Budgeting Feed

Au Gratin Potato Battle: Name Brand vs. Store Brand, Betty Crocker vs. Kroger

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Potato, PotAto...

Who doesn't love potatoes?

I've always got a bag of potatoes in my pantry and an assortment of boxed potatoes to choose from as well.  The boxed versions are both convenient and tasty.  They can be rather inexpensive too, but do you focus on buying name brand foods when you grocery shop?


Even with most coupons, name brand foods are still more expensive than the store brand and a taste difference is non-existent, negligible perhaps.

Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes
Au Gratin Potato Battle: Betty Crocker vs. Kroger

In another food battle, today I put Betty Crocker Au Gratin potatoes against a store brand, Kroger Au Gratin.  I compared price, weight, the look and most importantly, the taste.  I prepared each according to the package instructions, adding only black pepper and some chopped up ham.  Yes, Ham & Taters for dinner!

Au Gratin Potato #1, the name brand - Betty Crocker:

Betty Crocker has been a trusted name in food and recipes since 1921.

Price: $1.39 for a 4.7 ounce box

Note how much larger the Betty Crocker box is compared to the Kroger box, also 4.7 ounces.  It's a marketing gimmick, the name brand box is taller, thicker and wider.  Betty Crocker is betting you're like most people, who don't read the details of the labeling.  Some people think they're getting more value with a 'bigger box' of potatoes. 

Au Gratin Potato #2, the store brand - Kroger:

Price: $.79 for a 4.7 ounce box

Au Gratin Potato Battle
The look is the same

Look how much cheaper the store brand is, a savings of $.60 and remember, even though the Betty Crocker box is taller and wider making some folks think they're getting a better value, both boxes weighed in at 4.7 ounces.

So how does Kroger compare to Betty Crocker in look and taste?

Preparing and baking the potatoes in totally different baking dishes, I couldn't see or taste a difference.  The size and shape of all potatoes was virtually the same, the added ingredients the directions called for in measuring out water, butter and milk was the very same and the final products were equally Au Gratin cheesy.  The list of ingredients on the box had no remarkable differences either.  Each made for a tasty dinner and plenty of leftovers too!  If you have been a buyer of the name brand, there's really no reason to continue doing so. Save yourself some money and get the store brand.  The ONLY edge Betty Crocker had in this battle is marketing... and why pay a premium price for THAT?

Leftover Au Gratin potatoes make for a convenient microwaved lunch the next day.  They're also great for breakfast topped with an egg, over easy.  These leftover potatoes freeze well too!  You can also portion the potatoes out for future meals and/or the freezer by baking them in a jumbo muffin tin.  That's what I did on this occasion, giving each portion a nice crispy edge.  It was another dose of YUM!

Next Up:  A pizza roll battle!

Spend Wisely My Friends.....





Recording your expenses and tracking your spending

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

How do you keep track of your spending?  Do you reconcile your checking account or do you depend on the bank being accurate?  Do you know how much you spend on a given day?

There's a lot to track, the grocery budget, bill budget, vehicle budget, house/apartment budget, entertainment budget, savings goals and more.  

I use an excel spreadsheet to stay on top of my finances and spending, logging every expenditure, be it a cash, debit card or credit transaction.  On average, I know how much I spend every day, on what and how often.  My buying habits are documented and I don't ask myself, "Where did that $20 go?"

For example I try to keep my grocery budget between $200 - $300 per month.  For most of my home cooked meals, I can fix something that tastes great but costs just $2 or $3 to prepare and doing that allows me to splurge sometimes, maybe spending $10 for a 'Chef Mike' cooked meal once in awhile.  For a single guy that likes to play in the kitchen or at the grill, I eat pretty well. 

Truck Spread Sheet
Knowing how much your vehicle really costs to maintain

Another example in how tracking your spending can help you budget and more importantly plan for future expenses and savings goals, is a vehicle budget on a spread sheet.  Currently, my truck costs me an average of $104 a month to maintain.  I don't have a truck payment, so that $104 a month is oil changes, preventive maintenance, the occasional repair, etc....  That figure does not include gas or insurance.  But yes, all other costs, to include any accessories I might purchase - yep, even the air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror - is logged on a spreadsheet.  When the spending on my truck gets up to the $200 a month to maintain mark, it's time to start shopping for a new one.

