Archive for March, 2009
Here are the Blog Carnivals that we participated in over the last few weeks. Enjoy!
- Carnival of Personal Finance #194 was hosted by Free Money Finance and you can find our post entitled Guaranteed Frustration: Credit Card Regulations, Credit Accessibility, Consumer Protection and a Recession. listed there.
- Festival of Frugality #167 (The Dr. House Edition) was hosted by Green Panda Treehouse and you can find our post entitled Keeping Cool on the Cheap – How to Save on Air Conditioning listed there.
- Carnival of Twenty Something Finances (The Lost Hour Edition) was hosted by Money TLD and you can find our post entitled Unemployment Numbers May Be Worse Than They Appear listed there.
Once upon a time, when V-8s encased in steel roamed the highways and gas stations wanted your repeat business, you could get a deal on gas if you used the station’s credit card. The gas station chains wanted to inspire customer loyalty and to make stopping at their particular pumps part of your regular routine. The card savings weren’t much, but they were a little perk to being a regular customer.
That’s not the way it’s working these days. In fact, we’ve come full circle. Today, you can save money on gas by paying with real cash money instead of plastic.
Hundreds of gas stations have started offering special rebates of up to six cents per gallon off for thos customers who are willing to part with paper money instead of just sliding their credit or debit card through the machine.
Why? Times have changed. While inspiring customer loyalty was a top priority once upon a time, today gas stations are more concerned with finding a way to combat the processing fees they’re charged for credit card transactions. Those “interchange fees” are usually around 2% and can sometimes hit 3.5%. That’s money the gas station is paying out to its card processing services in exchange for handling the plastic transactions.
In many jurisdictions, the law says that gas stations can’t charge you extra for using a card. That does not, however, mean that they can’t charge you less if you pay in cash. So, they talk about “cash rebates” and put up signs that make it clear that you can get a few cents off with cash to stay on the right side of the law. It’s a matter of semantics, but it must be working. I don’t see too many gas station owners taking a perp walk on the evening news, after all.
I can’t find anyone who’s saying it out loud, but I think there’s another reason for the cash discount. If you use plastic, you might just pay at the pump. All you’ll buy in that situation is fuel. The station owners aren’t making much, if anything, on actual gas sales and can end up losing money on gas when processing fees enter the equation. If they can get you to walk into the store to pay at the counter, however, they have a shot at selling you a candy bar, a soda, a piece of beef jerky or a pack of cigarettes. You might even break down and buy that loaf of bread at the convenience store instead of stopping by the supermarket. When customers buy more than gas, they become more profitable and persuading them to come on into the shop is the only way to make that happen.
So, should you be paying cash for gas? It is a decent way to save money on fuel. It’s not going to make you rich, though. One news station projected the annual savings with cash rebates on gasoline to come to around $15 for the average driver. Let’s be honest, that isn’t a big deal. Then again, every penny counts. It’s your call.
Just remember that securing any real savings is going to now hinge on your ability to resist the siren songs of donuts, candies, soda, coffee, beef sticks and Lotto tickets. If you walk into the store and make a single impulse purchase you’re going to completely erase any gains made over multiple visits.
Everyone hates paying more than they must for gas. If you’re hardcore about keeping your fuel expenditures down, consider paying with greenbacks instead of a card.
So, I’m wandering my local grocery store and I’m beginning to notice just how much money I’m “saving” by carrying the store’s loyalty card in my wallet. I couldn’t snag pot roasts on the “2 for the price of 1″ deal without it. My block of Velveeta, which will eventually become part of a NCAA Final Four Nacho Slam Dunk Feast (by the way, I have Louisville winning the whole thing) would’ve cost an extra $1.75 without the card. The card even allowed me to pick up a good can of creamed corn with the green giant on it for a little less than the store brand.
By the time I made it past the tabloids and checked out Valerie Bertinelli’s new bikini body (hubba, hubba) on the cover of People, I had cut my bill down by at least $50 by using that handy-dandy little “rewards” card.
You might be thinking that’s the moral to this particular story: Get the card and use the card. The discounts add up.
