Frugal Living with Coupons

Recently, I received an email from a regular reader about frugal living with coupons and she had several great points and a different perspective so I wanted to share them. This reader felt that I was against coupon usage and wanted to point out the benefits and savings involved with using coupons.

Coupons may be a good way to save money if they are for the items you and your family need and want. If coupons save you money, you should definitely use them.

The beauty of being frugal is that it allows us to live richly in ways that we choose. While I mean that metaphorically, I also mean that literally. How I chose to live frugally may be different from how someone else does and that’s okay. I certainly do not want readers to think I look down on coupon use if it saves your family money.

Go Gingham Frugal living

The goal of this website is to encourage living well on less and to save money, resources, and time. If your version of frugal living involves coupons and you enjoy it, by all means, clip away.

From the email I received:

I realize that to many, couponing seems like a huge time waster, with little to show for in the end. But to some, it is a fun hobby, and for others, a way to provide for their families. I subscribe to another blog, Frugal Living NW, and while she espouses many of the same money saving philosophies as you, she also has a coupon component in her blog. I am not suggesting you do this. It just seems as though you are looking down on couponers, and there is no need to do that while touting how you choose to save money. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. By the way, I have found Winco’s prices are not great on toiletries. If people do nothing more than coupon for these items, they will save a lot of money, and by sticking to a select few items, a lot of time as well.

This is a completely different perspective from mine. It has been my experience, that for my weekly grocery shopping, the majority of the items I buy (bulk bin items that include: beans, pasta, baking ingredients, and fruits/vegetables) what I’m buying is already less expensive than the equivalent item that has a coupon, even after the discount has been applied. If there were coupons for these items, I would definitely use them and I’d be thrilled!

For toiletry purchases, I completely agree that WinCo doesn’t have the lowest or most competitive prices. For those purchases, I either head to Costco, Target or Walmart, whichever one is close to where I’m headed. At those establishments, I generally try to stick with generic or store brand versions. When I venture to these stores, I stock up so that I’m only going once every month or two, rather than every week.

If couponing is your hobby or sport, and you enjoy it, please check out Frugal Living NW. Angela has many great ideas, tips, and coupons.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this topic. If you’d like to share something, please check the ask + share page HERE.

Are you a coupon clipper when it comes to shopping for you or your family?

Go Gingham related links:

National Match-Up Day: A step-by-step on how to clean and organize your food storage containers!
Grocery shopping from the bulk bins and food storage containers
Reusing glass jars and how to get them ready for re-use
Frugal grocery shopping – without coupons!

Weekly Meal Plan

Weekly Meal Plan
I roasted our Thanksgiving decorations and then made soup. It was delicious!

I tried to get my kids to cook more dinners this week since they didn’t have school while it seemed as if the rest of the country did. (Personally, I like kids in school right up until Christmas day so I can get stuff done before the holidays.) My kids weren’t too keen on the idea of more cooking. For some reason, they think cooking and cleaning up one dinner-a-week is all they can handle. I settled for them taking turns cleaning up after breakfast and lunch every day. We also did plenty of baking, too.

Weekly Meal Plan

I meal plan at the beginning of each week, before heading to the grocery store. Weekly meal planning saves money, reduces food waste, and keeps me from saying, “Let’s go out to eat!” If you need more reasons to meal plan every week, check HERE. Both of my kids cook dinner once-a-week and do the clean-up after the meal. If you want to learn how to pull that off at your house, check HERE. If you’re looking for more meal planning ideas, check HERE.

This meal plan is from Monday, December 17, 2012 to Sunday, December 23, 2012.

Monday: roasted squash and pumpkin soup

Tuesday: roasted chicken, quinoa and roasted cauliflower

Wednesday: chicken (leftover) and pinto bean burritos with salsa

Thursday: fish, brown rice, green salad pork chops, quinoa and sautéed baby bok choy

Friday: lentils and spinach shrimp and Asian pasta with peanut sauce salad rolls

Saturday: whole wheat pasta with pesto and green salad

Sunday: family Christmas party – brought homemade cookies

My daughter made dinner on Wednesday and my son cooked dinner on Saturday.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

Go Gingham related links:

National Match-Up Day: A step-by-step on how to clean and organize your food storage containers!
Reusing glass jars and how to get them ready for re-use
How our freezer gets used – ways to organize and optimize

6 Tips for Returning Holiday Gifts

Holiday Gift Returns

At this time of year, everyone wants to know what to do with gifts they’ve received but don’t need or want. Here are some handy suggestions about what to do with unwanted or not needed holiday gifts. Regardless of which of the 6 tips for returning holiday gifts you choose, a thank you note is the best way to begin.