Here's without question the best reason to track your spending, whether you do it with an excel spreadsheet, QuickBooks, an accordion file or a good old fashioned journal - Tracking your spending on a daily basis can help you avoid living paycheck to paycheck.  I've been there and done that and it sucks.

The best way to understand your spending habits, is to document them and doing so only takes maybe five minutes a day.  Decision making with the bold facts right there in front of you, becomes much easier. 


Put some gold or silver in your monthly budget

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Gold and silverYou budget for food, housing, utilities, a vehicle, etc., but are you including the purchase of gold or silver in your monthly budget?

You should.

It doesn't matter if your motive is retirement, a hedge against inflation, or just a defensive financial asset decision, the purchase of physical gold and/or silver is a prudent thing to do.

Owning physical gold or silver means you have a real asset, not a piece of paper or a digital certificate.  It's more practical to sell, there's no three-day waiting period for a transfer, there's no default risk and perhaps most importantly in today's world of digital transactions, there's no hacking.

You can go online and find 10 or more reasons to be buying physical gold and silver and only one of those is because the price will rise.  The key to remember is that physical gold and silver is the ultimate form of money. 

So if you haven't already done so, find yourself a local, reputable coin/precious metals dealer and start including the purchase of gold and/or silver in your monthly budget.

Spend Wisely My Friends.....

Mainstream Grocery vs. Discount Grocery: Dillon's (Kroger) vs. Aldi

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Are you interested in saving money without sacrificing on quality to do it?

AldiDo your regular grocery shopping at Aldi.  If you're not already familiar with the discount grocer, I'll show you why you should start shopping there. 

On my list of things to do today was grocery shopping, so after enjoying some bacon and eggs for breakfast (One never wants to grocery shop on an empty stomach) I headed out to my local Aldi to pick up a few eats.  It was business as usual, but on a whim while loading groceries into my truck, I decided to head over to Dillon's, THE mainstream grocery store in the Wichita area.  Pulling out my grocery list for a second time, I bought all the same stuff at the 'Top Dog' store for a cost comparison.

Dillon'sI focused on buying the store brand (Kroger) to make things fair.  I did that because I already suspected Aldi would come out cheaper, but I thought it would be close in an item-by-item comparison.  And if you didn't already know it, buying the name brand in most cases is like flushing money down the toilet.  No, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is not the best of its kind out there.  A box of off-brand toasted oats is just as good as a box of Cheerios.

Here was my shopping list:

  • Milk
  • Coffee Creamer
  • Pork Sausage
  • Steak
  • Little Smokies
  • Lunchmeat
  • Sliced Cheese
  • Baby Carrots
  • Bananas
  • Salad
  • Avocado
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Canned Mushrooms
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Tortilla Chips

Aldi Receipt (2)I didn't deviate from the list, I just needed some bare necessities this week to supplement what I already have at home in the pantry and fridge.  I bought 16 items at each store.

My cost at Aldi:  $30.46

My cost at Dillon's:  $43.19


The difference is $12.73 on just 16 items and I bought the store brand stuff (whenever possible) at Dillon's!  I really didn't think the total bills would have such a big gap, but there it is, in black and white.  Can you imagine how much larger that gap would have been if I had bought name brand products at Dillon's?  And here's the kicker, I used my Dillon's loyalty card which rewards the purchase of the store brand stuff with discounts!

"So Mike," you ask, "Were there any notable product/price differences?"

