Thursday, February 28, 2008

Costs Across the Country -- well, the West Coast for now

The increase in cost of pizza dough which I mentioned in my prior post is indicative of the rising cost of grocery prices. I asked two other bloggers to send me prices on some staple items and here's what's going on in some other areas of the country. As it turns out, they both live in Oregon and I live in California so we're West Coast heavy. Anyone from the Midwest, South or Northeast who chances upon this, feel free to email me with your prices and I'll add them! Thanks, Finally Frugal, for putting a request out to your readers.

Location: Portland, OR (grocery prices from Fred Meyer)
Gallon of milk: $2.69
Loaf of sandwich bread: .89
Pound of apples: Braeburn: .98/lb, Fuji: $1.28/lb
Gallon of gas: $3.05 (Arco station)

From Being Frugal (Lynnae),
These are the prices from Winco, my bare bones, cheapo store in Medford, Oregon.
1 Gallon of Milk: $2.74
1 lb. of Apples: 68 cents to 98 cents a lb, depending on the type
Bread: 75 cents for white; $1.25 for 100% whole wheat.
1 Gallon of Gas: $3.08

From me, FrugalMomLA:
Prices based on Trader's Joe's in Southern California
1 Gallon of Milk: $3.29
1 lb. of apples: 49 cents to $1.29/ lb
Bread: 99 cents
1 Gallon of Gas: $3.33

So the prices here are based on the West Coast primarily but I hope to add some from other regions as well. The next round I'll contact a few more people but this is a start. And, it's not so much where we're starting from but the actual tracking of these prices over time to see what's happening in our economy and with inflation. And, gas, of course, is a moving target so it's hard to say on any given day where we'll be with it.

I'm glad to say that since I posted the above, I received the following from a neighbor to the North. Thank you, Canadian Sadie!

Nova Scotia, Canada

Gallon of Milk (4 Litres): $6.19
Pound of apples: $1.49
Loaf of bread: $1.49
Litre of gas: $1.14 (which would be around $4.56/gallon)

Pizza for under $3 - Homemade Hannah Here!

In following the topic of my last post in which I said I was going to take the tack of making more homemade food, last night, I made pizza for the boys with fresh pizza dough, which, incidentally, now costs $1.29 not 99 cents any longer at Trader Joe's, with a bit of pasta sauce to which I added pureed vegetables and some shredded Chedderalla cheese since I didn't have mozarella. The boys loved it and considering the cost of everything, I think it probably cost maybe $2.50 all told. I felt good that it was a healthy meal while also inexpensive. One of my next posts is going to feature a comparison of grocery costs in various parts of the country. Let's see what's really going on!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Maybe I Should Just Buy the Cow

I was at Trader Joe's last night (Friday night) stocking up once again on milk since we go through so much every week, it's crazy. I was explaining this state of affairs to the very sympathetic cashier and he said, "Maybe you should just buy the cow, instead!" Although not practical as I'm sure my HOA CC&Rs don't allow for it and my backyard is pretty much a patio, the comment really is about realizing at what point is it better to milk your own cow instead of buy the milk, or, in any of the following instances: bake your own bread, make your own clothes, repair your old [fill in the blank], plant your own garden, etc. So, that made me think, since I can't buy the cow, what can I do? Here are my ideas:

1. Prepare more meals at home. One thing I haven't done recently is prepare meals ahead of time so we haven't really had too many nutritious, well-balanced meals. I have a crock pot and a crock pot cookbook so I have the tools available.

2. Plan a garden and buy vegetable seeds next month and have the boys help me plant. Probably it would be good to draw out the garden on a piece of paper since I imagine labeled sticks will be promptly taken out of the ground by curious hands.

3. Make my own pizza. I can buy fresh pizza dough for 99 cents at Trader Joe's and I usually have pasta sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese in the house. Total cost for a small cheese pizza would be less than a frozen one and a lot less than one from a pizza place.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jazzing Up Your PC At No Cost -- The Best of Free Web-Based and Downloadable Software

Probably you're aware of the free software or web-based programs that's now available to compete with some of the paid programs. I'll be listing those as well as a few others that might help you in your mission toward a frugal but fulfilling life. I will just mention that I've culled from "The Best of Free Software" article in PC Magazine's March 2008 issue.