6 Tips for Returning Holiday Gifts

  1. If the gift didn’t come with a receipt and you’d like to exchange or return it, ask the giver for a copy of the receipt. You can do this by explaining that you have too many similar items already and you’re trying to cut back on duplicates. (This is a good time to joke about not wanting to be featured on the show, “Hoarders” because everyone can relate to that.)
  2. If you don’t want to ask for a copy of the receipt, inquire about where the gift was purchased and see if you can return it to the store for store credit. Many times, stores are more willing to do an exchange for a similar or less expensive item rather than to give cash back.
  3. If the gift is not in original packaging, try as best you can to put it back together nicely and re-gift it. Make sure to note who gave the gift so that you don’t give the same item back to the giver. Giving a re-gifted gift is no less heart-felt or gracious than giving one that was purchased new.
  4. Donate the item to your favorite non-profit.
  5. Sell it at your next garage sale.
  6. Use it a White Elephant gift exchange party. My bunko (or is it bunco?) group and our dinner group have done white elephant gift exchanges and this is another good way to share a gift that you don’t need or want. One man’s junk is truly another one’s treasure. The exchange always produces lots of laughs and stories.

I hope you’ll find one of these solutions useful.

What do you do with an unwanted or unneeded gift?

Go Gingham related links:

Kid’s birthday party gifts that are budget friendly and very sweet
Frugal gift ideas for teachers – lovely and homemade
How to handle the group gift for teachers – bowing out gracefully
Frugal and easy gifts to give – very easy
Frugal and green wedding gifts – simple gifts with an upgrade element, too
Wrapping paper alternatives – old maps!

Home Exchange Registration

Hallstatt Austria

I love home swapping as a way to see the world and stay for free. Rather than being handed a bill at the end of a vacation, there’s usually a thank you note. That’s my kind of vacation! Registering for a home swapping site is your access to a database of potential travel partners.

The latest home exchange service I’ve registered with is KNOK. What I like is that home exchange suggestions based on my preferences are sent to my email in-box. With suggestions that cover 5 different topics, these updates save me from having to do all of the searching for potential home exchange partners and they keep me dreaming about our next adventure. Their algorithm takes into account your dates, destinations, and preferences. This combination makes for a lot less work than me searching for our dates and destination. KNOK’s premise is that it’s easy, smart, and social. These are all things that I like, too!

Home Swap

Home Exchange Registration

Here are the category suggestions I receive:

1. New members: this section is all about KNOK’s newest members and is a lovely way to add ideas to your dream vacation list. It includes a picture, too, which I always enjoy looking at. Getting a view into how your potential partners’ home looks is always helpful. Each of the photographs shows a number of bedrooms with the maximum number of people it will fit. This helps in our trip planning because I know we need 3-bedrooms for 4 people. Yes, we could make do with males in one room and females in the other but that’s not how we want to travel.

2. My destinations: these are potential partners who live in the city or surrounding areas where we’d like to travel to. You can enter several destinations or just one. These folks may or may not be interested in coming to our city and so they may need some convincing.

3. People interested in my city: these are travelers who want to come to my hometown and there’s very little convincing involved. I don’t have to trot out my letter about why someone might want to travel to the “Great Pacific Northwest” and all of our fabulous natural attractions, wonderful bookstores, brewpubs and restaurants.

4. Dates: while flexibility is key when traveling by home exchange, plugging dates into your profile can sometimes produce results that wouldn’t have crossed your mind, otherwise. This allows you to stick to your scheduled time but gives you great travel destinations that you otherwise may not have considered.

5. You may also like: yes, this is random but with home swapping, you never know! One of our favorite trips we took was to Vienna, Austria and that beautiful city wasn’t even on our radar. Our home exchange partners were going to Greece for 4-weeks and were looking for someone to be in their home instead of it sitting empty. Win-win!

Registering for a home exchange website service is the first step in home swapping.

Home Swap How to

I love to home exchange as a way to see the world and stay for free. Instead of getting a hotel bill at the end of a stay, you get a thank you note instead. That’s my kind of vacation!

These updates save me from having to do all of the searching for potential home exchange partners. If you’re thinking about planning a trip during the new year, check out KNOK and all that it has to offer. You can’t go wrong with easy, smart, and social!

What are your questions about home swapping? I’m happy to answer them below!