Yes there was, most all to Aldi's advantage.  Check out the following examples:

  • The garden salad at Aldi was 89 cents for 12 ounces.  The garden salad (remember, whenever possible, everything purchased at Dillon's was their in-store Kroger brand) at Dillon's was 99 cents for 12 ounces.
  • The ham lunch meat at Aldi was $2.39, the ham lunch meat at Dillon's was $2.69, same weight containers.
  • A 1/2 gallon of milk at Aldi was $1.13, a 1/2 gallon at Dillon's was $1.79.
  • The price for a large Haas avocado at Aldi was just 49 cents.  Dillon's offered medium Haas avocados at 99 cents each.  Check out the pic!

Dillon's ReceiptAll but three items purchased at Aldi were cheaper than the same but store brand item purchased at Dillon's.  The only real outlier was the steak, but only because of weight.  I bought a top sirloin cut at both stores.  The steak at Aldi, cost $6.97.  Now marinading in the fridge, it weighed in at 1.27 pounds, or $5.49 a pound.  The steak at Dillon's, also marinading in the fridge along with the Aldi steak, cost $11.83, and that's with the loyalty card discount!  It weighed in at 1.48 pounds, or $9.99 a pound.  How the two steaks, using the same preparation, will differ in taste is another story.....

The bottom line to this story is, I'm a fan of Aldi.  They offer quality products and significant savings over a traditional, mainstream, full-service grocery store.  I have no problem bagging my own groceries.  I enjoy saving money for virtually the same product and that allows me to budget those savings (significant savings) into other areas of life. I don't do any regular shopping at a mainstream, full-service grocery store and if/when I do shop at one, it's just to pick up a few items as a matter of convenience or to take advantage of a coupon deal.  The mainstream store in my neck of the woods just happens to be closer to where I live, than the Aldi's or the Club Membership store (Costco, my second favorite grocery store) is.  So there you have it, logistics, is pretty much the ONLY reason I would shop at a place like Dillon's. 

Spend Wisely My Friends.....

Dillon's vs. Aldi Avocados

Dillon's vs. Aldi Steaks

Dillon's vs. Aldi steak labels



Don't waste money on vitamins and supplements, eat better food instead

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Simple Truth:  If you eat a balanced diet, you don't need bottles of vitamins and supplements.

I'm not writing something you haven't already read..... getting the right amounts of vitamins, minerals, proteins and good carbs in a regular diet eliminates the need for pills, powders or those gosh-awful chewables.  Besides, your body is smart.  It flushes the excess intake of vitamins and supplements anyway (the water soluable ones).  Think about it logically, it makes no sense to virtually flush money spent on vitamins and supplements down the toilet.   If you are the taker of vitamins and supplements, you know what I'm talking about, look before you flush.  If it's yellow, your intake of whatever supplement is too high, your body is getting rid of it.

Replace those pills, powders and/or chewables with better food.  Enjoy the intake of vitamins and minerals with the real thing - FOOD!  You'll save money to boot!

Even if you have a condition you are trying to treat, look for foods that help out with that issue, rather than rely on a costly supplement.

Glucosamine is a typical example.  Marketed to manage joint pain, the manufacturers of the supplement largely target what group of people?  You guessed it, people suffering from arthritis.  The U.S. glucosamine market is expected to reach beyond $227 million in sales by 2022, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc.  That's a lot of $8 - $25 bottles of supplement, depending on the brand.

I used to buy the stuff myself, I am an arthritis sufferer.  But instead of researching food and the treatment of arthritis, I went with the trend in 'managing' arthritis pain.  It was the 'easy' thing to do.

BroccoliAfter a period of time and tired of shelling out money for a bottle of pills I didn't want to take and not truly satisfied with what those pills were or weren't doing for me, I finally took the time to do some homework.    By increasing my intake of certain foods, establishing a regular exercise routine and simply drinking more water, I started feeling much better.  The glucosamine went into the trash can, there was no need for it and truthfully, never was.

The change in my routine, eating more broccoli, cabbage, fish, garlic and any fruit/veggie with vitamin C helped reduce my arthritis pain, along with exercise and drinking more water.  I put the money I was spending on glucosamine into the grocery budget.  And seeing the success in eliminating that supplement, I no longer buy multi-vitamins either.  There's no need for them!

