Popcorn, Peanuts, Pumpkin Pie*

Snacks can kill a grocery budget.

I’ve often had a great week of frugal living, only to see my husband go out and buy three kinds of chips, two kinds of beef jerky, and Funyuns. FUNYUNS. Having a good frugal week derailed by Funyuns is a sad thing, indeed. To combat this, I started a new campaign, which is ‘I will have snacks and desserts available at home.’

This might seem odd, but I’m a person that eats all the salty snacks, if salty snacks are available, so I do not buy them. Thus, my husband’s frustration. Happily, he does like popcorn.

Popcorn is the best frugal snack, but only if you’re paying attention.  It’s baffling to me, but if you’re shopping for popcorn, prices vary wildly depending on where you are, and what kind you’re buying.

When I type ‘wildly’ I mean the ordinary flux of grocery prices, the come and go of things like ‘turkey is cheap in November’ and ‘eggs are cheap at Easter’ don’t apply, and more that HEB will have a pound of popcorn for sale at 99c for a 1lb bag, Randalls will have that bag for $3.99 and Sprouts will have popcorn in bulk for 69c/lb.  If you want a container of Orville Redenbacher? That’s likely to start at $4.99.  I’m not sure if I should start following commodities markets or what, but popcorn is one of  the strangest things, pricewise, that I regularly purchase.

In order to make sense of this single purchase, long ago I decided I only buy popcorn as bagged kernels.  I don’t buy microwave popcorn, popped corn, jiffy-pop, or anything else that comes down the pike (It’s only a matter of time before I can point my iphone at a bag of popcorn and make it pop, and I won’t buy that either) just kernels. It used to be normal for me to pick up a 2lb sack for about $1.50, and now if I see anything that’s about 99 cents a pound I buy it because I don’t know when I’ll see it again! And then there’s something like last month, where the HEB I was in had it super-cheap, 50 cents for a pound. If you find cheap prices. let Cheepie know!

For ages, I popped corn on the stove. Then I was at a friend’s house and met the Stir Crazy. I love this thing. The 6 year old can work it, and it’s entertainment, then food! Yes, it’s a single-use appliance that takes up space. But we use it a few times a week, and that’s more than the fireplace, and you don’t see people crabbing at me to get rid of that sucker.  I’ve popped on the stove, I’ve had an air popper, I’ve popped in brown paper bags in the microwave, and I’m here to say that the Stir Crazy is the way to go. Feel free to tell me I’m popping corn all wrong in the comments. Or share your topping ideas–I usually go with parmesan and ground mustard. How do you pop?

My other favorite snack is peanuts. We all love cashews, almonds, and those crazy smoked almonds that must be loaded with chemicals to make them taste like that. But peanuts are the nut that goes on sale on a regular basis at Sprouts for $1.99/lb. That’s the cheapest nut I’ve found, and I stock up when it happens. Someday, I’ll stock up enough to make peanut brittle, but we always just end up eating them before I get ready to melt sugar into lava while the kids run through the kitchen.

Then, there’s dessert. After twenty years, I’ve finally sorted out that sometimes my husband will take us all out to dinner, just because he wants dessert and knows there’s not anything like dessert in the house.  To combat this, I’ve started making dessert once a week, and trying to have ice cream in the freezer (stocking up on Bluebell on sale is fun!).  The kids love making dessert, and this way we save by having pie, bread pudding, or cookies at home, and not out.

*Apologies to Jay &the Techniques. For my mom, here’s the ‘video‘.

Happy Ad Wednesday

This week was a challenge.

There are a lot of close prices, and not just in the ongoing Apple Wars arena–blackberries (99c/Sprouts, 97c/HEB and 5.6 oz v 6 oz), and potatoes (do we care about 33c vs. 25.8c/lb?) were both places I had to stop and think.  I’d initially planned on a straight-up cheapest wins, in Cheepie world.

