Archives for July 2015

Save Money on Groceries: Simple Ways to Slash Your Grocery Bills

It takes money to keep a family well-fed. The average American spends $150 a week on groceries, and if your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables (as it should be), you’re probably spending more. If the cost of food is wreaking havoc on your on budget, here are some ways you can save money on groceries without compromising on the quality of the meals you’re serving up:

Plan Ahead

Some people get to the store, see what’s on sale, and make purchases based on what they think they need for the week. By doing this, you’re more likely to waste both money and time. Instead, plan out your meals before shopping and make a list of the ingredients you’re missing. This will enable you to stay focused when you hit the supermarket and help you avoid having to go back later in the week.

Track Your Inventory

A lot of people waste money on groceries by buying things they don’t actually need. One way to combat this is to keep an inventory spreadsheet of the things you have in your pantry and fridge. Print out an alphabetized, easy-to-scan copy before heading to the store, or make sure it’s accessible on your mobile phone. This way, you can compare what’s on sale to the things you already have stocked and avoid spending money on unnecessary supplies.

Get a Store Card

It’s usually not a good idea to open too many credit cards at once, but store cards aren’t like that. It makes sense to get a store card for every supermarket you shop at, including the ones you visit infrequently. Often, you need a store card to take advantage of sales and promotions. Some supermarkets, for example, offer holiday bonuses, like free turkeys around Thanksgiving time, for spending a certain amount of money the month before—a perk only available to cardholders.

Check for Digital Coupons

You may be used to checking the circulars that come in the mail for weekly sales and specials, but how often do you go online to look for deals? Many supermarkets offer additional savings via digital coupons, which you can find online and load to your store card. Remember, you won’t save money on groceries with coupons if you buy stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily buy just because you have a coupon.

Buy in Bulk, But Only When it Makes Sense

Buying in bulk can save you money if you do it wisely. If there are certain staple items that you use frequently, by all means, stock up if the price is right. But if the on-sale bulk item in question is not a popular one in your household, you’re probably better off passing up the so-called deal. Remember, even canned goods and pantry staples have expiration dates, and if you wind up throwing out food, you’ll have wasted money for no good reason. If the bulk price is truly unbeatable but you’re not sure you’ll use up your purchase before it goes bad, try finding friends, family members, or neighbors who might be willing to split the goods—and the cost.

Embrace the Season

Seasonal items tend to go on sale to coincide with consumer demand. Barbecue staples and condiments, for example, are usually available at a discount before holiday weekends, and baking supplies are often reduced in the weeks leading up to the holidays. If you start running low on non-essentials, before you restock, think about whether waiting a few weeks will bring you closer to a lower price.

Never Shop Hungry

It’s a tried and true piece of advice: The hungrier you are when you hit the supermarket, the more likely you are to make impulse purchases. Do your shopping after a meal, or grab a quick, energizing snack before you go. Otherwise you could wind up buying things that are not only bad for you, but bad for your wallet.

Top 5 Money Tips For New Parents

A new member of the family means a lot of things, from new experiences and memories to new fears and frustrations, chief among them the fact that you now have to stretch your money to completely support a new person.

Budgeting for a family is no small chore, especially if you’ve never had to do it before. It doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating, though. By following these 5 money tips for new parents, you can get your new family’s finances off to a solid start in no time.

Establish An Emergency Fund ASAP

You’re probably concerned enough with just covering the day to day expenses when it comes to your new family member. Savings, beyond what you may or may not have automated, might not seem like a primary concern from the beginning.

It should be, though. It’s recommended that you have six months’ worth of non-discretionary income set aside to make ends meet should something happen to your earning ability. It’s not always fun to think about losing your job when you have a new baby, but it does happen, and if it does, your family needs to be ready.

Try to have enough to cover half a year’s worth of basic living expenses, including rent or mortgages, utilities, bill payments, food, and baby expenses such as diapers and new clothes, set aside in advance. Whether you’re getting this set up before baby comes or you’re starting after the fact, worry about this before you start worrying about college funds or pre-school tuition. Those things are important, but so is your family’s living security.

While you’re at it, take a look at life insurance. It may have been frivolous when it was just you or just the two of you, but now that someone is going to be depending on your income for several years to come, life insurance is an important security measure to make sure that your child is cared for in tough times.