For the best of the best for all around great software and applications, consider Adobe Reader for opening PDF files as well as online collaboration, Firefox for a secure web browser, Open Office or Google Docs as an alternative office suite to MS Office, Skype for calls and video conferencing, and Audacity for recording or editing. To protect your PC from viruses and malware, you have some great choices including avast!, AVG Free, Avira AntiVir Personal Edition, Hijack This, NanoScan, and Trend Micro House Call. Firewall offerings include Comodo Firewall Pro and ShieldsUp!.

In terms of household management, here are a few worth investigating: Backpack for a To-Do List, Google Calendar, Yahoo! Calendar or 30 Boxes for tracking your schedule, and Remember the Milk for creating your grocery lists.

Moms love their pics so here are some programs to review the next time you want to edit or manage your photos! Paint.NET is as close as you can get to a free Photoshop, thanks to a student project. Picasa is Google's photo manager. Picasa, Picnik and Windows Live Photo Gallery all provide editing features such as red-eye reductions, exposure adjustment, and cropping to name a few.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bag Math - The Art of Getting More Groceries for Your Money

Yesterday I went to Valley Produce, a market about 10 miles away from my house that I've been meaning to visit. They have two locations, one in Reseda and one in Simi Valley. As the name suggests, they specialize in produce so I thought I'd buy some fruits and vegetables to see about the quality and pricing. The picture on the left shows Satsuma tangerines priced at 2 lbs for $1.00. Here's my shopping list and various prices:

2 grapefruit - 59 cents ea.
2.24 lb red grapes - 59 cents/lb.
3.14 lb bulk rice - 59 cents/lb.
2.88 lb bulk pinto beans - 69 cents/lb.
1 lb peaches - 49 cents/lb
1.06 lb Gala apples - 49 cents/lb
6 pan dulce - 33 cents/ea.
.39 lb. Satsuma tangerines
1 pkg chocolate wafers (chosen by son)
1 dz. flour tortillas - $1.49
Total: $13.36

If I'd bought these items at our local, national chain grocery store, I'd have probably paid almost double for each item so the total would have been close to $25. I've noticed that when I shop at Vons, Albertson's or Ralph's, each bag averages about $8-10. I had 4 bags from my trip to Valley Produce so maybe $25 is a low estimate. Valley Produce sells more than just produce. They also sell fresh meat, fish, and poultry along with canned goods, pasta, rice, dairy products, and deli. It offered the same as national stores albeit with fewer brands and different brands. I've already eaten some of the produce and it tastes great.

There are other ethnic and local markets throughout the LA area. Korean and Asian markets are also good places to find fresh produce and low priced meats. You can see the prices for poulty in the picture to the right. Chicken breast is listed at $1.99 per lb. I was also amazed at the price of lettuce and other green, leafy vegetables. You can see in the photo below that lettuce (regular price) was 59 cents per head. Considering that it's 99 cents to $1.19 in our national chain stores, that's quite a difference. Cabbage was 33 cents a head although it's not pictured.

So, in the end, I guess it's probably worth spending $3 in gas if I save $15-$20 in groceries because the net savings would be $12-$17.

Children's Clothes - How to Keep Up with Their Growth

In a prior post, I'd mentioned that I'd do a more in-depth look at Susie's Deals, located in the same discount/dollar store mecca in Reseda that I've referenced before. Susie's Deals specializes in selling overstock or out-of-season clothing. They often carry name brands such as Hanes, Circo, Champion, Cherokee, Old Navy, and Gap along with lesser known brands. Yesterday, I bought two items for the boys, a pair of PJs with space ships on them and an olive green fleece sweat jacket. Susie's Deals is famous for their $5.99 or less guarantee. Many of the items in the store are $3.99 or less or sometimes they have 2 for $5.99 racks. This weekend is also a 10% off all purchases. So, I was happy that each item was just $5.49. According to the price tags, each would have been about $18.00 full retail. I'm sure you could find similar clothing on sale at the department stores for around $10 to $12 but I was happy with a 50% discount. Susie's Deals has childrens' and adult clothing. They have a wide selection of cotton items and on a past trip there I picked up two pairs of fleece sweatpants (2 for $5.99) that have served my older son well these past few weeks during the cold weather.