It isn’t. It may be true, but the decision about using those cards is actually a little more complicated.
I know you love the supermarket and you’d like to consider you part of their extended family. There’s a helpful smile in every aisle and the guy at the meat counter treats you like you’re his favorite person in town. The bakery people slide you the occasional free cookie and the one older lady who runs a checkout line on weekends is a dead-ringer for Aunt Gertrude (only without the creepy moles).
This fun-loving bunch of your commercial amigos, however, isn’t shoving that little plastic card into your billfold because of love. It’s not about wanting to take care of you. It’s not a matter of wanting you to be able to put your kids through college. They give you the card (and the “savings”) because… Well, because it makes them a boatload of money.
First, the loyalty cards do encourage people to keep coming back to the same store. You keep going to the same place instead of trying that other market, in part, because you know you can “save” with your loyalty card.
Second, the card is a data source. Good research makes the corporate world go ’round and those cards provide a great deal of data about you and what you’re buying. It also gives them a good idea of how often you’re buying the stuff, what you’re willing to pay, what items you buy in tandem with one another, etc. The store can use that info to maximize its bottom line.
That’s a fair trade, right? You give up some personal spending data for them to use and they trim a little off the bill. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
It depends. It depends on how much personal data you really want to share with the corporate masterminds who run the card programs. It also depends on how you feel about the way the stores use the data.
There are organizations who are committed to getting rid of these loyalty programs because of the way the data is used. They argue that supplying the grocery store with all of that information in pursuit of a bargain can lead to:
Higher prices. The store figures out how badly it can beat you up before you just won’t buy something. Personally, I don’t have a problem with stores finding the point of price equilibrium, but some do.
Misleading “rewards”. The store will jack the prices up on certain items, using your card will only bring them back down to earth. It’s not really saving you anything over the competition. Meanwhile, it could be making life tougher for the poor or cardless.
Customer-base sculpting. Grocery stores make most of their profits from top-tier customers. Those folks toward the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder buy food, but they don’t by the high-margin stuff. As such, the stores are primarily interested in catering to those folks at the top and don’t really mind if they freeze out the poor altogether. This can have some serious social consequences, according to critics.
So, are you going to use that loyalty card? I’ll be honest with you. I’ll probably still pull it out when they run the “2 for the price of 1″ deals on expensive cuts of meat. In other cases, after reading what groups like CASPIAN have to say, I might just keep it in my wallet… At least until I have time to reall think this all through.
Spring has sprung. It’s official, were out of winter and into spring. So will someone please explain to me why giant swaths of the country are being inundated with snow? It’s bad enough to deal with the stuff during the short days of December. Being forced to shovel the driveway a week before baseball’s opening day is enough to make a guy sick.
And cold. Which is why I’m making a giant pot of chili tomorrow. The nippy winds that portend a snowy catastrophe in the morning have also persuaded me to brew a pot of coffee. And that brings us to the topic of saving money on coffee.
New York Magazine proclaims that “Even the smallest changes in your coffee habit can save hundreds of dollars a year.” If you guzzle the stuff the way we do around here, I’m willing to wager that your price differential could easily be that significant. It’s one of those things that multiplies its way into significance. You have coffee every day. That means a buck-a-day change suddenly becomes $365. If you’re wearing a wedding ring, you might be able to double your number.
So, let’s talk about a few ways to start saving money on coffee.
First, if you’re going to buy it from a store, buy it from a cheap store. Resist the urge to leave a picture of Lincoln behind when you can stop at the spot around the corner and drop two Washingtons. You want the convenience of having someone else make your joe? That’s great. That doesn’t, however, mean that you have to go to a notoriously overpriced place to do it. Go Dunkin Donuts over Starbucks. Stop at Generic Diner instead of Ooh La La Beans. Hey, WaWa and QuikTrip can both make a good pot of coffee, too.
Second, once you’ve found a cheap joint to serve you that morning cup of “get up and go”, find out if they have a customer loyalty thing happening. If they do, join up. If you can get one of those little coffee cards that they punch every time you buy a cup, eventually qualifying you for a freebie, you should take advantage of the opportunity.