Evaluate Your Primary Expenses

Next on our list of top 5 tips for new parents is to take a look at how much you’re spending on the necessities.

You know that adding a new person into your family budget is going to change things, but have you truly considered by how much? Remember, you’re not just going to need to buy one wardrobe’s worth of baby clothes that will last until they reach their toddler years, you’re going to need to re-outfit that growing body every couple of months.

There’s no one number that’s going to tell you how much extra your kid is going to cost you, and you’re going to have to be prepared for your budget to not go exactly as planned, but it’s important to look into the potential cost of raising your child, and evaluate your budget from there. There are even a number of online calculators to help you get started.

When you know how much you need for your child, you’ll be in a better place to decide how the rest of your budget should be allocated. Necessities like food, shelter, utilities, etc., aren’t going anywhere, but you’ll be surprised where you’ll be able to cut back.

Look Into Alternative Options

Once you know where you absolutely must spend and where you can cut costs, don’t be afraid to look into alternatives where costs are still high.

New parents are easy targets for advertisers because your time and mental resources are already pretty tight, but the newest or flashiest isn’t always going to be what you need. Buying gently used on things like furniture and clothes for your new kid is a good way to cut some of the initial costs that are only going to last between a few months and a couple years.

Look into alternatives for things like health insurance, too. Increased premiums might make employer benefits a costly addition to your budget. Government-backed coverage might save you some cash while still keeping your whole family healthy. If you do run into emergencies with your budget, you can try applying for an alternative loan solution such as a title loan.

Look Into Tax Advantage College Savings

You might need that safety net first, but saving for college should be something that starts early. With estimated costs at a quarter of a million dollars by 2030, college isn’t going to come cheap and it’s not going to happen on its own.

Options like a 529 College Savings Plan provide parents a chance to save without the savings being subject to federal and in most cases state taxes, meaning that you’re getting a full dollar for every dollar you put in.

Don’t Hesitate To Ask For Help

When you’re tired, stressed, or just don’t know what to do, loading up on hundreds of dollars’ worth of baby books and paying for top notch sitters and nannies won’t get you nearly as far as your own network.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your supporters, whether that’s other new parents, your own parents, or other friends and family. If you need a sitter or help getting your kid to an important appointment, talk to someone you trust with your kids. Often, they’ll do it for nothing more than the promise that you’ll return the favor down the road.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, either. Things like medical needs should never be overlooked but a seasoned parent might be able to reassure you that a red spot is nothing more than diaper rash and save you the cost of a copay that you didn’t account for. Remember, it takes a village.

There’s no set number when it comes to budgeting for a growing family, and there’s no definitively right way to do it. Just set your priorities, look at all your options, and don’t be afraid to take help where you can get it. Most of all – don’t be afraid to not be afraid. You’re going to be a great parent.

Free Things To Do With Your Family in the Summer

Ah, Summer. Long, sunny days when the kids are home from school. It can be easy to wish the kids back into the classroom, but this year consider an alternative: find free things to do with your family in the summer. Doesn’t sound possible, but it is. Communities across the country are committed to offering a variety of activities that families can enjoy for little or no cost. Ready to get in on the action?

Get Moving

Summer is a great time of year to get outside and get moving. With kids (and adults) watching more TV than ever, having the opportunity for some exercise is too good to pass up. Consider biking as a family each day or night. To make it even more fun, you could bike ride to the park with plans to meet friends there, or pack a picnic lunch.

Hiking is another wonderful opportunity to get outside and explore nature. Pack a water bottle and hit the trails.

An alternative to hiking is geocaching. Even though you’re still outside and hitting the trails, you’re also looking for a cache. It’s like going on a treasure hunt, but instead of a map, you use GPS coordinates to find the treasure. With over 2 million geocaches worldwide, there are probably some near you. Search www.geocache.com to begin.

Other free activities that can get the whole family moving include:

  • Swimming at the beach
  • Playing in splashpads
  • rollerskating/blading
  • Go to the park and play
  • Host outdoor neighborhood games

Get together with families from the entire neighborhood to play softball, kickball, kick the can and other games you loved to play growing up.

It’s not entirely free because you have to pay for shoes, but there are many locations throughout the U.S. that let kids bowl up to three games per day. Perfect for a rainy day or those hot days where you just don’t want to go outside.

