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Christmas Shopping - Give the gift of 'Freedom of Choice"

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you hate Christmas shopping, you're not alone.  Trying to figure out what to buy for everyone, budgeting for it all, fighting the crowds while thinking about something else you'd rather be doing with your time....  I know, not a very holiday friendly mindset, but it is the reality for many folks.

Enter, gift cards

Some people think gift cards aren't personal enough, that not enough 'thought' was put into the gift....

Horse manure.

Gift CardsGiving a gift card means the recipient gets to purchase what THEY want, spend the free money as THEY choose.  You can't GET any more personal and suited-to-the-individual than freedom of choice.

Don't worry about Mom giving you the, "Tsk, tsk."   If she was to really think about it, there is no downside to giving a gift card.  Just about any retailer takes a Visa or Mastercard giving the recipient the freedom of choice to shop where they want and yes, you can even personalize gift cards these days.  If you know a person's favorite store, you can get them a card for their favorite store because just about all the popular retailers offer gift cards. 

And here are the best reasons to give the gift of gift cards:

  • It's a virtual guarantee the person you gifted will get what they want.
  • It's a lot easier to budget your Christmas shopping.  While it's true there is no mystery in a person knowing how much you spent on them, there's no more surprise to you in learning how much that drone costs and still feeling obligated to buy it for little Johnny and then having to adjust (reduce) your budget for everybody else.  With gift cards, everybody gets 'X' dollars and you can't get any more fair than that.  
  • It's far easier to be able to focus on just gift cards for everyone, speeding up your shopping experience.  There's no going from one store to another, from the mall to that plaza, to that downtown boutique or specialty store across town.  You can pretty much get any kind of card you want in one trip to the grocery store.  You'll be done faster, able to focus on other holiday things, like decorating, volunteering, spending time with family, visiting with friends you haven't seen in awhile, going to a party you might otherwise miss, baking up goodies.
  • Gift cards are far more easily mailed.  There's no standing in long lines at the post office needing to mail a bunch of packages.  Just drop a Christmas card with that gift card enclosed at the drop box from the comfort of your warm car.

Gift the gift of a gift card for Christmas, it's freedom of choice for the recipient and greater holiday freedom for you.


Saving money at the grocery store

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Believe it or not, shopping for proteins and fewer processed foods and carbs will actually save you money at the grocery store. 

Before I started focusing more on proteins, my average monthly grocery bill in a typical month was $297.

Once I eliminated processed foods and greatly reduced high carb foods/products, I got my typical monthly grocery spending down to $224.  Shopping 'carb-smart' can save a person between $800 and $1,000 a year, if not more.

I don't buy NEAR the carbs I used to.  The savings are significant!  Yes, some baking basics are still making the grocery list, but gone are any kind of ready made cakes, pies, cookies, or sweets.  Greatly reduced are purchases of crackers, chips, cereals and frozen/baked breads.  

Absolutely gone from the grocery list are processed foods. They are bad for the budget!  Why buy a fabricated lasagna for $10 when you can buy four pork chops, two chicken breasts and a large bag of carrots instead? That's 2-3 meals vs. about 5-6 meals with the latter MUCH more body friendly. And the best part, you DON'T have to sacrifice any flavor!

With protein shopping in mind, here's a great crock pot meal you can prep before going to work, it will be ready for lunch and it costs less than $5.  No, McDonald's can't pack this kind of easy flavor that is body friendly.

Ingredients:

  • Two pork chops or one large chicken breast
  • One teaspoon olive oil
  • 3/4 cup of your favorite jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried, minced onion
  • One small can of sliced mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

It's pretty obvious isn't it?  Put all ingredients in the crock pot.  Set crock pot on the high setting, enjoy at lunch. 

This meal packs about 50 grams of protein, just 16 grams in carbs and less than 500 calories!

TIP:  Here's a general tip for crock pots, 4 hours on high gives you a meal ready to eat.  8 hours on low is a meal ready to eat.  Leftovers, can go on the keep warm setting while you're away.  

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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."

Hogwash.

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.

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Stretching your food dollar until payday

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Stretch dollarPayday isn't for another couple days and you've got just a few bucks in your wallet....  What are you going to eat over the next few days?

Been there, done that.

That's why it's SO important to have a well stocked pantry, to be able to make and eat good food until that next paycheck hits the bank account.