Third, if you’re brewing at home, look into reusable filters. Yes, you pay more for them up front. In the long run, though, you save some money. There’s the whole reduced environmental impact to consider, too. It’s sort of like those new super-duper lightbulbs: You spend more out of pocket in order to do a good thing while setting yourself up for future savings.
Fourth, stop thinking in terms of “if” you’re brewing at home and start doing it. Even folks who brew their own coffee using pretty nice machines and those overpriced pods of coffee end up saving gobs of money. I’ve seen people estimate their costs for home brew at somewhere between 10 and 30 cents per cup. Compare that to a several-dollar coffee from the coffee shop and start doing the multiplication. If I can’t convince you, maybe Martinique from QueerCents can. You should make your own coffee!
Fifth, if you’re the only coffee drinker in the house, you should consider going with one of those single-cup brewers. Youwon’t waste the coffee that way and fewer coffee buying trips is an easy way to start saving on coffee. Don’t worry, the age of the lousy one-cup brewer is over. This equipement rpoduces good coffee.
There you have it.
And those five ideas are just a fraction of the possibilities. Smart shopping, liquid portion control, coupon cutting, making the switch to tea and several other options exist, too.
I’ve got a fresh pot of very good homemade coffee available to me right now.
Let it snow! As long as Juan Valdez and his donkey can make it around, I’m OK with it.
Obviously, if you’re reading this blog you care at least a little bit about your personal financial situation. You may already be working on improving your organization and situation or you might be preparing to make the move to better money management. Either way, you undoubtedly recognize the fact that there’s going to be some bookkeeping, data management and record keeping involved.
You have two choices here.
You can bust out a pencil, an eraser, a ledger and one of those cool green visors that bean counters wore back in the day. I recommend long sleeves with the little garter thing to complete the look. This is the “kicking it old school” approach to personal finance record-keeping. You literally do the books. Paper books. It may be a throwback system, but it really does work if you have some kind of aversion to using a computer (which would beg the question as to why you’re reading this on a computer).
The second choice, which is the one you’re probably going to make, is to use your computer to help you make sense of the accounts, bills, spending, etc. that influence your financial life. This is the recommended route, even if it doesn’t involve wearing a green visor.
So, if you’re going to run your finances on your PC, you’re going to need good software. Being a motivated, frugal person, you might be wondering if you can get by with some cheap or free programming instead of sinking your cash into the latest edition of Quicken.
There are completely free options out there. With a little searching on various freeware and shareware sites, you’ll find literally hundreds of completely free personal finance tools. We’re talking about everything from handy-dandy interest calculators to budgeting tools to monthly bill-trackers. These little programming gems won’t cost you one red cent.
Here’s the problem. Most of the freeware applications are limited in scope. They might handle one or two things well, but they won’t even touch on other essentials. That leaves you with holes in your system or forces you to look for more freeware to fill the gap. You either end up with too little firepower or so many individual weapons that things become messy and insanely inefficient. Trust me, data sharing across freeware programs isn’t always easy.
That brings us to a second option. Open source personal finance software. If you’re not up to speed on the open source movement, here’s a brief introduction. Developers create a framework for a program that rivals the stuff released by the big boys (paid options). Volunteer developers and community members tweak and adjust the code to produce a great final product. People use Gimp to edit photos instead of Photoshop. They rely on Kompozer to create web pages. They use Open Office instead of giving Bill Gates their credit card number for a copy of Microsoft Office.
Open source can be great and there are options available in the realm of personal finance. Look at About’s rundown of personal finance programs in this realm. You might find something you like. The nice thing about open source options is that they’re designed to be competitive with the “real deal”. The downside is that they can be temporarily buggy, may require regular updates and that development and progress is contingent upon an active community of participant developers.
Open source is great when you want to save a few bucks to eliminate the obscene words on Great Aunt Gertrude’s t-shirt in that holiday photo. You download Gimp instead of buying Photoshop. However, we’re not talking about lightweight stuff here. This is your money. You may not feel all the comfortable pouring your time and money in setting up a workable home finance system into an open source program. Feel free to experiment, but it feels a wee bit risky to me.