Learn Something New

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean there’s no learning to be done. Summer reading programs are a fantastic way to get the whole family sharp. The following are just a sample of those available:

Many libraries and book stores have reading hours. You might also see if there are reading programs at local parks. Check and see if any authors of your kids’ favorite books are doing book signings in the area or will be by checking the author’s websites. They might enjoy hearing how they came up with the stories and asking questions. You might even be able to combine the activity with a road trip.

Many businesses offer free classes. Whether your family is into technology and wants to attend Apple Camp, loves working with wood or enjoy crafting, you can learn something new. many of these are free, some may have a small charge to cover the cost of the products.

One on One Time at Home

Some days it’s best to just stay home. But that doesn’t mean you have to watch TV all day. There are lots of great fun that can be had at home. Best of all – it won’t cost you a cent. Consider the following ideas:

  • Build a massive fort
  • Create a scavenger hunt
  • Have a dance party
  • Pull out the board games
  • Make your own board games
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Test out science experiments
  • Create obstacle courses

You could also teach your kids to cook. Whether they’re at the stage where they can just start to add in the flour or can make dinner by themselves, doing it together could lead to new recipes, new things to try and some great memories.

Out on the Town

Does your town have a police or fire station? Why not call up and arrange a tour? Local factories might be willing to give tours, as well. And sometimes candy stores will show you how the magic happens – for free. You might also visit a farm to see where the produce comes from and see some animals.

Do you love to fish? Get a fishing pole (a toy one for very young children might be wise) and teach your little angler how to cast the pole and reel in the fish. Share a favorite fishing spot.

Maybe not much happened in your town, but local museums are sure to have captured the local flavor and history and they usually don’t charge much – they might even have free days.

What about giving back? Maybe a local garden or a school could use your help. Get the whole family involved in a volunteer project.

What’s going on at your park district? Many towns have activities set up throughout the summer that are family-friendly. This could include free days to swim at the pool, live music, free petting zoos and free movies in the park.

If you’re a movie-going family and want the opportunity to see other movies during the summer, consider paying a nominal fee (50 cents to $1 per film). The following are sites where you can see movies near you on the cheap:

You Gotta Eat

Food. Whether you want to cook together or you’re doing all the cooking yourself, a meal is a great way to spend time with family and friends. Visit a local park for a barbecue, take a drive to a picnic or hit up some local restaurants on days where kids eat free. In some towns and cities, particularly lower income areas, the USDA has partnered with local schools to provide kids 1-18 with free lunches.

Spending fun time with family and making memories doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Take advantage of this summer and spend time together doing activities for free.

Are Farmers Markets Too Expensive?

Are Farmers Markets Too Expensive?

Fresh Georgia peaches

Summer brings about the return of farmer’s markets, local garden, and fresh produce. Farmers markets usually have fresher, higher quality goods and produce than the grocery store selections. Their haul is also often organic and locally grown and produced. But when you visit your local farmer’s market, are you paying more money than you should?

What Consumers Believe Versus The Actual Facts

People often claim cost as the main reason why they don’t frequent their local farmer’s markets. Many consumers believe that farmer’s markets are more expensive than their grocery store when comparing the same items. But is it true?

The Nevada County Public Health Department gathered data from the prices of their area farmer’s markets and compared it to prices obtained from area grocery stores from January 2014 to July 2014. They found that while farmer’s market produce is very similarly priced to the grocery store counterparts. In fact, 5 out of 10 item prices measured found that the farmer’s market prices were equal to or cheaper than the grocery store alternative.

Organic Produce Prices from Placer and Nevada Counties

Another study in 2007 by University of Seattle economics professor, Stacey Jones, found that a comparison study of 15 items revealed that the farmer’s market items were slightly cheaper than the nearby grocery store’s items. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture studied conventional food in four Iowa cities and reported that the farmer’s market prices were more often cheaper or equal to prices at the neighboring grocery stores.

Across different tested regions, farmer’s markets proved to be cheaper than most consumers expected them to be. But are you always saving money when you visit your local farmer’s market?

