Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Birthday Dinner Last Night


We had a wonderful day yesterday celebrating my handsome Hubby's 70th birthday. Considering that in June and July things looked so bleak that we weren't sure he was going to make it, we were very grateful.

We spent the day quietly at home just happy to be with each other. Then we went out to dinner at our favorite local Italian restaurant, Village Eatery pictured above. It doesn't look like much from the outside but it is rather nice inside and the service is always excellent. But most importantly the food is outstanding. I also love the fact that it is owned by a local family since it's inception in 1979. We like to support local businesses.  

We decided we would also celebrate my birthday since it is in 2 weeks. Hubby is having a back ablation that day so we will not be going out. So we had a double celebration.

But even though we were celebrating and the prices on the entrees went up $2.00 each recently, I still found a way to save a little money. Draft pint beers were a $1.00 off because it was happy hour. However, I noticed on the specials board when we entered that bottled Sam Adams summer ale was only $3.50. I love Sam Adams beer. The beers with the $1.00 off were $ 4.50. So I ordered a Sam Adams but Hubby who loves his Manhattan's once in a while ordered one at $ 7.00. However we both turned down another drink and asked for water to drink with our meal.


They have a special on Tuesday nights which is dinner for two, including an entree choice, soup or salad and homemade bread for $ 24.99 + tax. We found out pretty quickly that Hubby's choice of veal parmigiana and my choice of smothered chicken were not included. So we paid the full menu prices for those. However we will keep in mind that if we want just pasta or one of the other less meat dishes that are included in the deal that we can get that deal any Monday thru Thursday evening.

Our entrees were delicious. But since the portions are huge and we had had Italian bread, me a bowl of soup and Hubby a salad before our entree, we took a little more than half of our entrees home. We wanted to save room for dessert. They will be dinner tomorrow night here at home.

Hubby had gotten a coupon in his e-mail for a free dessert for his birthday. So we ordered a warm fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream smothered in hot fudge sauce with whipped cream and nuts. We asked for two spoons and shared it. We usually order coffee with dessert but we decided to make coffee when we got home.

We were happy to pay our server 16% tip on the total before tax. She was brand new, very inattentive even though she was only waiting our table and one other, and didn't know the answers to any question we asked. She had to keep going to ask the bartender or another waitress. I was surprised that she did not know the specials. However, I did not want to stiff her too badly on the tip because she did get our drinks and meal to us and she is learning. Hopefully she will learn soon quickly. I did pay the bill with my 2% back reward credit card.

But all in all we had a wonderful delicious dinner and a nice birthday celebration. Considering it was a birthday celebration for both of us, we saved some money also by not going out twice. Even if you are going out for a special occasion, it doesn't mean that you can't find a way to shave some dollars off the bill.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Back to Basics: Grocery Shopping for Food

To show you what I purchased yesterday on my biggest shopping trip of the week and to keep myself accountable, here it is.

First stop was Aldi's to get a couple of things and check prices on the ones on my Top's list. I got two 3lb. bags of Gala apples at $1.49 a bag($.50 a lb.), 4.37 lbs. of bananas at $.44 a lb. total of $1.92 , 1 dozen eggs for $.79, 1 jar of sweet relish at $1.29, 1 Fit and Active SF Raspberry Preserves for $1.99, and a Berry Hill Grape Jelly for $1.49. Total was $10.46.

Then I went to Top's where I purchased 2 pkgs. of turkey bacon at $ 1.40 each after coupons, 5.07 lbs. of chicken thighs at $.88 a lb., 2 Pennsylvania Dutch wide noodles(B1G1F) at $3.19 for both, 1 small Tropicana OJ ($1.00) for making cranberry orange muffins, 1 Bonnie Maman raspberry preserves for $.99 after coupon, and 3 Gillette Series Shave gel and 2 Satin Care shave gel. I don't normally buy these but I was out of conditioner that I use to shave my legs with. Here was the deal: Sale of $ 2.49 each  and I had one $2.00 off coupon and 4 $.50/1 coupons that doubled plus I saved $5.00 off instantly for buying 5 of these products(deal this week). So they ended up costing me $1.45 for all of them or $ .29 each. My total was  $14.89 including a $1.00 in tax. 

So my total for both stores was $25.35. Not a bad haul!