Here's are the PJs (Cherokee) and the jacket (Hanes):

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thoughts on Generosity - Paying it Forward

More from Change Your Thoughts-Change your Life by Wayne Dyer...

I've been enjoying this book by Wayne Dyer which analyzes various verses of the Tao. This passage is an excerpt from the 19th verse which Dyer defines as "Living Without Attachment."

"Let go of evaluating yourself on the basis of how much you've accumulated and what is in your financial portfolio. Stop putting a dollar value on all that you have and do. Let go of your need to get a "good deal" and choose instead to be a being of sharing. You'll be happily surprised by how nice it feels to simply change your belief that you're only successful if you're making money. The less you focus on making a profit--instead shifting your energy to living your purpose in harmony with everyone else--the more money will flow to you and the more opportunities for generosity will be available to you."

My goal for today is to live in harmony with everyone else and to practice generosity. And, how does this all fit into the frugal lifestyle? The sentence "Let go of your need to get a 'good deal' and choose instead to be a being of sharing," in fact, seems to fly against the frugal philosophy but I think they can be reconciled. I think that in this sentence Dyer is implying that in getting a good deal, one is trying to best someone else rather than share the wealth. So, he's saying be generous in a deal so that both parties benefits. Also, one of the precepts of being frugal is decluttering your life. So, if I can declutter and give stuff away to others who need it, then that is one way to meet my goals.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Frugal Food

Today I tried to be frugal about food. Since I missed breakfast yesterday on Valentine's Day with my family because I was at a business meeting, I made chocolate pancakes. The boys loved them, especially garnished with whipped cream!

Here's the recipe (Better Homes and Gardens, Jan 2007):

Chocolate Pancakes
1 2/3 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 C buttermilk
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 T cooking oil

In a large bowl, combine flour and other dry ingredients. In second bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Stir buttermilk mixture into dry mixture and stir until slightly lumpy. Heat a lightly greased griddle over medium heat and then reduce as needed. Pour or ladle batter onto griddle. Cook until lightly browned and turn when bubbly with slightly dry edges. Makes 16 pancakes.

Note 1- I increased the sugar a little bit.
Note 2 - Can cook at lower temp b/c of chocolate although I didn't.

Since it's the season of Lent, it's also the time for Filet-o-Fish Friday's at McDonald's. We partook of this classic tonight for dinner for the 4 of us--total tab was $16.03 (That's about $4 per person and 2 of the meals were Happy Meals).

Normally, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches run around $2.69, at least in our area. If I remember correctly from a CNBC special, the Filet-O-Fish ended up on McDonald's menus because there was a challenge between Ray Krok who favored the Hula Burger (a pineapple slice with a cheese slice on top in a bun) and the Filet-O-Fish, sponsored by a franchisee, and the Filet-O-Fish won. The contest was started because in the 50s and 60s, there were still quite a few people who wouldn't eat meat on Fridays for religious reasons.

Frugal Friday Blog Wrap Up

I've been scouring other blogs and am finding so many great tips that I can't wait to put them all down.

Jenn, over at Frugal Upstate, has an entire post on laundry including a recipe for laundry detergent. I've been looking for ways to keep our house less dependent on chemicals so have been searching for healthy uses of baking soda and vinegar. She also has started a series on how to be frugal including an in-depth look at lunches. Frugal Duchess has a great article on facial and skin care using grapefruit and honey. The Thrift Goddess loves to buy vintage and used items and finds them on sites like Freecycle. And Finally Frugal has been reading I'm Not Buying It, a book on a couple who spends a year not spending anything except for essentials. (Love the play on words there!) But, more importantly, would it be possible? Read it and see!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Disneyland, Legoland, and SeaWorld - Your Tickets to Savings!

I was thinking about ways we are frugal and I happened to remember that these cold winter months are often the perfect time to buy tickets for amusement parks at a discount.

Right now, Southern California residents get the famous "2fer1" tickets at Disneyland. You buy one ticket for at day at Disneyland and can go to California Adventure another day for free but you cannot go to both parks on the same day. Tickets are valid for Southern California residents within zip codes 90000-93599 and Northern Baja California residents within zip codes 21000-22999. Proof of residency is required. Tickets valid through 4/24/08. Tickets available at Disneyland parks, Vons markets, and elsewhere.

