Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ways to Save: Shop at Sam's Club

I mentioned previously that we do most of grocery shopping at Aldi. This is certainly true, but another way we help our grocery budget out is by shopping at Sam's Club.

This will not help everyone.

I'm just going to get that out of the way. Membership is $45/year. That is factored in when I say we save money at Sam's Club. I bake a lot and we make our own bread. We find our saving at Sam's Club from buying All Purpose Flour, Bread Flour, Sugar (& Rice) there. We drove to Sam's for those savings, but there are additional, smaller savings as well. Things you might not drive out of your way for, but are worth picking up if you are there. Milk and block cheese are our two regular little savers from Sam's. Now that there is a Sam's one minute off my husband's commute home, it makes sense for us to always get those items there, but we don't calculate those savings in when we're trying to see if it's worth it to us to renew our membership.

Know your prices, though. Sam's has great deals on some things, but other things are actually cheaper elsewhere. Another thing I love about Sam's is their "discount" section. Every Sam's has one, though in some you have to search for it. Basically, this is a place where damaged or discontinued return items or floor models are put at a discounted rate. We have scored some awesome deals by checking this section every time we go. The selection is always changing, so it's definitely worth the couple seconds to run by and see what's new.

Another Sam's money saving tip? Sam's has seasonal items. Keep your eye on the price and you'll usually see it drop. Your signal that the price is (probably) not going to drop further? The price will be $xx.x1 See the 1 at the end? That's your signal. 

I don't often buy women's or kids clothes at Sams, as I can find good used clothes cheaper. But for men? It's really hard to find good used clothes. We've been able to get several pairs of name brand slacks and shorts for my husband at a good price at Sams. Not a reason we keep our membership there, but a nice side benefit.

Another nice side benefit? Being able to affordably eat out! Sams has a place where you can order hot dogs, pizza, hot pretzels, and a couple other things in store. Nothing cost more than $2, so our little family eating out for around $6 is a treat. We can't afford to eat out often, and at most (even fast food places) we'd spend that much on one person. Hooray for Sam's Club's eatery!

Caveat: I have not been to other membership clubs and don't know how price & selection vary. My parent's have a BJ's membership. Sam's has bread flour, BJ's doesn't. Right now, that's the reason we are at Sams and not elsewhere. Do your research. 

Sam's has a non-members-get-in-free day every year, other membership clubs may as well. It may be that what you need you can get what you need on that day and not have to buy a membership! Or if you literally only need a thing or two, ask a friend with a membership if you can go with her one day. Every member is allowed to get one non-member in for free each visit.

Plus, if you sign up for membership online through my referral link, we'll both get a $10 gift card! This cannot be used for membership, but can be used in store or online. Sweet! 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: A Cote of Many Colors

Week 6: A book whose title comes from a Bible verse

by Janette Oke

Cute Story for Children

This is a very short story appropriate for children. It is the story of two brothers and how their compassion and hard work earned them trust and a couple of friends - told from the perspective of a carrier pigeon who lived next door.

While Janette Oke is mostly known for her Christian Romance novels, she also wrote quite a few books for children. The story is easy to read and includes illustrations. Perfect for young readers.

4 stars

This review appears as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see other books in the challenge, click here.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ways to Save: Shop at Aldi

One of my favorite ways we save money is by doing (most) of our grocery shopping at Aldi. Honestly, if I could put an Aldi within driving distance of everyone, I would. It's that awesome.

We have a ridiculous grocery budget. In the sense that it is very tight. When I saw the USDA average food plan cost sheet I noticed that we spend under what's listed as "thrifty". And let me tell you, sometimes, it's hard. And the ONLY way we are able to do this is because of Aldi. And Sam's Club (but that's another post).

When we first got married, it was a literal struggle with the food budget every two weeks, and we pretty much ALWAYS went over. We were trying to coupon and price match and, well, do all those "normal" things you're told to do if you want to save money. We were trying to pay off my husband's student debt, so we REALLY had no room for going over our grocery budget.

After being married a few months, I realized that I drove by an Aldi almost every day. It had been FOREVER since I had been to an Aldi, or really even thought about one, but I remembered that I'd heard they had good prices. I convinced my husband to go with me one time, and if we didn't like it we never had to go again.