While was out, I returned $3.15 in bottles. That money will be added to my Christmas gift money.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Back to Basics: Restaurant Meals and Take Out

If you take a look at our last few expense reports you will see that these expenses have been hefty  especially considering how much we spent on food the last few months. It borders on ridiculous.

Restaurant meals, from this day forward, will only be for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Otherwise we will eat at home.

To make those restaurant meals cheaper, I will be using a number of strategies. I will always look for a coupon for a free item with dinner or lunch or a money off coupon. They come in the inserts, flyers, are advertised in our local paper, or can be found online through a number of sites like RetailMeNot 
or at Triple AAA, etc.

Many restaurants also run specials specific nights of the week. For example, wings are $.50 and pints of beer are $1.00 on a Tuesday, or dinner for two is a specific price and includes salad, entree and dessert. I always keep in mind what restaurants run these specials and when. Depending on where we eat out, some restaurants portions are huge. So Hubby and I have 1/2 of our meals boxed to eat for dinner at home the next day.

Some restaurants have early bird special deals. If you eat by a specific time, like 4PM, you get a break on the price.

Many restaurants run specials on appetizers. Hubby and I do appetizers many times when we go out. They are usually cheaper than an entree and the portions are more than plenty for a meal. 

We also ask if the restaurant gives a senior discount or has a senior menu. It is rare but once in while, we are given one.

We don't do many fast food restaurants because the food is so awful. Places like McDonald's and Taco Bell come to mind. They are also very unhealthy. We tried Taco Bell once in AZ and I am still wondering what was really in their food. McDonald's food is horrible and I can make it cheaper, healthier and tastier at home.

However, that said, we do frequent Subway and Panera Bread. Subway runs a sub of the day which is cheaper than their other subs. So that is something to keep in mind. They also allow us to get 2- 6 inch subs with the same meats for the price of a 12 inch. So Hubby and I get the same thing and just split it. Subway also has coupons in our Sunday paper once in a while. If you sign up for their reward program which gives you points, you earn free subs.

Panera Bread also has a rewards program where you can earn free items. We love their soup and sandwich deal. We rarely eat in the store. They also have great bagels. Bagels are the one bread I can't make very well. So I will still buy bagels when we need them on Tuesdays. They are $6.99 for a dozen on that day. When I get them home, I divide them up into bags of two for the freezer. We just pull a bag out to thaw when they are on the menu. I probably only get this deal once every 2-3 months.

We will still go to these two places but very infrequently. No other fast food will be eaten. We do not order take out pizza or Chinese food. We make our own most of the time. We have purchased frozen pizzas in the past but I will now get back to making my homemade.

We also purchase restaurant gift cards when they run a deal. For example, around the holidays our locally owned restaurant called The Village Eatery ran a deal where you got a $5.00 gift card for every $25. one you purchased. Applebee's also ran a similar deal. We loaded up on those gift cards. 

If we know we are going to a certain restaurant in a couple of weeks, we purchase a discounted gift card at a site like Raise.com. We also buy our Panera Bread and Subway gift cards discounted. If we do pay for a meal without a gift card, I always use my 2% back rewards card. I combine as many strategies I can to get the meals as cheaply as possible.

This ought to free up some of the money we have been spending on restaurant and take out food. Cooking most meals at home will help us do this.

If there is an other way to save on this category that I haven't mentioned, please share with us by leaving a comment. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Back to Basics: Medical

Surprise! I don't normally write on the weekend since that is our time for family and fun. But I was up really early this morning so here is an extra post this week.

The next category that I needed to take a close look at was medical and drugs. We are spending a fortune on these. Our medical is Medicare as our primary and we have a supplemental plan that helps to pay the 20% that Medicare doesn't pay. The premiums for Medicare are set by the government so there isn't much we can do about those. Each Medicare recipient pays a premium every month to have that coverage. Then we have a premium every month for our supplemental family plan. We are fortunate that a prior employer subsidizes the Medicare premiums for both of us. But I always keep in my mind that that  benefit could away at any time.  However the supplemental plan has been skyrocketing ever since we retired, more so since the ACA was passed. But there isn't much we can do about that. It is what it is. We have hefty co - pays for medical, ER and hospital appointments. This is the reason that we don't run to a Dr. for a sniffle. We try to treat colds and respiratory things at home along with many other ailments. Dr. visits are numerous because as you age your primary and each specialist seems to want to see you every three months. So we try to only go for those visits. Of course with Hubby's illness recently those appointments ramped up which is one of the reasons we saved plenty for medical in retirement.