Eating/enjoying a bowl of quality cereal with a 1/2 cup of berries is better for you than a multi-vitamin or some supplement.   And here's kind of a 'gross' fun fact:  Eating too much cereal and berries can make you pee yellow too.

Spend Wisely My Friends.....


Find the cheapest gas prices in town with Gas Buddy

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

A lot of folks use those grocery store and/or convenience store loyalty cards to buy gas at a discounted price.  Those cards do come in handy and depending on your shopping habits can benefit you with saving 10 cents a gallon on gas for example.

But that loyalty card gas discount doesn't guarantee you're getting the best possible price for gas.

If you aren't already familiar with Gas Buddy, you might want to consider doing so.

From the Gas Buddy website:  "GasBuddy is a smartphone app connecting drivers with their Perfect Pit Stop™. With nearly 70 million downloads, GasBuddy is the leader in crowdsourced information to help drivers find the best gas prices, closest stations, friendliest service, cleanest restrooms, tastiest coffee and much more. "

The app, easy to use, will bring up a list of gas prices in your area, searching by city or zip code, helping you determine the best price to buy gas, loyalty card or not.  Gas Buddy also comes in very handy when traveling and you can't use that loyalty card.  In fact, the app includes features such as gas price maps and a trip calculator.

Check out Gas Buddy, you'll be glad you did!


Take advantage of coupon deals, weekly specials of your local chain grocery store

Mike Thayer 2016 (2) T-boneBy Mike Thayer

If you don't already subscribe to your favorite/local grocery store's emailed coupon deals and/or online weekly specials, you should.  They really do make it worth your while, providing significant savings over regular prices.

Here's an example, the current weekly special at my local grocery store includes ground chuck for $2.49 a pound, T-Bone steaks for $4.99 a pound and avocados for just 69 cents each.

I challenge you to find better prices elsewhere.  Everyday prices at Aldi are at or a bit above these prices, but my local chain store is much closer to where I live.  That's about the only drawback I have when it comes to Aldi, it's where I do my regular grocery shopping, but I do have to drive a bit to get to one, there just aren't enough of them.  Hence the reason I shop specials at the local chain store...  They do indeed make it worth my while....

Weekly specials are convenient not just because of the price savings, but because it is a time saver if you don't live close to a discount grocer like Aldi.  Weekly specials are also convenient to meal planning for the coming week.  Why not plan out a steak dinner with prices for T-Bones at just $4.99 a pound?  That is menu YUM at a great price!

My local grocery store chain's weekly special price for ground chuck is saving me 50 cents a pound over what I usually pay at Aldi, their regular price is $2.99....  I'll be racking up quite a few chubs of ground chuck for my freezer.  If I buy ten chubs at that sale price, I've saved $5 over what I would pay for ten chubs at Aldi.   In further comparison, I'm not saving anything by buying the avocado at the local store, it's at the same price as Aldi, but I am saving time with store proximity.  Then there's the T-Bone, not even Aldi has a T-Bone price that low.  I'm saving a buck a pound.

Coupon deals and weekly specials are something to take advantage of at your local chain grocer, the key is to stick to buying only what's on special, don't drift off your list with impulse buys!  That's where the local chain store gets you.....  As in, you need some chips with that guacamole you'll make with that avocado right?  DON'T DO IT!  That's where the $20 budget for some quick, weekly special shopping turns into $40!

Spend wisely my friends......

Why you should have a membership to a wholesale club like Costco or Sam's Club

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

I've heard a lot of people say, "I can't afford to be a member of a wholesale club."


I would argue that you can't afford NOT to be a member.

Sure, you have to pay a membership fee, but you really do make up for that annual fee payment through savings the club offers.

The nation's top two wholesale club outlets are Sam's Club and Costco, with annual base memberships costing $45 and $55 respectively.

Yes, you'll save far more than that over the course of a year.

I've held a membership at both Sam's and Costco.  They are both very similar, although Costco tends to play more to the organic loving crowd when it comes to groceries.  I currently have a membership with Costco, but strictly for proximity reasons.  Costco is closer to where I live.  The savings at either club, is essentially the same.  They are able to provide you savings as a result of buying large volumes of product.