When you've got cash in your pocket, there are those times when it's tempting and all too easy to stop at that convenient fast food joint or order a pizza.....  Don't do it.  Head to the grocery store instead.   Invest that money you are tempted to spend on junk food, on stocking up your pantry instead.   Investing in pantry items is like money in the bank, when those lean $ days hit, you have no frets about how you're going to feed yourself.

Regular readers know that I've written about the importance of having a well stocked pantry and what to put in it before.  If you're new to this site, or you wish to review that pantry list, you can read up on that here: 

Bachelor on the Cheap: Essential must haves for stocking your pantry and fridge

When you're short on bucks, it's nice to be able to just reach into the pantry and fridge/freezer and pull out some ingredients to make a pot of chili, or put together some kind of chicken dish for example.   There's no reason to worry about what you're going to eat with just three simple planning steps.

STEP 1:  Every time you are tempted to eat fast food or order a pizza, head to the grocery store instead, $7 spent on a burger and fries goes WAY farther at the grocery store....  You know this, so to borrow a line from Nike, "Just do it."  Invest your money in the ability to create multiple meals, not just one (fast food) or two (pizza).

STEP 2:    If you don't like to cook, learn.  This is a life skill, heck, a survival skill.  Know how to feed yourself, don't depend on others to do it for you.  Side benefit:  Family, friends and more importantly that special someone, likes that skill in you.  If you already know how to cook, kudos, go to Step 3.

STEP 3:  Meal plan and grocery shop based on what you have and/or don't have in your pantry.  These things go hand in hand.  Knowing what you want to eat and having it at the ready = making it happen.

Yes, it's that simple.  Buying a pizza typically costs around $20 and that's two meals, maybe three, tops.  Spending $20 at the grocery store gets you a variety of canned and/or dried goods; soups, vegetables, meats, etc., that you can have on hand to create a number of some rather tasty meals with. 

Invest in a pantry, it's 'food' money in the bank.


Where to buy a battery for your vehicle

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

So in the latest cold spell we had, my truck battery died.  It could no longer drum up the power to crank the engine.  May it rest in peace......

It's been quite awhile since I've had to buy a battery for a vehicle, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect when it came to prices.....

HOLY CRAP Battery Man!

For my vehicle, in a cold-weather climate and needing 850 cold cranking amps..... Here are the prices of the leading battery providers:

Interstate:  $164

AutoZone:  $134

O'Reilly Auto Parts:  $134

Sure, Interstate is perhaps the most well known, considered the top of the line, but is it?  Really?  Is Interstate's 850 cold crank amp battery really any better than anybody else's, or is it just marketing?  And then you get the two most popular auto parts stores and their respective offerings....  Gosh, can you tell there is competitive pricing there? 

Everstart 65 MaxxEnter, Walmart.

The price for Walmart's Everstart 65 Maxx, with 850 cold cranking amps, is $95.  It's got a 5 year warranty, just like all the others.

If you are going to install a battery yourself, this is a no brainer.  Walmart is the way to go.  And here's something you may not know.....  Take your old battery into the store when buying a new one, it saves you about $18 in a "core fee".  If you turn in your old battery, you won't get charged.

And if you do decide to have a service center install a battery for you, make sure they don't charge you a "core fee."  They took out the old battery and kept it.  They didn't ask you if you wanted to keep it, they didn't put it in your trunk, so don't let them charge you that fee.


Don't pay $4 or $5 for birthday cards!

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you're the typical guy, you probably wait until the last minute to pick up a card for whatever, birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc., and you're in the grocery store card isle looking for a card that will do.

But why pay $4 or $5 for a cheesy birthday, anniversary, or holiday card, etc., when you can pay just 50 cents?

Hello Dollar Tree!  They've got you covered.  They've got cards for all events, simple cards, thoughtful cards and yes, even cheesy cards.  No, there's nothing musical or pop-up about their selection, but it's a good selection nonetheless.  And after all, it's about getting a card for the occasion, yes, it's the thought that counts, not how elaborate a card might be.

Save a few bucks, shop for cards for any occasion at Dollar Tree.  At 50 cents each, you can buy a number of cards for upcoming birthdays and holidays for that $4 or $5 and save yourself a number of last minute trips to the grocery store card isle!


Buy your shoes at Kohl's, the store rocks!

By Mike Thayer

Think you're getting a good deal buying shoes at places like Payless ShoeSource? 

You're not.

