Are you loyal to particular brands, most notably when it comes to groceries? We used to be, but haven’t been for many years.

Growing up, I recall there being a stigma attached to generic and/or store brand products. Perhaps there still is… but we no longer care. Why?

Because generic products are cheaper.

You don’t have to be living paycheck to paycheck to want to reduce your food costs so you can save money. Without the fancy packaging, generic products sell for much less and often taste the same, if not better, than their name brand counterparts. There are exceptions, of course, but the best way to find out is by trying them. Over the years we’ve always tried the generic equivalent of a product and then decided based on taste whether to continue buying generic, or switch back to the name brand.

We swear by certain Aldi products in particular because they are 10%-70% cheaper than their competitors yet aren’t lacking in taste. Our favorites:

Aldi Branded Items

    » Casa Mamita Mexican Syle Corn – $0.89 per can vs. $1.25+ for the Green Giant brand

    » Casa Mamita Diced Tomtatoes & Green Chilies – $0.57 per can vs. $1.00+ for Rotel

    » Baker’s Corner Fudge Brownie Mix – $1.19 per box vs. $1.50+ for Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, or Pillsbury. Plus they are the best brownies I’ve ever tasted. Add a teaspoon of powdered espresso to enhance the rich chocolate flavor and no one will ever know they aren’t homemade. Well, I guess my friends now know! I do make brownies from scratch occasionally, but when I’m in a hurry these are my go-to.

    » Reggano Pasta Sauce – $1.00 a jar. I believe there are some brands that might be just as inexpensive, but we haven’t found any we like more than this brand. We do not care for Prego or Ragu and the Classico brand is at least twice the cost and not that much better.

Like any new adventure, there were some pitfalls along the way. For instance, we’ve tried several different mayonnaise brands and Hellman’s reigns supreme in our household. The same goes for Heinz ketchup (although Target’s Market Pantry brand is a close second). Speaking of Market Pantry, have you tried their BBQ sauce? It is amazing and tastes better than our second favorite, Sweet Baby Ray’s.

If you’re feeling a little apprehensive about switching brands, take it slowly. You might just be surprised at how much money you’ll save!

What are some of your favorite generic products?
What are some name brand products you would never give up?

Share

I realize that technically it’s still summer, but once Labor Day has come and gone, all I can think about my favorite season, autumn. I enjoy the cool weather and activities that the fall season brings. Plus I just love decorating my home with leaves and pumpkins and tend to hit all the craft stores to find new decorations. Not to mention my favorite holiday, Halloween, is just around the corner. Needless to say, I get very excited this time of year!

Below I’ve shared some fun things to do around the Chicagoland area this season.

Apple picking tends to rank up there for fun fall activities, so a visit to Jonamac Orchard is a must. It’s a bit further west than some other apple-picking farms in the area but it’s the least expensive as well. They also have a pumpkin patch with very reasonable prices, and you can take a hayride out to the patch and back so you don’t break your back carrying your pumpkin. Here’s a list of other orchards in Illinois as well.

ApplePicking

If it’s not fall until you’ve picked up a pumpkin, and you don’t want to walk through a field to get one, then Sonny Acres Farm in West Chicago is for you. Come mid-September, this place has everything – two walk-through haunted barns, amusement rides, a petting zoo, and my favorite, a haunted hayride. And of course there’s food. This is where I experienced my first walking taco, and their freshly made apple cider donuts cannot be missed! And finally, you can pick up fall and Halloween decor in their barn shop.

Morton Arboretum is a great place to visit in the fall because they decorate the grounds with scarecrows and offer a different kind of pumpkin patch – pumpkins made of glass which are available for purchase.

GlassPumpkinPatch

Speaking of scarecrows, one of the best fall festivals in the western burbs is St. Charles’ Scarecrow Festival. There’s plenty of things to see and do at this festival. Here’s some photos I took at last years’ festival.

Scarecrow Fest

As Halloween nears, The St. Charles Park District hosts their Gallery of Ghoulish Homes Tour. We love to prepare some hot chocolate and apple cider, hop in the car, and take in the decorated homes. Some even offer their own haunted yard/garage/house you can walk through for free. Note: as of this writing the 2015 tour information is not available. Please keep checking the park district’s site for addresses of participating homes.