That’s especially true when you consider how good many of the paid programs are. These babies integrate everything, allow you to experiment with your data, produce cool little charts and graphs and are generally capable of doing almost anythig you could possibly do to manage your money effectively. When you think about the value they offer, they’re one heckuva deal, too.
So, even though the spirit of saving money and living frugally would seem to point to using open source programs or freeware, this is one of those cases where it’s probably worth prying open our wallet for the good stuff. You can check out a list of 10 great personal finance software packages here, to get started.
If you’re not willing to pony up for something that will become invaluable as you improve your personal finances, I strongly encourage you to buy #2 pencils and a really big ledger book. Oh, and a green visor.
Making money is a great thing. Investing money wisely is a wonderful idea. What about saving money? It may not fill your head with visions of Rockefellerian wealth, but it’s just as important. Not only do you need to stuff that rainy day account for when the thunderstorms hit, research has also demonstrated that there is a link between adequate savings levels an the likelihood of positive investment experiences.
And that brings us to today’s question. How do you increase savings? Here are a few pointers that should shed the light on how to increase savings without completely reorganizing every last aspect of your life into an impossible-to-meet series of goals. Basically, we’re talking about stuffing the coffers the easy way.
Save Your Change. This recommendation, echoed by WideOpenWallet, is a nifty way to boost your savings account totals. Instead of letting that change sit around in jars or the console of your car where it’s slowly but surely used for some other purposes, make a conscious effort to deposit it into your savings account regular. If you take that $.19 you get back after buying a $1.81 cup of coffee every morning and the $.75 you get back from the vending machine on that $1.25 Dr. Pepper you buy every afternoon at work, it will start to add up over time.
Give up a Vice. We all have our vices. Some of us like to pretend like we’re the Marlboro man as we enjoy a drag off of a cigarette. Some of us enjoy one more nightcap than we really need in the evening. There are even those of us who will occasionally make a quick stop at the drive through for the bean and cheese burrito with sour cream (hold the onions, please). You can make yourself a healthier person will simultaneously boosting your savings if you give up one of your vices. Gomestic notes the financial power of giving up bad habits, too, so I’m not alone on this one. In my opinion, the trick to really making this pay off? Figure out how much you’re spending to satisfy your not-so-wise craving. Then, make a point of putting something approximating that figure into savings on a weekly or monthly basis. If you just stop smoking and don’t commit to using the change to boost your savings, you’ll just find some other way to spend the dough.
Limit Access. VictoriaSan raises an interesting point. It’s harder to figure out a way to really increase your savings when it’s too easy to yank the money out of the account on a whim. If your checking account doubles as your your savings account, it’s time to visit your bank to set up a separate account. But don’t stop there. Take the additional step of limiting access to the funds at ATMs, etc. You might even want to lock it out with respect to online access, so you don’t feel that urge to transfer money into checking just to oblige the urge for a spending spree. Sure, it’s inefficient to lock down your account that way, but it will keep you from robbing the ol’ piggy bank.
Now, those little tips aren’t so horrible are they? They won’t force you to re-budget every aspect of your personal finances and you won’t need to change everything about your life to make them work. The toughest one on the list, giving up a bad habit, has its difficulty counteracted by the fact that it will make you happier and healthier in the long run, anyway.
Savings are an important part of your overall financial well-being. Make a point to find and use some easy ways to increase your savins totals.
The last time we went on a trip that involved a hotel space, I was standing outside of the bathroom doing a little “gotta go, gotta go” dance while Mrs. Lampsen finished washing her hair (which looks like spun gold, in case you’re curious) behind a locked door. I was in need of a distraction and I found one. The little sign on the hotel door. It was amazing!
Right above all of the details about how no one is gonna help you if a cat burglar steals your rare blue diamond because you didn’t use the safety deposit box, the hotel listed the daily room rates. Let me just say that I was happy we paid far, far less than the $200 “regular” rate!