Those so-called 'bargain' $30 shoes are only going to last you 6-7 months.  The stitching is going to come apart and the tread will wear thin long before it should.

Buy some quality, name brand shoes at Kohl's instead.  The only thing you have to do is watch for sales, which they have fairly often and better yet, a clearance!

About seven months ago, I went cheap and bought a pair of black bargain brand casual oxfords for work.  They cost me about $30.  At the time I thought, "What a deal!"  But the saying, you get what you pay for holds true here.  I don't think I wore them three months when the stitching started to pop, creating a few holes and the tread was gone at the six month mark.  After a recent heavy rain storm and an almost fall (wet asphalt and no tread on the shoes = slick), needing to buy a new pair of shoes wasn't just something on a list, it became must do reality.

Enter Kohl's.  I've bought shoes from Kohl's before, I already knew they had the sales that make it worth your while, but usually, for me anyway, that typically means getting a pair of $75 shoes, for $50.

FilaNot today.  Today I really scored!  I bought a pair of Fila brand running shoes, which normally list for $59.99, for just $17 on clearance.  I had reviewed the Kohl's website before I went shopping and found a pair of Skechers brand shoes I liked for $30 (normal price $64 but on sale) and that's actually why I went out there.  But it pays to browse.  Don't be the stereotypical male -  go in the store, find what you need, buy it, get out - take a look around.  In browsing a bit once I got to Kohl's (maybe 10 minutes?), I found the Fila 'Windshift' shoes and opted for those instead of the Skechers.  I didn't see that particular Fila $60 shoes for just $17 deal online, but I'm certainly glad I found such a deal by browsing in the store!

And here's the best part, these Fila shoes aren't going to start coming apart at the seams in just three months.  I will still have good tread at the six month mark.  At that $17 price, it kicks the $30 bargain shoe's ass!  Heck, I could spend $60 on two pairs of those bargain shoes, have them both worn out in about a year, and it still wouldn't measure up to the full price of the Fila's, which will still be going strong at 12 months of wear.

Spend the money on a good pair of shoes, even if you have to pay full price.  If they're on sale, that's just a bonus, a TRUE bargain.


Another adventure in buying in bulk

Mike Thayer 2016By Mike Thayer

Buying in bulk saves, period.  Yes, you may shell more out-of-pocket at the time of purchase when buying in bulk, but the savings are realized almost immediately...  Fewer trips to the store, the price savings per pound, the quantity of the bulk purchase over repeated, smaller buys.....

Kirkland American CheeseTake American cheese for example.  A package of Kraft Singles, 24 slices (16 oz) typically costs around $4.  That's 16.6 cents per slice.  But buy in bulk, and you can have those slices for just 10 cents a slice.  Pictured right, a 5 pound block of Kirkland (Costco) brand American cheese slices, 120 count.  I bought it for $12.  All I have to do is portion the slices out and I've got sliced cheese for weeks.  That's one less item I have to put on my shopping list for awhile, one less item I have to pick up at the store because I'm out of it.  And frankly, this cheese flat out tastes better than the Kraft singles and I don't have to play with that damn singles wrapper!

Still don't think buying in bulk saves or isn't convenient enough to make it worth your while?  Do the math.  It takes five packages (and most likely five trips to the store) of Kraft Singles costing you $20 to give you the same amount of cheese in the Kirkland brick.   Buying in bulk saves you $8!

Happy shopping. 


Buy your cleaning supplies at Dollar Tree

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you're not a fan of Dollar Tree, then I must ask, "Why not?"

Have you shopped there?  Have you given it a shot?

Dollar Tree 001Full Disclosure:  I had never stepped foot inside one of their stores until after my divorce, a few years back.  I only did so, upon recommendation from some work friends and the need to supply my apartment in 'starting out' again from scratch.

Today, I was in need of re-supplying my cleaning supplies and a few personal hygiene items.  Check out the list, look how cheap it is!   You would pay perhaps four times the amount for the name brand stuff at THE local big-name grocery store.

I got all the basics for cleaning and then some, for only $16.13!  Try doing that at Dillon's, HyVee, or even Walmart!   You just flat out, can't. 

"But Mike," you say, "Are those products as good as the name brand stuff?"

