Mar 26 2011

it’s alien poo out of an alien dumpster! [day 303]

Maybe I’m a mean mom, but I make my kids try new foods.  I don’t make them eat it if they don’t like it and I don’t go out of my way to get things that will gross them out.  Both of them like pistachio nuts so I thought I would make some pistachio pudding for dessert.  Here’s what happened.

Let me just defend myself here.  I have never fed my kids anything out of a dumpster.  I get food from grocery stores and I don’t know any aliens.  I don’t like food waste, so I bought just one box of pudding, however my timing on it wasn’t great.  I was going out of town the next day and since nobody liked it, it sat in my fridge for 5 days.  I guess the aliens came in peace though, as this is the shape the pudding cracked into.

Okay, so I added the little piece at the bottom between the two small lines, but it looked like a peace sign when I pulled it out, as the other 3 lines were cracked in.  So what’s the best way to avoid food waste with kids?  Here’s a few tips.

  • Small portions. When eating out, I sometimes make them share or order small quantities because we can always order more.  At home, I let them fill their own plates with the understanding that they must eat what they put on it.
  • Plan leftovers. If you go out, don’t get food that will taste bad as leftovers.  French fries are just gross as leftovers.  Order something that you or your kids will eat the next day.  At home, make extras of the foods that will keep well as leftovers and cook only what will be eaten on the right-now foods.
  • Let your kids cook. I don’t do this often enough, but if they help in the meal planning and cooking, they’re more apt to eat it.

This won’t eliminate waste, but it sure will cut it down to an extreme minimum.  It also never hurts to communicate your grocery budget to the kids and let them shop.  Keep in mind this can backfire when your 10 and 11 year-olds go to the neighbors house and tell them they’re spending way too much money on groceries, telling them everything they know about saving money when buying food.  I’ve found that works better than the ‘starving-kids-in-other-countries’ talk.  If we’re less wasteful, we’ll have more resources to help others.


Mar 17 2011

the one for one model [day 295]

Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes, was a keynote speaker this year at SXSW.  Not only was it incredible to hear his story, but just to hear the magnitude of positive change his company has created in the world.  Here’s the best part.  Blake made this statement at the end of his talk.

“From this day forward, TOMS is no longer a shoe company. It’s a one-for-one company.  Our next step is meeting those needs around the world.”

Yes, TOMS is now a one-for-one company.  In June, they’re launching their next product.  You buy one, somebody in need gets one.  It’s a for profit model, and an extremely successful one.  I have to say here that I would love to go out and buy a pair of TOMS shoes.  With my one year of no retail shopping, unfortunately that’s not an option.  If I buy them used, a person in need will not get a new pair of shoes, however, even in the secondary market, good can still be done.

  • If I get them at a thrift store, that money goes to charity.
  • If I wear them, I’m marketing TOMS and this one-for-one model.
  • If I buy them used, paying less than retail, I’ve saved money that I can donate to one of my favorite charities.

How else can we apply the 1-for-1 model?

I’ve been pondering this question for a few days now.  I don’t know how anyone can hear the TOMS story and not wonder how we can all be a part of it.  TOMS is obviously onto something here.  I have a few ideas of how this could be applied in other ways to benefit TOMorrow.   Continue reading


Mar 10 2011

poverty: the stress of a downward spiral [day 287]

My rent payment is $286.  My utilities are $190 this month.  I don’t own a phone, I don’t have a job and I have a baby to take care of.  My name is Iris Isaacson… but only in this temporary make-believe world.  This world I’m speaking of is a poverty simulation, a game to teach people what it’s like to live in poverty.

I participated in this event last night.  At first, I thought it seemed like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there.  In the middle of it, I was thinking, “…what a chaotic game…”, but also realizing much of it was like real life.  At the end of it, I was worn out.  I couldn’t pay my bills, the ones I did pay were late, I had to pawn my jewelry, sold my camera, and after all the hardships and paying everything late, I got evicted anyway.  Here’s a description of the simulation.