We actually got a whale of a deal on this particular room and we didn’t do it by using my usual tactic. I generally use the bid sites like Priceline, but it didn’t work out for this particular sojourn. I had to find another way to cut the rate.
Mrs. Lampsen just so happens to be a schoolteacher at a public school when she isn’t taking care of her hair. The way I saw it, that made her a government employee. The person with whom I made the reservation agreed and we were able to get the room at a deeply discounted “government rate”.
That got me thinking about all of the various hotel discounts out there that people may not even think about when they book their room. We paid less than $100 for that $200 room. I can’t tell you if that’s representative of what these rate cutters will do for you, but their sure to help you save on hotels enough to be worthwhile.
GOVERNMENT. That was our ace in the hole for our last trip. It is worth noting, however, that different hotel chains have different notions about what constitute a government employee. Sometimes, it’s defined as a “federal government employee”. On the bright side, some places are so liberal that they’ll let former and retired government employees get the rate. No, really. If you ever had a government gig in your life, you’d be theoretically eligible.
BUSINESS. Most places have a special rate for business travelers. If you’re doing something related to your business or your employer’s business while on your trip, ask about it. According to at least one anonymous insider, hotels are willing to hand out this rate like a Gideon hands out bibles to put in the nightstand. They’ll let you be creative in your interpretations of business trips and don’t mind doing so one little bit.
STARTS WITH TWO A’S. And it’s not “aardvark”. You can usually trim a little off the price of an overnight stay if you happen to be a member of the AARP or AAA. Some people aren’t too impressed with the AARP discounts these days, but 10%-15% is still better than getting chewed up by bedbugs at some no-tell motel.
MILITARY. Sometimes a chain will lump this with the government discount (Best Western does). In other cases it may be a standalone deal. Although you’d assume that being on active duty would be a requirement, I’ve heard from fairly reliable sources that even those who’ve long been discharged from service are often able to capture a little rate cut.
SAVE GREEN BY BEING GREEN. There are a few hotels who are willing to give you a break if you pull up to the lobby in a hybrid. They want to reward you for being environmentally friendly. Either that or they figure anyone who just drove from Sandusky to Boston in a Prius deserves pity.
LOOK FOR THE UNION LABEL. Sometimes, you can get a cut rate for being a union member. Depends on the union and the hotel chain, but the discount does exist in some circumstances.
TRADING BACK SCRATCHING. You can get a good rate on hotels if you’re a travel agent. After all, the hotel wants to kiss your backside enough that you’ll start booking your customers there.
SPECIAL VISITOR. Occasionally, you’ll run into a nice discount based on the reason you happen to be in town. Here’s a perfect example. If you’re considering enrolling at the University of Wyoming and need a place to stay while you’re checking out the campus, you can get up two a 20% discount at some of Laramie’s finer hotels. The last time I was in Laramie, I slept in a girls’ dormitory after getting sick at a taco joint, but that was over fifteen years ago and Mrs. Lampsen didn’t attend UW, so I’ll appreciate your discretion.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s probably the fact that there’s something about you that qualifies you for a discount. If you can’t come up with that special something on your own, talk with the hotel staff. Have them run through the whole list until you find something that sticks. Oh, and ask what you need to show them to verify your eligibility. More often than not they’ll let it go without proof but it would be frustrating to show up and lose your deal simply because you didn’t bring your union card or something.
All right. Before we get into this one, I have two things to say.
First, a belated “congratulations” to Jared, the Subway guy who lost a billion pounds by marching uphill to a Subway twice a day for twelve years to order a six-inch veggie sub, no cheese, hold the bread. Yes, I’m exaggerating. The Jared story has always bugged me, though. They play up the fact he ate at Subway but they don’t mention all of the exercise.
Second, I’d like to know who wrote the “Five Dollar Footlong” ditty that’s in all of the ads for Subway these days. Whoever came up with that deserves a handshake for writing something so memorable. He or she also deserves a solid beating with a footlong piece of wheat bread for coming up with something so annoying.