That was a red-letter day.

We went from scraping by and basically living off rice and beans to being able to eat well under our grocery budget. When we walked out of the store when our cart of groceries, my husband said three words: I'm a fan!

Now, Aldi does not have everything you might find at a normal grocery store, but I find the times I need to go somewhere else for groceries that Aldi doesn't have are rare. Most of what they sell is their own brand - you won't see many name brands around the store. Here's the thing, though, I don't care! With few exceptions, Aldi brand is just as good or better than the name brands. True story. (& it's basically what you'd buy at Trader Joe's but repackaged for Aldi. They're owned by the same parent company)

EVEN BETTER is that most of their food has a double guarantee on it. This means that if you try it and don't like it, you not only get your money back, but you get your choice of a comparably priced replacement item from that department at no cost. This really makes me feel free to try new things. And, quite honestly, I've only used that double guarantee a couple times, and I've been shopping there for years. Full disclosure: I make most of what we eat from scratch (aka I rarely use prefrozen or meals from boxes) so I have less experience there. But with the double guarantee you can't really go wrong!

If you have an Aldi, I really highly recommend you give it a try because here's the thing: with almost no exception, everything at Aldi is cheaper than if you used coupons. And if you're price matching, you're doing it to Aldi's prices. There are a few things that are priced on par with your regular grocery store, but most things are noticeably cheaper.

A few things you should know before you go:
1) Bring a quarter. You'll need this for your shopping cart - don't worry, you'll get it back - but it's one way they help you save money. You insert your quarter and you return your cart when you're done. Mean they don't have to hire extra people to bring in the carts
2) Bring your own reuseable bags (or be prepared to buy some from them for a small fee). Again, one way they are able to save you money is buy not including the price of disposable bags in every item.
3) Bring cash or your debit card (EBT also accepted). They do not accept credit cards or checks. Credit cards charge a fee to the vendors everytime its used, so they pass that savings on to you by having you pay with money, and checks take longer to process. The line may be long at checkout, but they are very, very fast about it.
4) They do not accept coupons. This doesn't bother me, because I'm saving more by shopping there than if I used coupons elsewhere. Plus, it saves me time in not having to clip them!

There you have it! Happy shopping and bon appetit!

original image of Aldi store

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: The Annotated Alice (works by Lewis Carroll)

Week 5:  A classic novel

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition 
by: Lewis Carroll, notes by Martin Gardner

The Annotated Alice contains three works by Carroll: Alice's Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, and The Wasp in a Wig. I will look at each of these in turn.

Tales, Not My Favorite; Scholarship, Top Notch

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

As I just saw Disney's movie based off the book for the first time a couple weeks ago, it was very fresh in my memory. I must say, I was rather impressed by the movie's accurate portrayal of the book, for the most part (there was no Tweedle-Dee and Tweele-Dum, no flower garden, no going through the forest in the book, and the movie lacked the scene with the Duchess and with the Mock Turtle). Quite a few lines were direct quotations from the book, which is always appreciated.

The book really is a nonsense book, though. I'm not sure what I expected, but I didn't expect it to be so close to the movie rendition!

3 stars

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found

If possible, this work is even stranger and more nonsense filled than the last! In the first things were bizarre, but there was still a sense of normal-ness. Here, characters change into creatures and she's suddenly where she wasn't in the blink of an eye. This story is much more dream-like than the first. Through the Looking Glass does contain the scenes with the flower garden & with Tweedle-Dee and Tweele-Dum found in Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Still considered a classic work, but not my favorite cup of tea.

2.5 stars, rounded to 3 because of its cultural impact (it is here that famous poem Jabberwocky makes it's public appearance)

The Wasp in a Wig

This short episode was undiscovered for around 100 years after Lewis' death. Scholars knew it had, at one point, existed, but they knew nothing of it. It originally was a part of Through the Looking Glass, near the end of the book. These few pages were left out, it is believed, in part because it made a particular chapter too long.

This is honestly probably my favorite scene from the book - and it didn't make the cut! I love the humanity of it and the lack of other weirdness most of the chapter exhibit.

5 stars

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition

A good half of this book is sidebar notes on the texts of these works by Carroll. I readily admit I did not read all the notes - as this was my first time reading these works it was cumbersome to the story to forever be directing my attention away from the story itself. I did read some notes, though, and found them very interesting. It is no wonder that this is a bestseller on Amazon! These books are not ones that have made it to my re-read shelf, and I don't feel the need to have them in my personal library. That said, if I were to own them, it would be in this edition. What I read of the scholarly work is fantastic and interesting! I definitely think anyone who is familiar with these tales, interested in literature, or a fan of Carroll would love this definitive edition of his works.

5 stars

Overall, The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition averages 4 stars.

This review appears as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see other books in the challenge, click here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ways to Save: TopCashBack

Somethings you just need to go to the store for. Others? Not so much. I love thinking of something I need, adding to the appropriate store's cart, and doing this till I have enough for free shipping. It's pretty great.

What makes it even better is earning cash back on the purchase. I've used a few rewards programs over the years for this. TopCashBack is, in my opinion, the best. Why? Compare it to what other reward programs are offering ... every time I've checked, TopCashBack gives you the highest payout. Hence their name - it's actually accurate!

How TopCashBack works is pretty much like any other cash back (or points earning) site you'd use. You log in on their website, pull up the retailer you want to shop at online, click through and make your purchase! That's it. They'll add the cashback to your account in a few weeks once the retailer processes everything and gives them the official ok.

Plus, they sometimes have little games you can participate in to earn entries or a little extra cash. Right now they have a Valentine's Game where you can enter to win a $2,000 romantic getaway for two!

I've rarely had an issue with claims or anything, but when I have they have been very responsive ... also not the case with other sites I've tried.

Another thing I like? There is no minimum needed to cash out your cashback. This is awesome because I always got frustrated with trying to earn enough points to be able to get a gift card on other sites. On TopCashBack you can either get cash via PayPal, or you can get the Cash Back in form of a gift card, usually at a slightly higher rate than you would get for cash.

It's free to join, and easy to use. I really love using them! What are you waiting for? 

original logo image full disclosure: if you sign up through my referral link, I will receive a small compensation for your joining after you have reached $10 in cashback.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case

Week 4: A mystery or detective novel

by Agatha Christie

A Good Read, but Not Quite Satisfactory

Christie rarely disappoints in her delivery of mysteries. This was a good read, but not as satisfactory as many other of her mysteries. In part, we are not given all of the information Poirot possesses - this feels like us readers are put at a decided disadvantage. Like with Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, mysteries where the detective has key evidence we lack can make for enjoyable reads, but are not completely satisfactory as we lack the means to solve them ourselves. 

Furthermore, the book seemed rather a wasted way to end Poirot's career. I was hoping for something not so ... unnecessary, though I understand the thought behind it. 

Still, though, unlike many mystery/detective novels out there, this one does leave you guessing and conflicted and is a good read.

4 stars.

This review appears as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see other books in the challenge, click here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Frontier Bishop

Week 3: A book by or about a missionary

Frontier Bishop: Simon Gabriel Brute
by: Riley Hughes 

Historical Fiction, Not a Biography

As I'm reading this book, I start asking myself questions like "how do we know what his mother thought?" "Did Simon write this down for us to know this?" "How do we know this conversation took place?" Some of the material I had no reason to doubt, but some of it left me wondering. It isn't until the last paragraph of the book that the author informs us that this is a work of fiction based upon historical fact.

That is something that ought to be disclosed at the beginning of a work as it changes expectations. I expected a biography of the "Frontier Bishop" written for children, not a loosely accurate account of his life written for children.

The book was still interesting, as I assume the key points are factual. And I always enjoying seeing how events intersect worldwide, which is something this book does a good job of incorporating as Simon lives in various places.

With the title of Frontier Bishop I expected the majority of his life to have taken place on the frontier, and the book to focus primarily on that as a result. This is not the case. It is not till nearing the end of Simon's life that he is a "Frontier Bishop" and by that point you're almost done with the book. 

This book was a good and informative read, it just didn't meet a few expectations I had going into it.

3 stars.

This review appears as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see other books in the challenge, click here.