The Poverty Simulation is a simulation experience developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action. During the simulation, participants pretend to be members of a low-income community attempting to survive four 15-minute weeks of poverty. The simulation relies on role playing techniques and extensive props to help participants understand the day to day challenges faced by families living in poverty.  Continue reading


Feb 7 2011

downsizing the kitchen & food supply [day 256]

I’ve been doing a lot of downsizing lately.  Right before snowmageddon, I decided to clean out the kitchen, not just utensils and cabinet crap, but food.  I don’t like being wasteful, and although we waste a lot less than the average American family, I felt that we needed to make some changes.  We made some radical changes and some subtle changes, and the results are proving to be really good.  I’ll share the overall goodness of this, the process of cleaning out the kitchen and a couple of mini-challenges.

The big picture.

We haven’t died of starvation. Again, we started this a couple of weeks before the ice storm.  We have much less food in the house, but we had plenty to eat during the 4-5 days at home.  I didn’t buy extra, in fear that we would starve and have nothing to eat for a week.  I bought a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread the day before the storm hit.  We had plenty, and I was even able to feed the two painters working in my house a couple of times.

Airstream… I mean streamline. Okay, I want an Airstream, but that has nothing to do with my kitchen.  The tasks of cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning the kitchen is much easier.  Cooking is easier, as there’s less stuff to shuffle around and I know what ingredients I have on hand.  Grocery shopping is easier, again, because I have less and I know the few things I need.  Cleaning is easier too, as I have a lot of extra pantry and cabinet space.  So much extra, that I was able to move all of my pantry items into empty cabinets while the oil paint takes 5 days to dry.

Here a snack, there a snack, everywhere a snack snack. My kids will open every bag of everything we buy at the store.  We could have, and have had, a pantry overflowing with food, and yet the kids can’t find a thing to snack on.  With much less in there, this is not a problem anymore.  It’s easy to see we have two open bags of crackers or pretzels.

Waste not, want not. We are wasting very little food these days.  Not that we wasted a lot before, but it was still more than I was comfortable with.  Waste is unnecessary, and by making some small changes to lessen it allows us to save a little money, be better to our environment and enables us to help others that don’t have enough to eat.

What did we do?

Downsized the pantry. If you have a smaller house like mine, the pantry is a small closet.  The picture is my “before” picture.  I don’t have an after right now, as the oil paint is still drying.  Whether your pantry is large or small, stuff always gets hidden in the back.  My pantry wasn’t horribly unorganized, it just had too much in it and could use a little more a system of “first in, first out”.  We took everything out and carefully selected what would go back.  I had cedar balls that didn’t smell like anything anymore.  Out.  Ridiculously expired stuff?  Out.  Open bags of stale crackers and chips?  Out.

We broke down the boxes and recycled them.  We couldn’t see all of the food behind the big boxes of crackers and cereal.  The boxes take up a lot of space.  I found it best to use see-through containers and baskets as much as possible.  Most of the stuff I didn’t know I has was in these black plastic crates and could not be seen. Continue reading


Jan 29 2011

aldi vs. walmart: a shopping comparison [day 248]

You asked for it.  Here it is.  The price shopping comparison between Aldi and Walmart.  After my post on day 241, many people asked for a price comparison with Walmart, some because they love shopping there, others because they believe Walmart to have the lowest prices.  So what’s your guess on the savings?

Aldi is still a lot cheaper in comparison t0 both of the other stores.  On similar size off brand and generic items, Kroger was 52% more and Walmart was 47% more.  The savings at Walmart for these brands is not much less than a regular grocery store, neither coming close to the savings at Aldi.  On the name brands, Kroger was 113% more and Walmart was 67% more.  Here’s where the Walmart savings come in.  Name brands you’re familiar with, for much less than other places.  This whole process has made me think about my previous grocery shopping habits and has encouraged me to make some changes.  I’m going to label these a little differently.  Let’s call these stores by type.

conventional grocery storediscount grocery storesuperstore – convenience store

All of the store types have pros and cons, however making educated shopping choices for your money and well being isn’t the easiest thing to do sometimes.  Here are a few of my observations and answers to questions I had before doing this comparison: Continue reading


Jan 22 2011

a 25¢ lesson cost me hundreds [day 241]

Yes, I made a judgement call based on 25¢, a quarter I thought I would loose.  Listening to some bad advice, I decided not to try a new grocery store in my area, a store that opened over a year ago.  Some person (I don’t remember who) told me that the new Aldi grocery store charges 25¢ for the use of their carts.  What this yo-yo neglected to tell me is that you get your quarter back when you return the cart.  So instead of checking this out, like I normally would, I decided not to.  My 25¢ lesson?  Make my decisions based on my own research, not something someone says. Of course I will always take advice and opinions into consideration, but I should always see things for myself.  I do this with people, I should do it with everything.  Lesson learned, but not just one.  There were many great lessons from this experience that I would love to share.