Okay, now we can get started. People like Subway. They like to save money. They’d like to save money at Subway. I’m right there with them. I enjoy the occasional sub from the ubiquitous sandwich franchise (not the meatballs, though. I think they have a very mild aftertaste that reminds me of that kitchen cleanser, Mr. Clean). I’m also a fan of spending as little money as I can.
Here’s how you do it. Consider this a primer of finding and using Subway coupons.
First, you have to realize that Subway shops are individual franchises. That means the franchisees have a lot of say in what promos they’ll do and which ones they won’t. That goes for coupons, too. The Subway on 5th Street might be thrilled to take your coupon while the one on 10th will advise you that you cannot save $2 on your bologna there.
I read one person who recommended trying to use the coupons even if the store in question isn’t part of the promotion. They say that if you get to the register and they refuse the coupon you can just tell them that you won’t take the sandwich. Apparently, the Subway employee is then supposed to crumble, happy to get anything for the food he or she will otherwise send to the dumpster. I’m guessing that most sandwich artists would be happy to flip your MT into the trash and let you walk. I could be wrong, though. Either way, I think it’s poor form to try to muscle a franchisee into taking a coupon they don’t want to take.
The best place to find coupons you’ll be able to use is to check your local paper. Buy the Sunday litterbox liner and dig through the advertising circulars. You have a good shot at finding a coupon in there.
You can also find coupons online. There is a red hot market for Subway coupons on eBay. If you’re willing to spend a few bucks to save a few bucks more, it might be worth bidding on one of the many auctions that seem to be underway consistently.
You can also find free Subway coupons online if you aren’t willing to buy them. People have found “dollar off” printable coupons, for instance. You can also poke around the various forums dedicated to coupon sharing and frugal living looking for coupons that will be valid in your area. An eHow piece explains:
Search various websites as different people may find different free Subway coupons. There may be many Subway restaurants in your area and they may target only the neighborhood they are in. So to get the most free Subway coupons to use at your disposal, look in more than one place.
There’s nothing I like better than settling in on the sofa to watch television after a big, meaty dinner. I know that it’s trendy, hip, and cool in that “subversive, I’m above it all” kind of way to hate TV, but I just can’t play that game. I should get a bumper sticker that says “you can have my remote when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers”.
Unfortunately, all of that quality programming I love so much comes with a price tag. And, to be honest, the number on the bill can be a little annoying. Cable ain’t cheap, especially if you feel the need to have a wide assortment of viewing options. When a TV freak like me is wondering how to save money on cable television you know that it’s getting a little costly.
So, I thought I’d share a few ways to keep that magical thing called cable in your life without having your favorite show interrupted by calls from collection agencies. Here are a few ways you can cut that cable bill down to size.
Note that this is all about reducing your bill, not eliminating it. There are those who consider cutting the cord that connects the boob tube to the cable company. That would be cheap, but I couldn’t handle it. Others say you could just watch TV via your computer for free, but my experiments in that department haven’t been rewarding enough to justify eliminating cable.
I don’t want to live without cable. I just think we can do it for less. Here’s how.
BUNDLE UP. These days, the cable company is also your Internet service provider and your phone company. At least that option is available to many of us. If you aren’t bundling services, you probably should be. It’s a good way to save money.
WATCH WHAT YOU WATCH. You have the Diamond-Studded Platinum Package with 8,442 channels (not counting the digital music offerings) and it costs almost as much as a car payment. Maybe, just maybe, you don’t need every programming tier to which you’re currently subscribing. Pay attention to which channels you’re actualy watching and determine if you can downgrade to the regular Platinum package. Or the Gold. Maybe even the Silver. Some of you might be able to tolerate Bronze or the (scary for me to even think about) Basic option.
ASK AND YE SHALL RECEIVE, MAYBE. You might be able to cut a few bucks off the bill by asking the cable company to charge you less. Seriously. You never know. It’s worked before. Even if they won’t do it out of the goodness of their entertainment-providing hearts, they might have some kind of promo going that will allow you to save a few bucks by making an adjustment to your subscription options.