Special discounts for Legoland are available at Ralph's through 4/15/08 and are valid through 12/31/08. Adult tickets are at kid's price for $47 and kid's/senior tickets are $23.50.

And, at SeaWorld, you can buy a Fun Card at a regular ticket price that is valid for unlimited use through December 31, 2008. Offer valid through April 30, 2008. Available online or at the Sea World park. Tickets are $59 for adults and $49 for children between ages 3 and 9.

So, decide which one might be for you and your family and let the fun begin. Although, make sure to consider what you'll be doing for meals. Some of the greatest expenses, of course, are the dining options at all of these parks. None of them encourage bringing your own food and some try to actively discourage it but it can be done because I've done and I've seen others do it, too.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Not a Frugal Weekend, or Was It?

I'm not sure whether this weekend was frugal or not. Between yesterday and today, I made two trips to the market and my husband made one for a total of around $100 in spending. Instead of making dinner at home, I bought take-out for dinner last night at Panda Express for around $11 instead of fixing dinner but I had to work yesterday afternoon and my husband had to work the whole day so I'm giving us a break there. And, had we eaten at Panda Express for the four of us rather than doing takeout, it would have cost about $25. So, in that sense we were frugal. But, yesterday, I went to ToysRUs with my 5 year old and we spent $25 for some gifts and toys and then treated ourselves to ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery for $5 because we had a 2-for-1 coupon thus we saved about $5. Again, not too frugal since I could have bought an entire gallon of ice cream for $4 at the market! But, it's nice for my 5 year old to have an ice cream and choose what flavor he wants. We usually go to Baskin-Robbins only during free cone nights so every once in a while I think it's OK but, it's definitely not too frugal. And then today, we bought a new couch finally. We've had our current one for 13 years and it's been through our first apartment together then it moved with us to our current home and has sustained multiple assaults and injuries thanks to our two boys. So, we found a couch which cost $699 at Plummer's. (Actually, the Queen of Frugal found it and relayed the news to us. I hope to have her contribute a post or two in the future.) That's less than the other couches we saw at Living Spaces and definitely less than some that we considered at Crate and Barrel. We had already put money aside for new furniture so I feel good that didn't cost over $1000.00 which is what I'd budgeted. But, it was a weekend where I ended up spending more than I usually do so it's a bit unsettling. However, I feel good that our furniture won't be frayed like it is now and I won't be embarrassed to have people come over to visit.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


In my quest to become a better blogger, I started looking at other blogs about Frugal Living. Actually, I feel more like I stumbled onto other blogs and I think stumbled is definitely an appropriate verb since I barely know what I'm doing in the blogger world. But, what a world! As far as I can tell, bloggers blog about each other almost as much as about their topic. I love following the links to all the other articles but I have a tendency to get lost in the maze so I've taken to bookmarking the ones I like. Speaking of ones I like, I chanced upon the I've Paid Twice Already blog which, among other fun and interesting articles, talked about making money doing online surveys. So, I just signed up for which, upon acquisition of a certain number of points, actually generates a little bit of cash! So, if you want to earn a little extra, emphasis on little, check it out. Go to the Paid Twice website and you can click on the affiliate button. (Seems like most bloggers want to help each other out which is why I mention this option for signing up rather than a direct route to the My Survey website. It looks like every blogger has their list of favorite blogs so I'll be starting one, too.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's All Too Much!

My mother, the Queen of Frugal, gave me this book called It's All Too Much! It's written by Peter Walsh who has a show on TLC called Clean Sweep. I just started the book so I've only read the first two chapters or so but I have managed to glean his point--which is.... clean out your house, declutter your life, and you will have room for growth and progress. A wonderful point and so well taken as a mother of two children under age 6 whose toys multiply while we sleep. Do they procreate on their own? How is that possible? Anyway, his point is that "there is a stuff epidemic in this country." We have stuff because there's a constant barrage of advertisements, because malls and shopping are favorite leisure and recreation activities, and because having stuff is the barometer by which our success is measured. So, here's the point in relation to being frugal. We need to recognize that having all this stuff does not make us happy. So, in fact, being frugal and choosing not to buy or have can translate into more peace and harmony. Well, how's that a thought for relaxation! And, if you have too much stuff, you're not alone. Walsh writes that "America has a problem with overaccumulation." I particularly thought his point about clutter getting in the way of living our lives fully and in the now. On that note, I'm off to declutter something, somewhere in my house with a vow not to replace those items with anything else.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Furniture Shopping