Our first home exchange is here
Travel packing tips with a PDF chart are here
Home swapping and how to prepare your home for one
Our San Francisco home exchange –Part I, Part II and Part III
Save money on your next trip: before and during
Want to keep food costs low while traveling? Try these tips!
I’d love to speak to your group or organization about home swapping ~ just check HERE.

Weekly Meal Plan

Healthy meal plan

I rarely have meatballs and this week, had them for 2 different meals. On Friday, my husband and I had a lunchtime date and tried out a new spot called, “24th and Meatballs” where we split a meatball hoagie. The restaurant is in a new strip of micro-restaurants, which are small, little spots to eat. There are several different restaurants in the strip and they remind me of food carts only in permanent locations with running water, seating, and heat. While I enjoy going out on a date to a food cart with my sweetie, during the winter, I’m reluctant to dine outside regardless of how good the food is.

For dinner on Sunday, we had planned to have spaghetti with meatballs because that’s what teenagers like to eat – meat and noodles! I made the pasta and my son made the meatballs. He made the meatballs bigger than should be legal but they were delicious. The meatballs were baked in the oven and not fried and tasted incredible. Given that the meatballs are going into the pasta with sauce, it’s so much easier to bake them. The spaghetti sauce was made with roasted tomatoes from this past summer.

Weekly Meal Plan

Weekly meal planning saves money on our food bill, reduces food waste, and keeps me from sighing around dinner time and saying, “Let’s go out to eat,” which I used to proclaim more often. If you’re looking for more reasons to meal plan, check HERE. It’s a short list of 11 reasons why I do it. If you’re looking for more meal planning ideas, check HERE.

This meal plan is from Monday, December 10, 2012 to Sunday, December 17, 2012.

Monday: tuna fish sandwiches

Tuesday: chicken wings, bow-tie pasta, sautéed carrots (my daughter’s birthday meal request)

Wednesday: hummus, carrots and homemade pita chips toast

Thursday: Mediterranean tacos Mediterranean quinoa salad and hummus

Friday: homemade pizza with spinach, onions, and mushrooms and pepperoni

Saturday: pan seared fish, brown rice, and green salad homemade pizza (leftovers) and green salad

Sunday: whole wheat pasta spaghetti and meatballs and green salad  cabbage salad

This was a week of lots of crossing off and quick changes on my weekly meal plan mostly because I forgot to buy items and didn’t want to go back to the grocery store so just made do with what we had at home.

My daughter made diner on Saturday night and my son made dinner on Sunday. My kids each cook a dinner every week. It’s a night off in the kitchen for me. Read more about it HERE.

Do you make a weekly meal plan?

Go Gingham related links:

New to cooking at home? Fear not!
How we keep food waste to a minimum
Confessions of a leftover food lover – that would be me!

Green Living Is Often Grey

Frugal and Green Living
Green gift wrap: second-hand maps and ribbon.

Sometimes the environmental cost involved with “green living” isn’t exactly what we expect. When I wrote about using reusable cotton or canvas grocery bags, as opposed to using plastic grocery bags, who knew that, scientifically speaking, the best choice was a reusable bag made of recycled plastic rather than cotton? Green living is often grey and the professor who made this fact known may not have heard that I’m reusing cotton or canvas second-hand bags!

This article from The Oregonian, “University of Oregon chemistry professor turns beliefs about environmental consumerism upside down,” is a good reminder that sometimes we need to keep in mind the facts behind the decisions we make about being green and not just go with what is popular, fashionable or subjective. As you might have suspected, the overall “life cycle” environmental impact is almost always more nuanced and less black and white than we think.

Green Living is Often Grey
Green living in our basement: hanging laundry to dry year-round.

As it turns out, plastic bags aren’t as bad as we all think, as long as we’re talking about the big global picture. Until the plastic bags end up in a landfill where they don’t break down or they land in a waterway and fish choke on them, they’re not all that bad, relatively speaking. Global warming? Pollution impact? Overall resources used? Green living that gets grey? See what I mean?

Continue reading “Green Living Is Often Grey”

Cleaning Products That Do Double Duty

Cleaning supplies

Want to know the cleaning products that I use regularly around my home? You may even have several of these products in your cleaning supply tool belt right now. The best part about these cleaning products? They’re cleaning products that do double-duty. No, they aren’t cleaning services (that’s what kids are for!) but they will save you time and money. What makes them so special? They’re inexpensive, quick, easy to use, and you won’t have to spend your money buying lots of different, expensive cleaning products because they all have double uses.

Continue reading “Cleaning Products That Do Double Duty”