However, I did decide that we could do something about the drugs. I have tried to keep a handle on those over the years but I can do better. Yesterday, I made a list of all of the drugs both Hubby and I take regularly. Then I went to GoodRX.com. I looked up every drug we take to make sure that we were paying the cheapest price for each of them with our plan. I also took into account drug co-pays. For example, we have a lot of co-pays that are $50.00. If a drug was cheaper than that $50.00 somewhere else then I would go to that drugstore. For example, if a drug without using the insurance was $ 30.00 at Walmart I could go there.  Right now we seem to have the cheapest prices. So I was relieved that we are buying at the proper drugstore for us. We also can mail order which will save us a few dollars(not a lot) off of our co-pays. I am a little leary because we had to mail order when we lived in AZ and we would not get our drugs on time. When you need insulin and it doesn't show on time, it is an emergency. But I am going to be looking into the mail ordering this week. 

I also googled each brand name drug to see if there was a generic that had recently been released. Most of our drugs are generics but some are brand names and they are expensive not only for the insurance company but for us. There was no generic for any of our brand names. We pay very little for generics.

Then I went to check our name brand drugs here to see if there were any coupons or deals that we could get from the manufacturer. There are a couple that I will look into.

We have Dr. visits coming up over the next month so we will be checking with our doctors to see one of two things. First, we will ask the doctor if is there a generic drug that we could take in the same family of medication that would be as good. And if that answer is no, then is there a dosage that we take of a drug that can be doubled and the pill split without any adverse effects. This would cost us 1/2 of what we pay now.  

I am taking a drug that my Dr. told me last time I went that she might reduce the number of pills a day because my numbers are looking so good. To be able to do this, I have been carefully watching what I eat and my portions. I continue to loose weight. I am hoping she does because that would save some money. To be honest, I am hoping to totally get off of this drug in the next year.  I am trying to be as healthy as I can be. That is the real secret to saving on medical costs.

I wrote How To Save On Prescriptions and OTC Drugs prior if you would like to refresh your memory.

These are my plans to cut back on these costs. If I have missed something that you can share with all of us on these costs, please leave a comment. 
  

  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Back To Basics: Food

Rhonda, one of my long time readers, reminded me in the comments yesterday that everything seems to be getting more expensive even without large unexpected surprises. She is so correct. Hubby and I just had this conversation on Wednesday evening. I was so proud of him. Our doorbell rang and there stood a little 9 year old neighbor of ours selling some item for homeschooling. I know schools send kids out to sell all kinds of things like cards and wrapping paper this time of the year but home schooled kids? It has annoyed me since we retired because I paid  the way for my kids and never let them go out door to door to sell anything. The schools never made but a percentage off what was sold so we always just sent a small donation for them to keep with no product. Hubby nicely turned her down. I was shocked because he has purchased all kinds of things from the neighbor kids the past 6 years. I asked him how come he turned her down and he said because everything is getting more and more expensive so we need to watch our own money very closely in retirement. I was so proud of him.

Now let's talk about my basic food plan. We already have a very good stockpile of food in our home consisting of two freezers that are almost full, two pantries in the kitchen, our refrigerator, and our basement pantry. We will be eating from them. Of course we will run out of a lot of things and have to replace them but only the basic things on my list below will get purchased. No frills, just what I consider basic healthy cheap from scratch food. That is what my grocery lists will consist of.

I will scan the store flyers on Sunday and note on my list any foods from the basic list that I need. Next I will check to see if Aldi's has it cheaper. If there is a great price( better than Aldi's) at a regular grocery store, I will look for a coupon or a rebate from one of the apps like Ibotta or Checkout 51, etc. I will also take note of any free after coupon items and if they are healthy items, they will go on my list.  

After I scan the flyers and get any store coupons that I might need, I will throw them away since I only plan on shopping once a week at the most. I don't want to be tempted all week. If there is nothing I need that week, I will not go near a grocery store. 

I also plan on putting all of my cheap recipe books on my pantry shelf in the kitchen. Many of them were written in the 1950's and 1960's. They used good cheap basic food in recipes.

No food will be wasted in our kitchen. Leftovers will be eaten until they are gone or frozen for future meals. I will keep a daily eye on produce and expiration dates for dairy and canned goods so that nothing will get thrown out. I will run my kitchen like a restaurant so that everything gets used up. 