If you’re looking for something a bit scarier, you’ll probably want to check out a haunted house or two. While Halloween is my favorite holiday, I don’t like extreme scares, so I can’t recommend any particular haunted houses. Therefore I leave you with an extensive list of Illinois haunted events.

What fun things do you like to do in the fall?

Share

I’ve always been the type of person to brown bag their lunch because I don’t want to waste my money eating out, plus I’d blow my entire lunch break just driving back and forth to get food (not to mention waste money on gas). Even in the past when I had a 60 minute lunch break, compared to the half hour I get now, I would rarely go out to eat. Besides the money, it was also due to pure laziness – I didn’t feel like walking down to my car, driving somewhere, and then trying to get back to work on time. I’d rather relax with a book while I eat my lunch.

My current employer has a microwave in the break room, but I’m not fond of using it since that process can easily eat up 10 minutes of my 30 minute break. The problem is finding self-stable or refrigerated foods that don’t require a microwave. I’m not a huge sandwich fan, so I can get burnt out on them very quickly. For awhile last summer I was bringing homemade strawberry chicken salads for lunch but now that strawberries aren’t in season I haven’t been making that. I do sometimes make a big batch of Hawaiian fried rice on a Monday so I can bring it to work Tue-Thu (yes, I love it that much that I don’t mind eating it three days in a row, plus I like eating it cold).

Lately I’ve grown bored with my limited lunch options. I’d love for some suggestions on inexpensive homemade lunches I can make the night before, so please share in the comments!

Share

Netflix

Ok, hear me out! The reason I say that is because ever since I subscribed* to Netflix, I find myself working out on my elliptical machine much more regularly – every day after work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and first thing in the morning on Mondays and Fridays. That’s five days a week, which is incredible in my eyes. Granted, I only work out for an average of 20 minutes at a time, but it’s still way better than nothing. And the reason I have Netflix to thank is that I can easily prop my iPad up on my elliptical machine to watch stuff while I exercise. It’s the motivation I need to engage in an otherwise boring activity.

In addition, I have found having Netflix makes cleaning the house and cooking more enjoyable because I bring my iPad along with me to binge-watch shows. My most recent favorite is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I highly recommend. I finished the 13-episode season within days, so I’ve moved on to re-watching Parks & Recreation. I find it extremely difficult to just sit and watch tv while doing nothing else, so I love this!

Do you have any favorite shows you watch while getting your chores done? Yes, I consider exercise a chore!

* It’s funny how not too long ago I wrote about signing up for unnecessary subscriptions and since then have subscribed to both Amazon Prime and Netflix. While neither is a necessary expense, we can afford it, plus we’re looking at dropping cable very soon, so they will serve as our primary means of entertainment.

Share

Sometimes all you need to do to save money is just ask. I’ll give you a few recent examples:

1) I purchased some Christmas gifts at Amazon.com in late November and a few days later two of them dropped in price. I started a chat with Amazon customer service and pointed this out and they promptly refunded me the difference.

2) A friend alerted to me to a deal a particular site was having where if you purchased a certain value of e-gift cards you’d get bonus e-gift cards for free. After I placed my order and didn’t get my free cards I contacted customer service who told me the promotion had ended (even though the website indicated otherwise). I pointed this out, had to talk to a different clueless rep, and then email someone from another company who was handling the promotion for for this company, but I did end up getting my bonus e-gift cards!

3) I ordered something from a website and a day later they sent me an email about how the item I had just ordered was now 20% off for a limited time. I started a chat with customer service expressing my disappointment and explaining how Amazon will refund the difference if the price drops within a week. While they wouldn’t do that, they did place the difference on my account as a credit for the next time I place an order.

Had I not inquired I would have been out more money in all these examples. So it does in fact pay to ask.

Share

You know how they say that planning a trip is sometimes just as good, if not better, than actually taking said trip? I feel that way about purchases for things I want too. I like to contemplate the purchase for awhile, particularly if the item is $25 or more. I go online and do my research by reading reviews and checking prices. Sometimes I just add the item to my wish list, or flag it via CamelCamelCamel.com to notify me when it hits a price point I’d be happy with. For me, window-showing can be just as fun as owning the item.

There are things I see every day, whether online or in person, that I like, but when I start to contemplate actually owning them I tend to ask myself, “Do I really want this? Am I going to use it, or will I regret the purchase later?” And more often than not, I decide against purchasing the item.