Ground BeefReason #1 to have a club membership:  You save BIG on groceries.  Yes, you'll have to buy in bulk, which may not sound like a good thing for a bachelor or for somebody who doesn't do a lot of cooking, but there's no need to burden yourself to restrictions like that.  Think outside the box.  If you don't cook, you still save BIG on snacks and prepared/ready-to-eat foods.  If you don't have a lot of refrigerator or freezer space, you can still save big on items that aren't perishable.

Here's a savings example, ground beef.  The days of getting good ground beef for $2.99 a pound are fast becoming a thing of the past.  When the mainstream grocery store puts ground beef on sale, yes, it's for $2.99 a pound, but the sale is infrequent, for just one perhaps two days and it's usually for the lowest grade ground beef they have.  It might be for a 70/30 (70% meat, 30% fat) grind - YUCK, too much fat, A LOT of shrinkage and grease.  The mainstream grocery store may offer a sale on an 80/20 grind and that's decent, but know that an 80/20 grind is great for burgers, but it's not a good grind for all-purpose applications.  An 80/20 grind still has too much fat for things like casseroles and one-dish meals.   What you need is a good all-purpose grind that's  good for a number of dishes, for casseroles, one-dish meals and simple comfort foods like meatloaf.

Costco, where I shop, offers an 88/12 grind at just $3.19 a pound.  That's not a sale price, that's an every day price.  How much is a similar grind at a mainstream grocery store you ask?  $3.99 and up.  Buy a five pound package and you save $4 at Costco vs. buying the same thing at the mainstream grocery store.   And surely, you've got room in the freezer for that!  Today I bought a package of ground beef weighing almost 6 pounds.  I portioned it out into six freezer bags and now I have ground beef to make meals with over the next few weeks.

ChickenI also bought 7.25 pounds of boneless chicken thighs for just $1.89 a pound, as well 5 pounds of boneless pork shoulder cut country rib style for just $2.29 a pound.  Each of those meats are about 20 to 30 cents a pound cheaper than the normal every day price at a typical grocery store.  We're talking a savings of around $3 for that same 12+ pounds of meat!

PorkSo to sum, for three types of meat; beef, chicken and pork, I saved around $7 shopping at Costco over buying the same thing at a mainstream grocery store.  Sure, you might see that kind of savings IF a mainstream grocery store has a sale, but if you're not a sale shopper, the point is mute and even if you do pay attention to the sales, how often do they really happen to make it worth your while, vs. low prices at Costco, every day?

And here's another way to look at it, especially for those of you who don't want to or don't like to cook: 

I spent $75 today at Costco on meats.   I've got over two weeks worth of entree items to work with in my freezer now.  That same $75, buys you maybe 10-12 meals at fast food joints.  What makes more sense, three meals a day, that's breakfast, lunch and dinner for better than two weeks for $75......   Or up to 12 dinners for the same amount?

Reason #2 to have a club membership:  You'll save big on gas!  The price for gas typically runs at least 10 cents a gallon cheaper at Sam's Club or Costco than it does at the typical convenience store.  And even if you have one of those loyalty cards at that mainstream grocery store that also sells gas, you'll still save 5 cents or more per gallon!  Being a club member means a savings of between $1 to $2 per tank fill up.   That may not sound like much depending on how much you drive, but think about it over the course of a year.....  How about an extra $50 - $100 bucks to do something fun with?

Reason #3 to have a club membership:  Both Sam's Club and Costco sell so much more than groceries and gas.  They offer furniture, office supplies, cleaning supplies, kitchen gadgets, home entertainment, clothes, outdoor fun, books and much more.  Like as for the groceries and gas, the clubs can pass on savings to you the customer, because of their volume buys in product.

Spend the $45 - $55 for a club membership, you'll get that back AND MORE in savings over the course of a year, EASY!  You'll probably realize that savings in the first three months.  Seriously.