I have to admit I'm no great fan of shopping for furniture but I heard about Living Spaces opening a store in the old GM plant in Panorama City on Van Nuys Blvd. So, in the hopes of finding a new couch and a chair or two for our living room, off we went. Well, the store is cavernous with an astounding number of furniture pieces. Their website is quite informative although I noticed that they have pieces in stock that are not shown on the website and, of course, you can't actually get a "feel" for the furniture unless you sit on it and touch the fabric or leather. They have a children's furniture section and the prices there were fairly reasonable. As you see in the photo, a full size canopy bed is $395.00. And, in case you're interested, even though the couch prices were great, we walked out without finding anything but the search continues. I won't fail to mention Ikea for furniture but that's definitely another post! What are your favorite stores or ways to buy furniture? One of my friends prefers buying from Craig's List or eBay. I bought my dining room table off Craig's List, in fact.

Front of Living Spaces store in Panorama City. Note that the colors are blue and yellow, just like Ikea! Hmmm....coincidence...I think not!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Santa Barbara Zoo - Beautiful and Affordable

The Santa Barbara Zoo is idyllically located just across from the beaches of Santa Barbara. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, it's a wonderful location. The zoo is also a great size so that most families can view the majority of exhibits in 2-3 hours. Also, unlike some of the major zoos, you can park and walk in and immediately start viewing the animals. And, for the frugal-minded, there are plenty of ways to make your visit an economical yet satisfying one. For starters, if you plan to go there 2 or 3 times, consider the family membership which costs $75.00 per year. For a family to visit there and purchase entrance tickets, it would cost $11 per adult and $8 per child (between 2 and 13) so that would cost $38 for a family with two adults and two children. If you went there a second time in the year, that would be $76.00. So, already, two visits makes the annual membership worthwhile and you get some additional benefits such as discounts at the gift store, newsletters, and the like. And, as a side note, they don't actually charge for parking.

Not only is this zoo a manageable size, it's very kid-friendly! They have a train (rides $2 per adult, $1.50 per child), a playground (free), and the giraffe exhibits offer visitors the chance to feed them ($4 per person.) Additionally, if you'd prefer to bring in a picnic, there are plenty of picnic areas where you can enjoy your lunch or snack. My favorite one is right near the lions' enclosure where you can see the ocean across the way.

Here are photos of the giraffes at the feeding deck and in their enclosure.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Consignment Stores for Kids' Clothes

There are so many ways to get affordable clothing for kids--garage sales, consignment stores, sales at mall/retail stores, and deep discount stores. Once Upon a Child used to be in our area but recently closed. Not only did it have children's clothing but also furniture, baby gear, toys, and more. Recently, the Children's Orchard, another children's consignment store, opened up in our neighborhood and I happened to visit on a Saturday when they were having their "$5 a Bag" event! Wow--that was great! I picked up a whole bunch of clothing for my 2 1/2 year old who is potty training and needs three sets of clothing at his daycare for just in case moments (which happen frequently, might I add.) Three bags for $15 equaled about 12 items. A true bargain! I also found some things for my 5 1/2 year old. You can sign up to receive emails about upcoming sales. The Children's Orchard is a franchise as is Once Upon a Child.

Living by the Tao

Wayne Dyer's book, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, analyzes the verses found in the Tao Te Ching, a book written by Lao-tzu, a Chinese prophet. Verse Twelve addresses the chase for material wealth. In his analysis of the verse, Dyer wrote that the "quest for adoration, money and power is a waste of energy because there's never enough so striving for more defines your daily regiment. You can't arrive at a place of peace and inner satisfaction when your entire existence is motivated by not having enough." This makes sense to me because a quest for external appearance and material satisfaction leaves little time for family and friends, creativity, enjoyment of nature, and spiritual growth. So where does that leave the frugal-minded? Are they focuses on not having? Or is the focus on being frugal so you have time more for the inner quests I just mentioned?