When I do make the decision to buy something, though, I still don’t necessarily make the purchase right away. I sit on it for a bit looking for deals so I feel good that I got a fair price.

Recently I decided to start shopping for an oil diffuser so I could use the jasmine essential oil my husband had given to me for Christmas. I went through my normal research process and had finally come to the conclusion that I was willing to spend up to $50 to get a highly rated diffuser. As as I was on a website perusing their selection, something about one of the diffusers triggered a memory and I quickly ran upstairs to check our master bedroom closet. In it I found a long-forgotten mini humidifier I had used years ago at a former job.

Humidifier

I wasn’t sure if there was necessarily anything special about oil diffusers compared to a humidifier in terms of results, but figured I had nothing to lose since I hadn’t used the humidifier in years. I added water and a couple of drops of the oil and turned it on. Sweet scents of jasmine quickly filled the air and I got pretty excited! Not just because I finally got to use my essential oil, but because I had just saved myself $25-$50.

Had I rushed to make my purchase I would have wasted money and kicked myself later when it dawned on me that I could have used my old humidifier.

Is there anything in your home you ended up re-purposing to save money?

Share

I know some people have this thing against leftovers but it doesn’t bother me in the least. I get a kick out of seeing how far we can stretch one meal. And since there’s only two of us, most dishes I make feed us for two dinners, if not more. One of my favorite recipes, Mexican Cornbread Casserole, will feed us for three days (dinner only) and costs about $12 total, which is only $2 per person, per meal. It does get a little more expensive when you factor in fresh avocados, which we like to add on top of the casserole (after it’s been cooked or reheated), but that’s usually only an additional $1.50-$3.00 total depending on whether they are on sale. And it’s so good that we don’t get sick of eating it. The same goes for the Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti I like to make. That tends to feed us for four dinners, so it comes out to about $1.50 per person, per meal (and that’s over-estimating beef at $5 per pound and using two jars of spaghetti sauce (it’s too dry with just one jar in my opinion)).

I will usually make these multi-meal dishes on a Monday so we can eat them for dinner Monday through Wednesday or Thursday since we’re a little more relaxed regarding eating out on the weekends. Unlike some people who feel one should never eat out (and I get where they are coming from since it’s almost always more expensive to eat out than make the same dish at home), I see nothing wrong with it as long as it’s not excessive and you’re not sacrificing saving for your future just so you can eat out all the time. For me, going out to eat is an adventure. I like trying out new places and just relaxing with with my husband in a new environment. After a week of working and eating at home, it’s nice to get out on the weekends and do something different.

If you’re going out to eat on a daily basis, though, that’s just foolish. Not only is it wasting money, it’s not healthy. Portion sizes are always bigger and you can’t control the fat or salt content of your dishes. Plus home-cooked meals can often be even yummier than restaurant food. Sure, there are some things I prefer not to make myself (like steak tacos and Thai food), but pasta? Why pay for that at a restaurant when I can make tastier and way cheaper spaghetti at home? It’s a no-brainer if you ask me.

What are your favorite dishes that yield leftovers?

Share

Christmas is nearly here and I’m reminded of a discussion I had with a family member last year. We got into a bit of a heated argument over why I put a stop to gift exchanges years ago, which I won’t get into here.

However, one thing that came up was how on one Christmas many years ago I gave them a CD which I had gotten via an old (now defunct) site that would reward purchases with points that could be saved up to cash in for free merchandise. I shared with them how I had racked up the points to “pay” for their gift. Mistake, I know. But since they are a close family member, and younger than me to boot, I felt that sharing this knowledge might help them see that Christmas doesn’t have to break the bank and there are other ways to be generous without feeling the financial pinch. Instead I find out that they were offended that I didn’t pay for their gift. I guess they didn’t stop to think that even though I didn’t pay for that gift, I did give up the option to get a free item for myself when I spent my points on them. So is there really any difference?

The point of this story? Don’t overshare! Haha, no really, the point is that you can choose to look at something in a negative light or a positive one. Trust me, this is not always easy. It takes a lot of effort to change one’s mindset.

I’ve personally not been feeling the best the past few months, but I have consciously made the decision to get into the holiday spirit and be generous even though I know the sentiment will not necessarily be appreciated nor reciprocated. I’m the type of person whose feelings get hurt easily, so the challenge for me is to find enjoyment in the act of giving and not expecting anything in return. Wish me luck!

And Happy holidays to our readers!

Share