It seemed to depend on the produce; for more commonly found vegetables that are easy to mass-produce, the grocery store prices tended to be slightly cheaper than the farmer’s market prices. But for more specific kinds of produce like sweet potatoes and butternut squash, the prices were equal. For things like apples, beets, and chard; the produce at the farmer’s market was cheaper.

Pros and Cons of Grocery Stores and Farmer’s Markets

So with prices that are fairly comparative between the two, which offers a better buy?

The Grocery Store

  • Pro: You can find out-of-season fruits and vegetables that have been shipped in
  • Con: Their frozen produce is typically cheaper than their fresh selections
  • Pro: There is greater consistency in product with factory farming methods
  • Con: You’ll pay much more for organic produce here than at the farmer’s market

The Farmer’s Market

  • Pro: Produce is much fresher (usually harvested within the last day or two before your purchase) and often organic
  • Con: Your selection is limited to local growing conditions and season
  • Pro: You’re supporting small, family-owned businesses
  • Con: Non-produce items like locally-raised meats, honey, etc. are more expensive here than the grocery store’s factory-produced versions

In the bigger picture, the grocery store offers more selection that offers slightly lower prices than the farmer’s market. But much is factored into the price of your produce: production and shipping costs, time, labor, variety, season and weather conditions, demand, and quality, just to name a few examples. Take that into mind when deciding whether or not your farmer’s market is excessively expensive.

What You Pay Depends on What You’re Shopping For

In another study done by Jake Robert Claro, a graduate student at Bard College, they found that organic items found at farmer’s markets were 40% cheaper than the grocery store’s organic counterparts in the area. So if you’re looking for naturally-grown, organic produce that you know exactly where it came from… the farmer’s market will have cheaper selections for you and your family.

But if you’re buying imported produce in bulk- the grocery store is still marginally cheaper than the farmer’s market. Another consideration to make… how long is the shelf-life of your purchase?

Price becomes tricky when you’re trying to pin down what you’re paying for. It makes it difficult to determine whether or not you’re paying too much for your produce. Something to consider is how long you’ll be able to use that head of lettuce before it spoils.

Grocery store produce isn’t as fresh as farmer’s market produce. That’s almost always a guarantee just because it’s more cost-effective to have that produce shipped into the store from further away. Farmer’s market produce is local, so it was more recently harvested.

So if you buy a head of lettuce from the grocery store for a cheaper price than you would at the farmer’s market, but it only lasts you two days before it begins to wilt rather than the farmer’s market lettuce that would have lasted you the week… are you really saving money when you just had to throw away the majority of that lettuce?

Again; it depends. You’d be saving money if you use your grocery store produce within the first few days after purchasing it. But if you need to keep your food fresh a few days longer, the farmer’s market might be your more frugal option.

How to Make Farmer’s Markets Cheaper

If you do decide that your local farmer’s market is a better deal, then you should know how to get more bang for your buck. While data seems to support that farmer’s market prices are often equal to (or even cheaper than) grocery stores, not all farmer’s market selections are going to be cheaper than the grocery store versions. You’ll need to know what to look for and when to shop!

Some money-saving tips to help you shop smarter at a farmer’s market:

  • Scope out the area, and go for a smaller market rather than the bigger, busier ones that tend to be higher-priced.
  • Become a repeat customer; get to know your local farmer… they’ll tip you off when the prices dip lower.
  • Don’t become set in your shopping list; often the items you planned on buying are too expensive… opt for cheaper produce and try out a new recipe instead.
  • Buy in bulk; because seasonal items are in surplus, buy a lot of whatever’s at a low price then freeze or can what you don’t need right now, or go in on the purchase with your family/friends and pay almost nothing.
  • Walk through the entire market before making your purchases; some vendors will offer lower prices than others for the same items, or have buy-one-get-one deals.
  • Play the waiting game; prices often drop just before the market closes, or if you haggle a bit. It’s risky since you might not buy what you came for, but it can save you money.
  • Bring cash; most vendors deal exclusively in cash (or in goods and services if you have those to offer for a better bargain).

Farmer’s markets don’t seem to be “too expensive.” In fact, they seem to be trying to compete with or even beat out the grocery store prices to capture your business. Visit your nearby farmer’s market this summer and take note of the prices then compare them to your grocery store selections. Those prices can change on a daily basis, but if it ends up being cheaper than your local grocery store it could be well worth the change in your routine.