But if it’s just a cent or two, I feel like you need to know that the other low price is there. If you’re only going to one store this week, I want you to know that the blackberries are on sale at HEB and Sprouts.  In other areas, I’m making a call. I waffled on the loin chops at Fiesta–that’s an okay price. Normally, I stock up on pork loin when it’s $1.99/lb. But I haven’t seen it at that price in a while, and while I’m happy to slice a whole loin into chops not everyone is, so I went ahead and listed it.

Then there was the pricing nonsense that is HEB/CM this week. They need to just make a call on kale and own it. This week HEB has organic kale for 97c/bunch, and non-organic for 98c/bunch. CM has organic kale for 88c/bunch. ‘Bunch’ is a terrible unit of measurement, and I am unhappy to have to deal with it at all.  It’s possible the organic bunches are very stemmy, or smaller than others, it’s possible they’re all the same. I don’t know! And the point of this is for me to steer you right! And I don’t like kale! But tomorrow I’ll go check on this situation, and likely crab at some produce staffers and report back. ALL FOR YOU.

AppleWars continue to be won by HEB with the Best Week Yet–organic Gala 88c/lb, and organic Honeycrisp, $1.48. This is a good bit cheaper than last week, and you can be certain I’m tracking this for next year, so I know when the real ‘lows’ are!

Here are my good buys for this week:

Sprouts

blackberries, 5.6oz                                                          99c/ea

green and red bell peppers, cucumbers (DD)                50c/ea

conventional apples, many varieties (DD)                                99c/lb

Sprouts brand organic apple juice, 1 gal                     $7.99/ea

rolled oats                                                                        69c/lb

mussels                                                                         $2.99/lb

drumsticks or whole chicken legs                                   99c/lb

ending this week:

jumbo pomegranates                                                       2 ea/ $4 (these are better at Fiesta now)

1lb strawberries (DD)                                                         $1.67/ea

Campari tomatoes, 1lb package                                         98c/ea

Honeycrisp apples (DD)                                                     $1.48/lb

organic Gala or Granny Smith apples                              $1.48/lb   (DD) These are cheaper at HEB now!)

organic celery                                                                     98c/ea  (DD)

organic carrots, 5lb sack                                                  $2.98/ea

Fiesta

chicken drumsticks and thighs (together in a pack)           99c/lb (Fiesta limit)

Swift Premium pork loin chops, boneless                          $2.29/lb (Fiesta limit)

Honeycrisp apples (DD)                                                          99c/lb

large pomegranates                                                          $1.49/ea

5lb sacks of russet potatoes (DD)                                       $1.29/ea

Randalls

Safeway brand bacon, 3 lb package                              $11.97/ea ($3.99/lb)

red and green bell peppers   (DD)                                        50c/ea (stock up on reds!)

Ritz crackers                                                                     $1.99/lb

Quaker Life Cereal, 13oz.                                                 3/$5 (Friday only)

Safeway brand 12-packs of soda and mixers                    3/$5 (Friday only)

large avocados (C15)                                                        $1/ea (but check! they have consistently terrible stock of avocados at my location)

HEB

blackberries, 6oz.                                                                 97c/ea

organic Gala apples  (DD)                                                  88c/lb

organic Bartlett pears                                                            88c/lb

organic Honeycrisp apples (DD)                                         $1.47/lb

Country Post brand drumsticks                                             $1/lb

CM

organic bunched kale     (DD)                                             87c/ea

This week, I thought about putting some of the Randalls ‘Just For U’ deals up, because the mailman brought my fliers today (thanks, you crazy pith-helmeted man!) and there were some good ones. Basically, you can fetch them online, or clip them out of your circular from the mail. Having to do that is contrary to my goal, which is just tell you which good food is on sale this week. I don’t want you to have to start clipping or signing up.

If you’re in Randalls on a usual basis, I suggest you sign up for the J4U, and pay attention to the mailer–there’s cheese for $3.25/lb, and pasta sauce for $1.25. If you’re not, well, you and I both know there aren’t enough deals there for you to sign up double extra nonsense.

But do get the club card and use that for the deals you can, or ask me for my number, and I’ll get gas points when you shop there. That has the added benefit of confusing their data, and I’m always a fan of chaos.

Check in tomorrow for a stocking-up post, and don’t forget Saturday’s dinner score post!  I’m very optimistic I’ll up last week’s score.

Sunday Night Goal Post!

Hello Cheepsters! Hope everyone had a good weekend, and you’re all ready for Halloween.  It’s all over here except for the candy.  Well, that and Tiny still changing her mind about what kind of vampire to be. Pink Vampire is currently winning.

Here’s the plan for this week. Salmon is leftover from last week, sale items were: tomatoes, carrots, celery and chicken.

  • Mon:  salmon croquettes, sesame rice, peas, fruit, tomato salad
  • Tue:  Taco tuesday–chicken, beans, cheese, tortillas and fixings, fruit, green salad
  • Wed:  baked ziti, caesar salad, carrot and celery sticks
  • Thur:  Refrigerator Buffet! and Carrot Soup!
  • Fri:  Halloween! Pizza and candy for all!

Here’s hoping I beat my current record of 5 points.

…and we’re back to Scary Vampire. Or Pirate Vampire. Stay tuned!

This Week’s Dinners

So. Here we are. First week done. Not to spoil you or anything, but I think this will be easy to keep as a recurring feature, given the room for improvement. To recap, this was the plan for the week:

  • Mon:  pork fried rice, broccoli, apples, spinach salad
  • Tue:  leftover posole (from the weekend), cornbread, avocado, grapes
  • Wed:  baked chicken thighs, pasta with garlic and oil, carrot and celery sticks, steamed spinach
  • Thur:  Refrigerator Buffet! (need a refresher on this? check here)
  • Fri:  Octoberfest party with friends

Here’s the actual:

  • Mon: pork fried rice, spinach and feta salad, bananas, cucumber and celery sticks. 7:15 pm. people attending: 4. Score: 1 point.
  • Tue: leftover posole, chicken and stars soup, wheat bread, spinach and feta salad, apples, avocado. Broccoli forgotten in microwave. 7:00 pm. people attending: 5. Score: 1.5 points.
  • Wed: cheese pizza from the freezer, cucumber slices.  8:00pm.  people attending: 2. Score: 0 points.
  • Thur: broiled salmon, broccoli, blackberries, caesar salad, butter noodles, pesto, cucumber and carrots. 7:15 pm. people attending: 5. Score: 2 points.
  • Fri: German food at Octoberfest. 7:00 pm.  people attending: 3. Score: 0.5 points.

Wednesday was clearly the problem day, but Thursday was a good recovery.  My scoring system is arbitrary, invented on the spot each night when I wrote down what we’d had for dinner.  I took one whole point off if everyone wasn’t present, and a half point off for missing a food group. Out of a possible 10 points, this week was a 5. A flunk! With a plan, good intentions and internet accountability, I still fail family dinner.

Week 1

  • Score: 5/10
  • Plan followed?: 3/5
  • Effort?: medium

Tomorrow is another day. Surely, next week will be better. Halloween can’t disrupt a whole week, right? RIGHT?

The Mystery of the HEB Weekly Ad

The weekly ad I get from HEB in the mail has a list of all the HEBs that the prices are valid for that week.  I’m equidistant from about three HEBs, and I’d always thought the ad was the same for them all, until I went to the one on Brodie for something that I’d specifically seen on sale. I had the ad with me, and when I spoke to the butcher, wondering where the item I wanted was, he pointed out that the ad I was holding didn’t apply to the HEB I was standing in.

So, from then on, if I was heading to the that HEB I’d have to double-check their ad to make sure I wouldn’t be unpleasantly surprised (read as ‘super-ticked off’).  When I started this blog, I checked and double-checked at first to make sure that I wouldn’t steer someone wrong. So far I haven’t found any discrepancies on the big loss-leaders. If you do, please let me know–my karma cannot take the ill-will sending a Cheepster off for a deal, only to have it not there!

This week, when I got the weekly flyer in the mail, I noticed the very long list of stores this ad does apply to, and I wondered if the HEB on Brodie is the only exception to the usual flyer.  Here’s the list:

IMG_0214

If your HEB isn’t on the list, let me know. That way I can check the flyer online and make certain I’m not sending anyone on a wild goose chase– CheepieAustin wants to SAVE you time, not waste it!  I’m also interested in whether the stores that don’t use the usual flyer match each other, if there’s more than one.

At the very bottom, in the tiny print, the next to last sentence says, “Some items may not be available in all stores.’ If you’re following Cheepie on Facebook, you saw my post last week about the 88c lettuce.

I’d gone to the HEB at S. 1st and Wm. Cannon and couldn’t find the lettuce. I wandered a bit, making sure I didn’t miss it, and hoping to run into a produce employee. I didn’t (that store is high on checkers, but low on other staff). I think the reason it wasn’t there is what I suspected on the FB post, they just do not stock lettuce that isn’t bagged. They didn’t have any kind of unbagged lettuce at all.

I will keep this in mind with the Happy Ad Wednesday posts, and try to point out if an item seems less likely to be in all stores. But lettuce is pretty universal, and I would have never caught that one. Mussels on sale? I might point out they’re not in all stores. Lettuce? Really thought that would be everywhere!

Remember to follow CheepieAustin on Facebook AND on Twitter!  I post deals that I find while I’m out, so you can check them out too, if you’re nearby.

Seriously, follow me on Twitter. It’s hysterical. I forget hashtags about half of the time. I can’t sort out how to make a photo compress quite right, so it’s no telling what part of the photo you’ll see if I tell you I found a good deal on squash (my foot?).  Right now, I’ve got just four followers, and one is a chick racecar driver. I know you want to be as cool as a chick racecar driver! So follow CheepieAustin on twitter. Be cool.

Happy Ad Wednesday!

This is the first post I’m going to start labeling with the (DD) and (C15) labels. I’m not sure if they’ll be helpful or not–I know I have my mental lines about what prices I’m going to pay and when I shop organic and not.  I want to help people shopping for the best deals find the best deals for their purposes, whether organic or conventional. Let me know if you think this labeling is helpful, or confusing, or guilt inducing. Because I know I buy non-organic grapes all the time, and I can’t decide how guilty to feel!

I also wish I could get the info below in a more columnal structure ( I just made up a useful word there!). For now, this is what I can do.

This week, Randalls wins the Apple Wars at 69c/lb, but HEB wins the organic Apple Wars, at 98clb. HEB kind of manhandles this war.

HEB:

Texas grapefruit                                                                 8/$1   (C15)

organic greenhouse tomatoes                                          77c/lb

organic Fuji apples                                                            98c/lb   (DD)

organic Bartlett pears                                                       98c/lb       (beating Sprouts@ $1.48)

Mangos                                                                            68c/ea  (C15)

Jongold or Braeburn apples                                            98c/lb   (DD)

organic green leaf,  red leaf, or Romaine lettuce             88c/ea

HCF split chicken breasts                                                $1.47/lb  (that’s Hill Country Fare)

Ken’s Salad Dressing, 9 oz., assorted varieties              $1/ea

Sprouts:

beginning this week:

jumbo pomegranates                                                       2 ea/ $4

1lb strawberries                                                               $1.67/ea   (DD)

5.6 oz blackberries                                                          $1.67/lb

Campari tomatoes, 1lb package                                         98c  (cheaper than Costco, I think)

Honeycrisp apples                                                           $1.48/lb  (beating CM sale price of $1.77/lb)

organic Gala or Granny Smith apples                              $1.48/lb   (DD)

organic celery                                                                     98c/ea  (conventional is same price, pick organic!)(DD)

organic carrots, 5lb sack                                                  $2.98/ea

ending this week:

organic grape tomatoes, 1 pint                                        $1.98/ea

hass avocados                                                                   48c/ea

green bell peppers                                                            48c/ea

cucumbers                                                                        48c/ea

sweet potatoes                                                                  98c/lb  (C15)

celery                                                                                98c/ea   (DD)

boneless skinless chicken thighs                                  $1.99/lb

organic gala apples                                                       $1.48/lb   (DD)

peanuts (raw, roasted salted or un)                               $1.99/lb

organic non-gmo tofu, 14oz.                                          $1.49/ea

Fiesta:

Fiesta vegetable oil, 48oz.                                $1.89/ea

chicken leg quarters, jumbo bag                        77c/lb (Fiesta limit)

Texas juice oranges, 10lb sack                        $3.99/ea

Barilla pasta, 13.25-16oz                                    99c/ea (yes,pasta is often cheaper, but I find this brand very consistent)

pork neckbones                                                  99c/lb

Randalls

Gala, Red or Golden Delicious apples         69c/lb   (DD)

Sanderson Farms whole chickens                99c/lb (I think these are NOT the enhanced kind, I’ll check tomorrow)

Campbell’s Chunky soup or bowl              $1.25/ea (this is a sentimental house favorite, so it’ll turn up from time to time)

CM:

New York Strip steaks                                  $9.99/lb  (yes, this is extravagant, but it’s $8 off per lb, and they’re great steaks. don’t be shy at the case, tell them exactly which ones you want!)

organic bunched kale                                  87c/ea  (If you’re going to eat kale, this is the kale to buy)(DD)

There we go. That’s the round-up. A pretty good week, still a lot of Apple Wars, and a decent amount of produce on sale at stocking up prices. I wish I knew what to tell you about those pork neckbones. I know I’ve bought them, but I think that was a freezer to trash event. If you’ve got a use for them, let me know!

As a last note, I’d add that Randalls is having a $5 Friday special, for an 8 stem rose bouquet. If you’re in a Randalls on Friday, I can’t think of a reason not to pick one up and give it to someone–for that price you might buy two and make the day for two people!  You don’t need a reason at that price, it’s just because you’re happy it’s Friday!

Unit Pricing: the Good, the Bad and the Half-Cracked

Monday’s Grocery Theory post here, sneaking in just over the wire. So far Grocery Theory posts have introduced a ranking of Austin grocery stores, methods of storing when stocking up, the types of shopping we do, meat, and weekly planning.

Today’s topic: Unit Pricing.

You know what I’m talking about here. It’s that other number, usually on the shelf tag telling you how much your item will be.  Many people never take a look at that other number, some people will look at it to compare if they are buying an item they’ve got zero brand loyalty to follow, and others, well, others are always looking at them and doing the math.

It’s often surprising.  In a perfect store, these numbers should help you comparison shop, by letting you know this toothpaste is $X per ounce, and that one is $Y per ounce (don’t worry, algebra haters, we’re not going to keep using numbers where letters should be!).

Or say, eggs.  Eggs should be easy.  You’d like to know how much each egg is in the dozen you’re buying, compared to that dozen over there, or even compared to the 18-count over there.  Heck, go crazy and compare it to that big 2 1/2 dozen thing people only buy at Easter, why not?  It’s normal to expect the unit price to be per egg, and you’d have a second expectation of the price per egg being cheaper for the larger sizes.

Expecting something and finding it aren’t the same.

How the Unit Pricing Labels in Stores Can Trick You into Spending More

When is the last time you paid $34.69 for a dozen eggs?  Yeah, me neither.  This photo, taken by David S. Read and posted to his blog, is a great example of completely unhelpful, non-coherent unit pricing.  You look at the first one, and you realize, someone multiplied the actual price of a dozen eggs by 12.  That pattern works for a bit, ( with a hiccup for that 6-count at the top right, where they’re inexplicably multiplying by 2. because 6 is half a dozen?) but then there’s an 18 count egg carton, and they multiply that by 8 to get the unit price.  NICE!  But also deeply wrong.  Then it ends with unit prices per dozen, which seems to be the what they can handle even if it’s not a useful unit tool, because they got all of those right.  A dozen eggs cost as much as a dozen.  That’s a safe bet.

I saw this photo, and read his post, and was relieved.  For years I’ve thought I was the only person looking at unit prices, and now I know I’m not alone.  I thought I must be, because I’ve spent hours of my life in the toilet paper aisle (yes, this is a first-world problem I am having in the toilet paper AISLE.   I have multiple stores with aisles of tush-wiping paper.  I would be happier if there was one tp and I could just buy it and get on with my bad self!  Or if we all agreed to use leaves), trying to figure out what to buy.  At some point I’ll make a composite photo like the egg one, but toilet paper unit prices come in: sheets, sq. ft., sq. in., 1000 sheets, cm², and m².  Have you ever stood there trying to figure out how many square feet per roll, so you could make an even comparison?  I have, and it’s not simple.  You’ve got to look at the size of the sheet, get the area, multiply that by the number of sheets, and multiply by that, and then convert sq. inches to to sq. ft. so you can compare it to cm² …yeah.  That’s where even I stop and buy the one that seems cheapest per reasonably sized roll. I hate myself when I do that.

But it’s not just eggs and toilet paper.  I’m surprised all the time about the correct math that shows it’s cheaper to buy the smaller size of something rather than the larger (often, laundry detergent, soup, cereal), and by the wrong math demonstrated on the tags.   Listen, if something that’s 8 ounces is 99¢, then it’s safe to say it’s not $1.89 per ounce.

I feel like Common Core is trying to address this problem, with all of the estimates, and writing about how you got your answer.  But honestly, if you as a shopper don’t see this, your shopping isn’t doing right by your grocery budget. Knowing how unit prices work is one of the great ways to save.  The only thing that stops me from buying the cheapest thing per unit is brand loyalty, and I have very few of those (Hell-O Velveeta for queso!).

Unit prices, when correct, can help you. I use them all the time, especially when buying cheese, canned goods, rice, and beans.  You can too.  You don’t need a calculator, just look. In most cases, they’re right. If something seems hinky–pull up the calculator on your smart phone and see if your intuition is right.  That photo up there is an extravagant example of unit pricing being crazy.  If you saw a sticker that said unit price was over $20 for a box of macaroni and cheese, you’d stop, right?  In some terrible stores (HEB, you took unit prices OFF your eggs at Wm Cannon/S. 1st!) you don’t even have unit prices.  Texas doesn’t require unit pricing, and just last week I noticed that they’ve been removed in some areas, prompting my post.

How to Calculate Unit Price

Whenever you want to know the unit price? Look at what you’re buying. How much is it? Enter that into the calculator. Then, how big is it? This is the fiddly bit–if you are looking at a unit price, you want to match that, so if it’s per ounce (oz) that’s your number.  Then you divide by that number. That’s your Unit Price, which is Dollars per Amount of Stuff.

Comparing efficiently means matching units, so if you want to buy pasta, and you’re looking at different brands that are all 1lb each? Each one should have a label saying how much it costs, and also how much per lb. or per oz.  If some are not labeled that way,but instead are ‘per serving’ or per 8 oz., that’s when you need to start getting cranky.

Unit pricing is one of the best tools a grocery shopper has. If stores corrupt it, or don’t use it, it’s to the shoppers detriment. I encourage everyone to look at those unit prices. If the math doesn’t work, note it, and tell store management if possible. If there isn’t a unit price, and you want one, let them know that, too.  Use your grocery dollars in the very best way you can!