I will menu plan every week so that I know what we are having every day of the week. I will co-ordinate our calendar with our meal plan so that I have an easy dinner or leftovers on the days that we will be out until dinnertime. There will be no excuse for stops to pick up fast food for dinner because I feel rushed. 

We will be eating out one day next week because it is Hubby's 70th birthday and he wants veal parmesan. It is cheaper for us to go to our local restaurant for this meal than to buy veal cutlet and the other items for this meal. We will have one beer each(now that the Dr. says Hubby can have an occasional beer) and then water to drink. The beers at the hour we go will each be a $ 1.00 off. They also have a dinner for two but I am not sure that the veal is included. But I will ask. My birthday is two weeks after his so I will consider his dinner my celebration too. We also have a free dessert coupon so we will share whatever that is. If we are too full of pasta, we will bring it home for another day. We also have an 80th Birthday Party to go to at a restaurant. Our meals are paid for by the host but we will make up for it with the restaurant gift card that we give the birthday recipient. I don't foresee any other meals out in the foreseeable future. If we have one, I will let you know.

Here is my list of basic items:

Rice,pasta, dry beans, potatoes(in November I will look for these at a $ 1.00 a lb. or less), and onions

Apples because they are in season for Fall. Any fresh, canned or frozen fruit that is $ 1.00 lb. or less. Fresh cranberries at Thanksgiving if the price is right. I freeze these and use them all year in breads and muffins. Juice when I can find it cheaply.

Canned pumpkin at Aldi's(to replenish my supply),
or fresh pumpkin that I can cook and freeze if the price is cheap. We are not known for cheap pumpkins in this area so I may not find a good price. The canned will most likely be cheaper.    

Squash(under $ 1.00 a lb), lettuce, tomatoes,and any veggie that is under $1.00 per lb. Otherwise I will buy frozen bags of veggies on sale for $ 1.00 a lb.

Baking supplies( which includes raisins) at rock bottom prices(especially in November and December). I will be making all of my own bread( including English muffins), muffins, rolls, pizza crusts, pie dough,pancakes, waffles, donuts,cookies,( I already have the ingredients for these), cakes,and any other dessert that I have the ingredients for.

Any condiment that I can make cheaper than buying them, I will. Tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and salad dressings come to mind.

Olive oil

Spices(although it will be a long time before I run out of these). When I do I buy them in big jugs at the warehouse club.

Peanut butter and sugar free jam. 

Milk, Half and Half(no creamers), sour cream, all cheeses, and eggs under $1.00 a dozen. Butter(at rock bottom prices around Thanksgiving and Christmas). I have enough to last me until then.

Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste( for making spaghetti sauce).

Tuna, canned chicken, and turkey at the warehouse club with store coupons for lunches.

Coffee K-cups as cheap as I can get them. I am well stocked(5 large boxes) because Hubby does not seem to be drinking coffee these days. I only have one cup in the morning.

Plain oatmeal.

Honey and maple syrup.

Vinegars to use in salad dressings and other recipes and for cleaning.

Tortillas and taco shells.

Crackers which is usually Ritz, Saltines and Triscuits.

Any meat or poultry under $ 2.00 a lb. Turkeys hopefully will be cheap before Thanksgiving. I have one large turkey in the freezer right now that I want to cook as soon as the weather cools off here. Besides turkey it will mainly be pork chops, boneless chicken or thighs, ground beef which is rare at this price, and reduced for quick sale meat. I have a lot of shrimp and haddock in the freezer right now. When it is gone, there will be no more because it is not cheap.

I don't think that I have forgotten anything but if I have please remind me.

Hopefully this plan will get my atrocious grocery bills down.

Pictured above is a homemade chicken lasagna that I made in a roasting pan. I baked it last night. We had it with a small salad and homemade garlic toast. There is plenty for many more meals. Some of it I froze in portions and some is in the fridge to eat over the next couple of days. When I want to reheat it, the microwave will do a quick cheap job. Cooking in bulk saves you time, money and energy. 

Feel free to let me know if I forgot any basic item by leaving a comment. Any comments are most welcome.               