MAKE THE (UN)VEILED THREAT. Call your provider and tell them about the great new customer special the competition is running. There’s usually a provider out there who’s offering free installation and a special rate. Sometimes, their even willing to toss in a free month or two. Tell your guys that you’re thinking about the switcheroo but you wondered what they might be able to do in order to keep you on their customer roster. They might just come up with something. When I decided to drop my dish service for cable (bundled with Internet), the dish people went wild with insanely good offers in a last-ditch effort to keep me.
I’D RATHER SWITCH THAN FIGHT. Sometimes, you’ll run into a deal so good that it makes sense to drop your existing provider for someone else. Learning the new remote and sending back the old equipment will be a pain in the backside, but it can be a good way to save money. When those conditions exist it really increases the power of the threat strategy, too.
GO TO RADIO SHACK. While you’re there, buy a $2 splitter, some extra coaxial cable and a few cable tips. Late at night, sneak over to your neighbors house and cut their line. Then… JUST KIDDING. Cable is great, but it isn’t worth the humiliation or possible legal repercussions associated with stealing a signal.
Look, if you’re going to keep cable you’re going to spend money. It’s probably going to be a little more money than you really want to spend. That’s the reality of staying entertained. Nonetheless, you can do a few things to keep your expenses down. There’s no reason to burn more cash than necessary.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s an old episode of The Rockford Files starting in a few minutes…
At the Lampsen house, we ring an old-school dinner triangle every night. I pull out a CD with the theme song from The Magnificent Seven and play it in the background as I extoll the virtues of beef in my best Sam Elliott voice. Then, we gather ’round the table and take a little trip to a carnivore’s paradise.
With all due apologies to our vegan and vegetarian friends, we eat meat. And we like it.
Unfortunately, that predilection for fleshy goodness results in grocery bills that are fattier than a bad chuck roast. Meat is expensive. Even the cheap end 75/25 hamburger that no one with any respect or love for the human heart could possibly buy without first scheduling a confession witha priest is turning into a major investment.
And while meat packs the cash drawers at the grocery store, most of us aren’t experiencing tremendous personal wage growth these days. Thus, it seems like a good time to cover a few ways to save money on meat.
If you ask some people, they’ll just tell you to buy lower grade cuts, to eat less meat, and to do other things that are virtually unthinkable for those of us who never really need to ask, “Where’s the beef?” at supper time. Consider this a guide to how to save money on meat–from a serious meat-eater.
MEAT FIRST! Here’s a handy trick I use regularly. When I get to the grocery store, I head straight for the meat and I look for sales. You’d be surprised how often you can find a 2 for 1 deal on pork chops, pot roasts or skinless boneless chicken breasts. If you look for the meat bargains right off the bat an build your meals around the sales you can save a fair chunk of change. It requires some on-the-spot planning and prevents you from walking in with a completely formed grocery list, but it can work really well.
BUY BIG! Those “family packs” often feature per pound prices that are considerably lower than the smaller packages. If you have the money to buy extra this week, you’ll be set for next week, too. Just don’t overdo it. You’re not saving anything if the stuff ends up freezer burned and thrown away.
SHARPEN YOUR KNIVES! Those chunks of round steak that have been cut for you in order to make stir-fry easy might seem like a nice idea. Check out how much they’re charging you for the knifework, though. Buy it whole and cut it up yourself. Buy a mallet and tenderize it yourself, for that matter. There are things for which we need butchers and there are things we can do ourselves, right?
BUY AFTER THE HOLIDAYS! Have you ever noticed how cheap turkey gets on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Have you seen the way they almost give away hams after Easter? I don’t know if you find brisket specials the day after Saint Paddy’s, but you get the idea. Take advantage of those post-holiday bargain meat dumps.
If you need a few additional ideas, you can check out this list. Some of them are sacrilege to those of us who worship at the altar of giant medium-rare porterhouses (eat more beans and less meat?), but there are some nifty ideas in there, too.
Beef (or pork or chicken or turkey) can still be what’s for dinner, even if you are trying to trim grocery costs. With a little thinking and effort you can learn how to save money on meat.
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