What is Aldi? “ALDI is a discount grocery chain that operates over 1,000 stores in 31 states. Through a select assortment and convenient grocery shopping approach, we’re able to offer our customers the highest quality everyday items at the lowest possible prices—honest to goodness savings.” Read more about them and why they’re different at aldi.us.

So why the quarter for the cart? “At ALDI, we cut costs every way we can to keep prices low. Our shopping cart deposit system is a good example. You insert a quarter to release a cart. When you return the cart, you get your quarter back. This system cuts down on the labor of collecting carts left in the parking lot, damage to cars, and we pass the savings on to you.” I like this.  In addition, it keeps the carts from hitting the cars in the parking lot and the carts seem to be in better condition.

I decided to shop there a few days ago.  It was the closest store and I just needed 2 items.  After the great experience, I decided to go back.  This time was to shop in efforts to try some of the different brands, buying one or two of each thing we normally purchase.  After seeing first hand, the incredible savings, I decided to do a cost analysis.

Last night, my kids and I went to our local grocery store to compare prices.  It was nice to get out of the house and I forgot my phone, which was nice, as my kids and I had fun doing this.  Who would have thought?  Here’s the results.

Aldi price: $65.40

This is pre-tax.  There was only one thing that was a name brand I usually buy, Amy’s vegetarian meals.  All of the other things were Aldi or generic brands.

Name brand price: $139.51

I priced the name brand items that were comparable in size and type to get this number.  The name brands cost 113% more than the Aldi brands.  Whoa!  that got my attention!

Off brand price: $99.33

To get this number, I used the same criteria as above, but with generic  or off brand items.  There were a few things that didn’t have generic brands, so the brand name item price was inserted.  Shopping at the major grocery store for off brands cost 52% more than Aldi.  Again, wow!

I’m sure you have some of the same questions I did before going in here, so I will address them now.  I had some very unexpected shopping results, that were much more than just saving money.  I also got me thinking about my shopping habits and how I have some room for growth.  Continue reading


Jan 10 2011

2 stores in store [day 228]

I had to go to 2 stores for work yesterday.  I needed a frame, a mat board and to have 1 photo printed.  I decided to go to Aaron Brothers for the frame and mat board, because in January, they have their “buy one, get one for a penny” sale.  I found the perfect frame, however I have no idea what we’ll do with the second one.  1¢ is too close to free to pass up.

It felt strange to be in a store.  I looked around a little bit, as they have art supplies, but I had no desire to buy anything.  I really didn’t want to be there.

Next, I decided to go to Wolf Camera for the print.  Now, I love camera equipment, but walking into the store still felt odd.  The aroma of film processing chemicals was a sweet reminder of the past, having to pay a lot of money for my photography habit.  It sparked a momentary appreciation for digital photography.

I rarely print photos, so I had to ask the quickest way to get one photo printed.  The sales guy pointed to the large yellow machine that does instant prints.  After several failed attempts to get it to read my jump drive, the sales guy tried.  After his many more failed attempts, I decided that wasn’t meant to be.

I had no desire to shop in either of these places.  Had I wanted to buy something, and did, it would be classified as an impulse buy, right?  It made me think about how many times I’ve done that in the past.  Going into a store to buy something I wanted and coming out with other things, things I didn’t need.    Continue reading


Jan 6 2011

the green machine [day 223]

I’m really not sure exactly how much money I’ve saved doing this challenge, as I haven’t tracked it, however I know it’s a substantial amount.  I have no debt, I’m not always broke and comparing my finances to last year, I’ve spent way less.  I attribute the savings to these:

  • No retail. Buying things from eBay, craigslist, thrift stores and yard sales saves 75% or more off retail prices.
  • No impulse buys. Staying out of retail stores and practicing the 24 hour rule with my kids (day 140) works great!
  • Smart shopping. For the groceries and toiletries stuff I have to buy, I price shop shop in stores where I know the prices are generally lower.  I try and buy some generic brands and buy things with minimal packaging.
  • Usage. Will I really use this?  Is it something I’ve wanted for a while or something that just popped into my head?  If I haven’t been looking at something for a while, I wait.  If I really want or need it, it will stay in my mind.
  • Trading & sharing. I make trades with friends and share things like tools, yard equipment and things not used frequently.  This minimizes the amount of stuff I have, making cleaning and organizing much easier.
  • Counterculture. We didn’t do Christmas like the rest of society.  No Christmas bills!  It was still a very good Christmas, just different than the rest of the USA.
  • Look ahead. How long will this item last?  What’s the maintenance and upkeep cost?  Is it green?

Looking at all of this, my kids and I made a recent large item purchase.  It’s something we had in our old house and used quite a bit, all year long.  We’ve been wanting one for four years now, since we moved into this house.  The used market on the item has good availability, but difficult to find certain models.  Many are in working order, many are not.  Some require lots of extra money for set up, installation and transportation.  So what is it?  A hot tub.  Continue reading


Nov 3 2010

trained shopping monkey… yellow [day 160]

Trained shopping monkeys. I went grocery shopping last night.  After reading the statistics about how Americans throw away almost half of the food they purchase, either by the food going bad before they cook it or plate leftovers, I was trying to be more conscious about my grocery shopping habits.  I don’t like grocery shopping, and add two griping boys to it, and I really don’t like it.  I was thinking I need to be more intentional about planning meals and making more frequent, smaller runs to the store.  Kroger is almost walking distance from my house, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.

When I got home, I cleaned out the pantry, fridge and freezer.  I did have to throw away some bad food.  It really bothered me.  I bought things I could freeze and fresh stuff in smaller quantities.  We’ll see how that plays out.

I also realized that Kroger has been training me on how to shop.  I like Kroger, but this made me a little sad.  I always look for the little yellow sale tags.  I like to get a deal and I don’t really want to pay full price.  I shop by price instead of brands.  Sometimes I look to see what my savings is over the full price and last night, I got a surprise.  The yellow tags are now in more places, but not with sale prices, but instead showing their everyday low price.  No sale here, just a highly visible price tag that looks like a sale price.  Yes, I’m a trained shopping monkey.  Yellow…

Helpful shopping tips I learned last night:

  • Budget. Know how much you’re willing to spend on groceries and shop within your budget.  If you bring cash instead of a debit card, you will have to stay within your budget.
  • Read the fine print. Look to see what your savings are.  I have seen items that say “on sale” and they have knocked off 1 penny.  Seriously?
  • You determine the deal. If you think it’s a good deal, then buy it.  If not, don’t.
  • Branch out. Be willing to try new brands or generic store brands.  Sometimes the product is just as good, and sometimes even made by the same company.
  • Duct tape.  Put duct tape on your kids so they can’t complain, fight and run around like wild banshees.  Okay, I’m kidding, but it does make you just throw stuff in the cart and hurry out when you have your restless kids with you.  For some of us, it’s not an option to leave them at home.  If you have that option, just do it.

Sep 15 2010

clean up in aisle 27 [day 111]

I didn’t really have any shopping challenges yesterday.  I think this might qualify for my most boring update.  :)

I did have to shop at the grocery store yesterday.  It’s retail shopping no matter how you look at it.  The nice decor, the well lit aisles and the creative merchandising all equals retail store.  I just needed to buy food for about 12 people, snack stuff, but with healthy options.

Reality check: Healthy food is WAY more expensive than junk food.

And in most cases, the junk food is available in several individual ‘snack size’ servings, meaning they can hide the nutritional nothingness easily and use a lot of packaging material.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a health food freak or anything, but I do like some moderation, and without breaking the bank.

I’m not sure I have a point here other than grocery shopping is retail shopping.  It’s acceptable in my challenge, but I would still like to find some alternate ways of doing portions of it and a few more money saving ways as well.  Thought you might enjoy a few shopping cartoons: