Is your monthly grocery spending eating up a big portion of your income? You’re not alone. Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that, on average, a family of four now spends up to $1,300 a month on the food it consumes at home. Here, let me do the math: that’s $15,600 annually!

32580394_m

Want to cut that cost by oh, let’s say HALF? You can if you are determined to become a smart shopper, employing every trick and tip in the book—without sacrificing your family’s health and joy of eating great food while keeping $7,500 or so in your pocket over the coming year.

CHOP CHOP. Sure, those precut bags of vegetables and single-serving packets of oatmeal are convenient, but Consumer Reports says you’ll pay twice as much. Worst offenders: Cut, washed and bagged veggies ($11 a lb. vs. $3 for, say, bulk broccoli), single-serving containers ($9.90 per oz. for oatmeal in envelopes vs. $1.59 for the canister) and sliced cheese ($2 more per pound). Do your own chopping, shredding, grating and measuring and you will save a bunch.

BUY RIGHT. Most of us simply buy more produce and other perishables than we can use before they spoil. A rotten apple here, a limp carrot there—it all means money in the trash. According to National Resources Defense Council, the average American household throws out 25 percent of the food they buy—$3,900 per year for our typical American family of four!  Read more

If there’s one place in your household spending that you can really cut the cost, it’s household cleaners. The cost of most home cleaning products is getting outrageous. While I don’t advocate throwing out what you may have accumulated, I do recommend that in the future you consider making your own cleaning products from ingredients that are downright cheap.

122915image

While I have many recipes, tricks and strategies, today these are my top five favorites!

TUB AND SHOWER CLEANER. Pour one cup blue Dawn into a 32-ounce spray bottle (1/2 cup Dawn if you are using a 16-ounce bottle; 1/3 cup for a 12-ounce bottle). Fill the bottle the rest of the way with plain white vinegar. Apply sprayer top; shake gently to mix. Label bottle. To use: Spray liberally on the areas to be cleaned—tub or shower walls, doors, floor, fixtures. Allow to sit from 30 minutes up to overnight, depending on the amount of soap and scum build-up. All of the offensive gunk and grime will break down and become soft and gooey. Simply rinse it away. For especially challenging situations (or if this is the initial treatment) use a sponge or brush to gently scrub the surfaces before rinsing. To maintain: Spray down the walls and floor of the tub/shower once a week. Rinse. Admire.

TOILET CLEANER: 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup white vinegar. To use: First remove the water from the toilet bowl by reaching down behind the toilet and turning off the water input valve. This is easy. Just turn the handle clockwise until it will no longer turn. Now flush the toilet once or twice or until all of the water disappears. (Because you turned the input off, no water will fill the tank.) Sprinkle the baking soda all around the inside of the toilet bowl. Next pour or spray the plain white distilled vinegar into the bowl. You’ll get a little bubbling show and even a popping sound.  Great! That’s the reaction you want. Using a good toilet brush, scrub it down including under the rim. Last, turn the inlet valve back on by turning it counterclockwise until it stops turning. The toilet tank will fill. Flush to rinse. Repeat as necessary. You’ve just cleaned, scoured, deodorized that toilet and also removed mildew and odors.  Read more

We think we work to pay the bills, but the truth is that most of us spend more than we make on more than we need, which sends us back to work to get more money to spend to get more stuff than we need…and on and on it goes.

finding money in couch

So, here you are facing a brand new year, determined to improve the quality of your life by living below your means. The situation seems perfectly clear—you need to find more money. You have two choices: increase your income or reduce your spending.

Making more money does seem like the most logical way to fix a financial problem. But there are only a limited number of ways to do that.

BEEF UP YOUR PAYCHECK. You can ask for a raise. You can land a new job that pays a lot more than your current job. Or you can get a second (third?) job to supplement your income.

LAND A WINDFALL. I mention this in case winning the lottery or getting a big inheritance is on your list of realistic options for changing your financial picture. I suppose any or all of that could happen, but I wouldn’t count on it. Your chances of being struck by lightning are much better than winning the lottery. As for an inheritance, you be the judge. Read more

It was an unusual interview. The woman explained she was writing an article for a national magazine on clever ways to put more joy into the holidays.

122515image

In that I’ve written a book on the subject, she called hoping I would help her with the story. I knew that I could.

In my typical overly excited manner I proceeded to pitch to her one marvelous holiday cost-cutting idea after another—some of them principle-based, others uniquely practical.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that something wasn’t right. One after another, my ideas landed with a thud. She didn’t like them at all.

And that’s when she made a comment that effectively brought the interview to a screeching halt.

She called me a grinch.

Now she didn’t actually come right out and say, “You Grinch!” She said that if she wrote an article encouraging the unthinkable practice of not incurring debt, buying fewer gifts or cutting back in any way, her readers would think she’d interviewed that old you-know-who himself.

While she suggested my ideas would take all the fun and joy out of the season, she assured me it was nothing personal. But still, she called me a grinch. Read more

You want to decorate your home to make it warm and welcoming for the holidays. But you’re stuck with a serious case of “home dissatisfaction.”

121815image

There’s nothing like this week before Christmas to bring us face-to-face with the things we find lacking in our homes. The solution of course would be all-new holiday decorations, furniture, carpet and a crew of painters. Right.

But let’s get real. Are we talking about the state of the house or the heart of a welcoming home? What is it that makes a home warm and inviting? What truly makes a holiday home?

A welcoming home is one that invites holiday guests inside and surrounds them with love and acceptance. A welcoming home becomes the happy center of a family’s Christmas celebration. A welcoming home reaches out to others with light and cheer and delicious smells. Read more

Writing a check is not the only way to give to charity. Your pocket change can go a long way to help feed people in your community who are going through tough times. And it takes only minutes, not hours of your time.

food pantry

It’s easy to do this when you use grocery coupons to buy items for charity. With coupons, it is easy to turn $1 or $2 into $10 or more of food and personal care items that shelters and food pantries desperately need.

Every week as you shop for your own groceries, add a couple of good charity items, which would non-perishable. Then put them in a box in the garage or closet. When it’s full, take the box to a local food pantry. You might discover that your children enjoy helping deliver the food.

Matching coupons with sales is the way to really load up on high-quality foods without having to pay a fortune at the checkout. My friend and colleague Teri Gault of The Grocery Game, routinely cuts her grocery tab by 60% or more. She is the queen of couponing and I’ll tell you her secret: She matches sales with coupons—always! For example, let’s say Jif Peanut Butter, regularly $3.29 is on sale for $1.79.  Great! But not great enough. Because Teri’s been holding a $.75 off coupon for any size Jif Peanut Butter, she matches it with that sale price and brings her  cost down to $1.04—69% off that regular price of $3.29. When you achieve something even close to that kind of saving, you can buy more than you need so you have plenty to donate to help feed people going through desperate situations. It will make you feel like a million bucks while saving big on your own groceries. Read more

DEAR MARY: I’m writing in response to a recent column in which you gave a tip on washing loads of dirty potatoes. As a first thought it may sound like a good idea to put your potatoes through the dishwasher to clean them. Two reasons it’s a bad idea: 1) there is still a clearing agent that will be put into the rinse, and 2) the food filter has trapped food in the filter. Dishwashers were never designed to wash food for human consumption. Terrible idea. There are always residual chemicals left behind. Check with the manufacturer. I’m sure they never intended their dishwasher to be used as a food prep device. Robert

122215image

DEAR ROBERT: Points well-taken. However, isn’t the purpose of a dishwasher to sanitize and present dishes, glasses and utensils clean and ready to handle food for human consumption? If the potatoes get coated with a rinse agent, wouldn’t the dishes come out that way, as well? If the rinse agent is properly removed from the dishes at the end of the rinse cycle, wouldn’t the potatoes get the same treatment? If a rinse product like Jetdry were toxic, would any of us be comfortable using it to clean the glasses we drink from and utensils we eat with? As for the food filter, my common sense dictates that thing should be cleaned routinely, like every day. But if not, isn’t that residual food being sanitized with water temps of 140 F (recommended temperature by dishwasher and detergent manufacturers) each time we run that appliance? That being said (can you tell I love a good debate?), I trust that my readers will take all of this under advice and carefully consider your points before dishwashing a big load of spuds. And for the record, Finish, who manufactures Jetdry, recommends on its website under “Dishwasher Hacks” not only washing potatoes in the dishwasher, but also to steam salmon that you’ve first wrapped in foil! Thanks for forcing all of us to bone up on our critical thinking. Read more

Fabric softeners—liquid added to the final rinse in the clothes washer or softening sheets that go with the clothes into the dryer—are designed to reduce the amount of static in synthetic fibers and make clothes and linens come out feeling soft and smelling great. So why would anyone opt to go to the time and trouble of making homemade softener when the commercial stuff works so well?

babyonsheets

ALLERGIES. While I’m blessed to have a very healthy family, all of us are allergic to fabric softeners, which I’ve learned is very common. Commercial fabric softeners are composed of various chemicals, some of which can be major irritants on the skin and body. If you or your kids develop a skin irritation like a red rash or bumps, itching, pain, tenderness or a localized skin rash, prepare for the dermatologist’s first question: Do you use fabric softener? According to the Mayo Clinic the offending ingredients in fabric softeners are quanternium and imidazolidinyl, described as formaldehyde releasers. Both can cause skin irritation, a rash or hives (small swollen welts) to form on the skin. The fragrance or “fumes” from fabric softeners can irritate some people, leading to tiredness, difficulty breathing, anxiety, dizziness, headaches, faintness and memory problems.

COST. Commercial laundry softeners aren’t cheap. Depending on the brand and your measuring methods, both liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets can cost as much as $.25 per dryer load. If you do as much laundry as I do, that adds up quickly.

But why pay for the stuff, if you have an option—five options, to be exact—to not spend your money that way? You can make your own fabric softeners for less than a penny a load and as a bonus, know exactly what’s in it. Read more