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Going Back To Basics

As I was eating my cranberry raisin bran this morning, I felt something hard in the raisin bran. I realized that it was the tooth patch on my crown that was just done two days ago. So off to the dentist I went. He put another patch on but did something different this time. He is hoping that it will hold. If not then there is nothing that can be done except to put on a new crown. The mold will be touchy because of the piece that my bridge has that goes over the crown to hold my bridge. But he says he can do it. 

The crown will cost me $1482. I have no idea if he will credit me for the $ 394. for the patch or just give me a partial credit. So I am hoping this patch holds.

Anyhow between this and the fact that I may need the crown, I am going back to basics around here. If you look at our last few expense reports, you will see that we are just hemorrhaging money. I feel like a fish out of water.  It can't continue if we want to reach our goals. So cuts have to be made everywhere. I just do not want to continue down this path that has been so very expensive the past few months.

I have seen so many people who are drowning in debt but refuse to make those cuts. Perhaps this will help them also.

So every day I will be posting about where I will make those cuts. One category a day will be discussed with you. If you have any suggestions on each post, please comment. It will help me and others.  

A number of months ago, I had a reader ask what she should do since her husband had lost her job. I told her at the time that she should cut every expense that she could but I didn't go into any real detail. I will try to bring that detail to my posts.

By doing this I will help myself and hold myself accountable also. And I will hopefully help those of you who need to go back to basics too.

I am off to get my ideas outlined so that I can cut our budget and post them starting tomorrow. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Life Happens

Do you ever have a month or a week that doesn't go as you planned? I am sure you do as we all do. Well this seems to be one of those months and weeks for us.

I was hoping that this month would be a great savings month for us even though school taxes were due. If you remember, I also gave myself a challenge of having the lowest utility bill ever. Well, I have failed the utility test. We used 657 KWH and 5 CCF's of gas this current month. Our lowest KWH for the same period was 582 KWH and 3 CCF's of gas. I have tried my hardest but since it has been so hot, we just couldn't go without A/C some days. Did you do the challenge and succeed? If so I would love to hear about it. I love your successes.  

We started the month off receiving our school tax bill the first day. Being a person who likes things paid, I went and paid the $ 4347.21 the very next day. I filed the receipt away for 2016 income taxes and was happy to be done with it.

I have been keeping our grocery expenses down by doing very little shopping except for real necessities and the chicken and ingredients for all of those freezer meals that I made for my neighbor and ourselves. We are succeeding in that expense.

When the plumbing and heating man came to check out our furnace, he found that the motor that brings fresh air into it was failing. So that was replaced last week at a cost of $555.42. Do you expect a motor on a furnace that is only 6 years old to die?  I sure didn't. 

Next our quarterly sewer and water bill came. We like most of you have had a very dry and hot summer. Just trying to keep the lawn and landscaping alive was a chore. Our bill for the past three months was  $271.42. I can't even begin to imagine what it is costing the farmers.

Then yesterday while Hubby and I were eating lunch, I broke a crown next to my bridge. I immediately called our dentist hoping he could take care of it right away before it got worse. He told me to come right down. After he looked at it, he gave me my options. He could replace the crown for $ 1482. or he could repair it for $ 394. and we could hope it would last 5+ years. He also said if the repair doesn't hold up in the next year, he would make good on it. Not knowing if I will even be alive in 5 years, I opted to get it repaired. My dentist used the very top grade of materials. They aren't as strong as porcelain would be but his work is top notch so I expect this repair will last a very long time. 

So all I have been seeing this month is money flying out the door. It is enough to depress anyone. I was hoping to have a great savings month especially since this is a month where we have more income. But I am not so sure anymore. But I will not let it get me down because I truly am a very optimistic person!

So I have a renewed hope for the next 9 days that things will go right and I will be watching every penny to try to get back on track. I plan on staying home and doing no shopping. But you know what they say about the best laid plans.
 
Has all of this depressed me? Nope, it has annoyed me a little bit but not depressed me. I am just happy that we can afford to pay these unexpected expenses. However it does set back our long term goals a little bit. But we always keep plodding along trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Our optimistic attitude has worked very well for us over the years. There is no sense crying over spilled milk.

To change the subject for a minute, a friend of ours  died suddenly at the age of 48 a few days ago. He leaves behind his wonderful wife and 5 children. A tragedy like this puts everything that I talked about above into clear perspective. It's a reminder of what is truly important in life. So give an extra hug to your spouses, your children, your moms and your dads today.