6 photos

Recipe Albums
Simply insert the recipes into the photo slot. Full pages may need to be folded before inserting. No more shuffling through papers. Just flip through the pages to find your recipe.

It would also be easy to print off family recipes, place in individual albums and give as gifts. You can find much smaller albums than the ones pictured for just such a project.

Andrea's Puppy Chow
Most importantly, you preserve cherished recipes such as the first recipe my oldest daughter ever cared enough to write out and save (circa kindergarten). Precious!

How to Find Out if You Are Eligible to Join a Class Action Lawsuit

It seems like every time I turn on the television there is some annoying class action commercial blaring.
"Did you or a loved one suffer the loss of a limb from an alligator attack while water skiing in the everglades on a Tuesday? If you answered yes, you may be eligible for compensation!"
There are hundreds of class action lawsuits filed each year. In some instances you may receive a notice in the mail informing you that you are eligible and requesting you file a claim. But in some cases, it is up to you to learn of and take action to be a class member. Most of these type of cases result in a very small reward, such as a small refund or coupon to the consumer and a much larger paycheck to the attorneys.
Out of curiosity, I began monitoring a website,, which lists pending actions and provides links to join any actions for which you qualify. This is only one of many such websites.
I was quite surprised at the number of lawsuits I was qualified to join.  This is because the requirements to join are often quite broad.
For example, the Ziesel v. Diamond Walnut Brand Class action is open to anyone who purchased the company's walnuts between March 22, 2006 and January 30, 2012. Claimants are eligible  for a refund of $3.25 per bag up to 5 bags (without a receipt) or up to 24 bags with proof of purchase.
The lawsuit alleges Diamond Foods misbranded its walnut products by making false and misleading statements about the health benefits of eating walnuts. I consider walnuts pretty healthy and eat a lot of them. I will continue to do so. I will also file my claim.
I was recently also eligible for the Nutella class action lawsuit. Apparently, Nutella made claims it was a healthy breakfast choice. Now most people are smart enough to know that essentially spreading a candy bar on toast is not healthy. But probably it is delicious. I filed my claim.
I was also recently eligible to join the Sketchers Toning Shoe Class action. They may not tone my calves as claimed but they are very comfortable. I filed my claim.
Are consumer class action lawsuits merely attorneys trolling for loopholes to enrich themselves? Or does the fear of possible extended, costly litigation act as a watchdog? Likely a little of both.  
I'm not an attorney and certainly am not advising anyone as to what class action lawsuits are pending for which they might be eligible. I just thought you might find it interesting and want to do your own research. Or not. As I said before, the rewards are generally small.
There have certainly been a lot of frivolous class action lawsuits which have resulted in some states making changes to their laws. In Texas, if an attorney settles a class action for coupons, he must also be paid in coupons.  Now, that's justice.