For the most part, yes, yes it all is.  To be fair, some of the products aren't as strong or seem to be watered down compared to some of the name brand counter-parts, but for the price, it's still well worth it.  The Dollar Tree offerings of laundry soap for example are every bit as good as something like Tide.  The hand soap, I can't tell a difference from name brands.  Mouthwash, same thing.  The Pine Sol copycat is watered down, but it works, and no, it doesn't take four times the amount to clean in comparison to how much you would pay for the real deal.   The foil, a bit thin, but I can double up in wrapping if need be and still will not be paying out what I would for the name brand.  Palmolive dish soap, that's a name brand you can get for $1 at Dollar Tree, how much did you pay for it at THE 'Name Brand' grocery store?  Too much!  And why pay too much for something as basic as a scrub sponge?  Get two sponges for the price of one at Dollar Tree.

Just remember that when it comes to the name brand stuff, in most cases you are being marketed, don't buy into their hype.  And don't take my word for it, do your own homework.  Test some products out that you purchased from Dollar Tree.  I think you'll be pleased with what you buy there.

Related Story:  Good Sense Trash Bags at Dollar Tree

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Buying in bulk

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

I've heard friends and co-workers over the years throw out a number of claims on why they don't buy in bulk to save money:

  • You really don't save much money doing that, it's not worth it
  • You have to buy so much stuff to get the savings
  • I can't afford the membership to places like Sam's Club or Costco
  • I don't have the freezer/fridge/cupboard space
  • I'm too busy, I don't have the time to repackage/re-wrap stuff for storage
  • I'll never eat a 5 pound bag of cheese

That's all horse manure.

Portioning out a 5 pound bag of mozzarellaIf you have time to watch an episode of Big Bang Theory, you have time to break down some meat, cheese and vegetables for the freezer and you'll be glad you did because you'll save a surprising amount of money.  And a side benefit, your food gets portioned out they way you like it.  That saves time in dinner preparation and your freezer will be more organized, easier to pull items from. 

Tonight I spent some time stocking up my freezer with pork chops and a couple roasts by breaking down a 10 pound boneless pork loin, portioning out shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese, as well as a brick of sliced American cheese.  I'm doing this as I watched, you guessed it, Big Bang Theory.

Bachelor on the cheap.....  Buy some food in bulk, portion cheese out for example in smaller bags and stash them in the freezer until needed. It's WAY cheaper than paying $3 each or more for those 12 - 16 ounce bags at a standard grocery store or Walmart.

I portioned out a 5 pound Kirkland brand (Costco) shredded mozzarella bag into 6 smaller bags. Price per pound - $2.37. *Weigh* that (yes, pun intended) vs. the typical everyday price for a 12 - 16 ounce bag at the standard grocery store.... $3 and up.  By breaking down a bulk bag, I saved approximately $3.15 vs buying 5 separate 12 - 16 ounce bags.... In Cheech & Chong terms, that's like a free bag of cheese man!

Portioning out shredded cheddarI did the same thing with Kirkland Brand shredded mild cheddar, a twin pack of cheese, 2.5 pounds each.  I won't eat 2.5 pounds of cheddar cheese in a week, heck even two, and keeping that amount of cheese in its original bag runs the risk of spoilage before it's all eaten.  Hello freezer!  Bachelor on the cheap savings by shopping in bulk at Costco: $2.57 per pound for shredded cheddar vs. $3 and up for 12 - 16 ounce bags at your standard grocery store or Walmart.

The brick of sliced American cheese I bought contains 120 slices.  At $10, that's just over 8 cents a slice and this is deli quality sliced American cheese, not that processed, plastic wrapped singles stuff.  I portioned the brick out into 9 smaller 'bricks', wrapped them in heavy duty foil and put them in the freezer.  The same amount of deli quality cheese like in say, Kraft's Deli Deluxe American Cheese Slices will cost you about $18.

Giving you even more savings is becoming your own butcher and it's not hard to do at all!  I've written about breaking down a pork loin before, here's that link:  Bachelor on the Cheap: Being Your Own Butcher.

My savings today by cutting up my own chops and pork roasts was getting all that meat for $1.89 per pound, vs. $2.49 a pound at a place like the local grocery store.    Buying in bulk - under $19.  Buying the same amount of meat at the local grocery store - $25.  

So to sum, I saved about $3 on portioning out mozzarella cheese, another $3 or so portioning out some cheddar, about $8 with the American cheese and saved about $6 being my own butcher....  All while enjoying an episode of the Big Bang Theory!   Now I've got $20 I can use for gas, or a movie & popcorn, or maybe a bottle of wine to share with a date on date night.

Being your own butcher

 

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