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Input needed: I’m buying a laptop tonight

After a series of unfortunate events, I am buying a new laptop. And, because we’re leaving on vacation tomorrow and I need to have it in hand as soon as we arrive home, I’m buying it tonight.

I knew this purchase was inevitable as the problems with my laptop have continued to increase and the 3-year warranty is almost expired. The plan was to buy one before the end of the year and I have had the money set aside for it for a number of months.

Being the frugal person I am, though, I held out for as long as possible but the time has come to hold out no longer since my laptop is completely shot. (I’ll spare you the extensive run-down of problems it’s experiencing, the biggest of which is that you cannot get on the internet and it randomly freezes up after around 2-3 minutes of use.)

So, Jesse and I will be ordering a new laptop online tonight and I thought I’d ask all of you bargain-shoppers here for some input on how I could snag the best deal. I’m really great at scoring grocery deals, but electronics are a bit out of my league.

I’ll be getting a Dell (sorry, Mac people, it’s impossible to change my mind so don’t even try!) and I need something that can withstand lots of use and abuse and last me for at least a few years.

Where should I look? What should I get? And how can I score the best deal? Any and all feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Review: Social Suppers

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Recently, I had the opportunity to do a complimentary session at , a company with locations in Missouri and Kansas that offers meal assembly options for the busy family. I’ve always wanted to try out one of these stores and so I jumped on the opportunity to do a review in exchange for two weeks’ worth of meals in my freezer.

I very much enjoyed my experience and was impressed overall with the concept of this business idea. While I am not convinced it would save a number of us (myself included) money, I definitely saw how it could be a great option for those of you who are extremely busy and have more money than time right now. It might also be something to consider splurging on for stressful and chaotic seasons of life (such as before or after a move, during pregnancy, or right after having a baby).

PROS

–The convenience is incredible. Walking in and having all of
the recipes picked out for you, the groceries shopped for, the portions
divided up, the chopping done, and everything ready to go is, well, quite
an amazing thing. You just make your meals, package them up,
and leave the dishes for someone else to wash! We made the equivalent
of two weeks’ worth of meals in about an hour and a half total. When
else will that ever happen?

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— is very child-friendly. The day I was scheduled for my session, I called and asked if my daughter could come with me. I fully expected that a place dealing with meal-prep and assembly would not be thrilled with me bringing along my three-year-old, even if I promised she’d behave. Contrary to what I expected, I was enthusiastically encouraged to bring my daughter with me.

The staff at Social Suppers was very helpful and inclusive of Kathrynne. They went out of their way to make sure she enjoyed herself and was able to participate in the meal assembly. Kathrynne and I made a very special memory during our mother-daughter meal preparation session and she’s enjoyed eating the food more knowing that she helped to prepare it.

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–Social Suppers offers a wide variety of fairly nutritional meals. I noticed very few meals with ingredients containing MSGs, corn syrup, or food coloring. Many of the meals had vegetables as part of the dish and the beef they use is higher quality. Another great thing about making up the meals yourself is that you can choose to omit ingredients according to your family’s health needs and preferences. 

CONS

–The prices are rather high. While they claim to have meals which cost only $2.50 per serving, from my calculations, many of them are more like $4-$6/serving and that price does not include side dishes. Since I try to have our entire dinner be $2/person or less, the prices at Social Suppers are definitely higher than I am used to paying and seemed quite exorbitant to me. Granted, it is less expensive than eating out, but it’s quite a bit more than I would normally feel comfortable paying.

–The menus are not out-of-this-world.
We’ve now eaten the majority of the meals we made and while most of them were fairly good, we thought some of the dinners were rather bland and the servings were on the small side. Maybe it’s because we eat a lot and maybe it’s because I am forever tweaking recipes in order to get them "just right"? No matter the case, we weren’t incredibly impressed with the taste factor for most of the meals.

Note: If any of you are interested in trying out Social Suppers, you can get free assembly on your meals from now through August 31, 2008 by using promo code MSM08. You can call ahead with your requests and then just stop by and pick them up.

Interested in earning a little money from blogging?

I’m doing a huge, huge three day sale starting tomorrow. If you have a blog and would be interested in promoting the sale to your readership and earning 66% of all sales you generate, email me for details. (moneysavingmom @ gmail . com –remove space, of course!)

And the rest of ya’ll stay tuned for the details on the sale. I’ll be posting them at midnight tonight. It’s the biggest, screaming sale I’ve ever had and I think you’ll want to make sure you show up early for it. 🙂

Ask the readers: Long distance plans?

We had a busy and eventful last few days and I’m taking half a day off from blogging to take care of some things on the home front here. I’ll back this afternoon to share some more great deals. In the mean time, would anyone like to share some input on Amy’s question?

I wondered if you’ve got any good tips/advice/comparisons on long distance calling
plans. Currently, we have unlimited long distance with our home phone
but are considering canceling all of that. Have you researched
whether it’s cheaper to have a cell phone only and use it for
everything, have a calling card and keep a land line with no long
distance, or have you discovered something else? – Amy

What does your family do for long distance calls? What have you found to be the least expensive option? What works best for your family? Tell us in the comments section.

Lower your grocery bill without clipping coupons

I’ve received numerous emails from people recently asking how you can
lower your grocery bill if you don’t live nearby stores which have good
coupon deals or if you don’t have time to clip coupons. While
I’m a big proponent of coupons, I understand that they don’t work for
everyone in every season of life in every area of the country. Here would be a few of my top recommendations for ways to lower your grocery
bill without clipping coupons:

1) Plan a menu and stick to it. Seriously. If this is the only thing you ever do, you’ll greatly reduce your grocery budget.

2) Shop once per week or less. The less you shop invariably means the less you spend. I recommend you have a grocery budget, plan your menu and list with your grocery budget in mind, use a calculator to tally up your running total as you shop, and only bring the allotted amount of grocery money with you in cash.

3) Stick with simple, inexpensive meals. I’m a big believer in simplicity. There’s an occasional time and place for the elaborate, six-course dinners, but for the everyday, keep it simple. We like to have a main dish, homemade bread of some sort, and then fruit or veggies of some sort to round things out. I plan our main dishes around what we already have on hand and what meats and other mainstay ingredients are on sale.

4) If you live nearby a store which does run sales, plan your menu based upon the store sales. The simple step of taking a few extra minutes each week to browse the store fliers and create your menu based upon what is on sale there will greatly enhance your savings. If you have more than one store which runs weekly sales, check both fliers and decide which store to do your shopping at based upon which store has the best sales. 

5) Shop at Aldi. I know every area doesn’t have Aldi stores, but if you do, you should be shopping there. I don’t recommend buying everything at Aldi, but there are many things there which are very comparable to name brands at the store, but which are routinely quite a bit less. Our Aldi standbys include: fruit (especially bananas, apples, oranges, grapefruit, and frozen fruit), tortillas, some veggies, frozen veggies, and staple ingredients. You have to be a bit flexible since Aldi doesn’t always have everything in stock and the produce is sometimes hit and miss, but we’ve saved hundreds of dollars each year by buying 25% or so of our groceries at Aldi.

8) Cook from scratch, as much as possible. It’s a no-brainer, but cooking from scratch with simple, inexpensive ingredients is likely one of the greatest ways to save money on your grocery budget while also eating more healthfully. We enjoy some processed foods as a treat, but I attempt to have the bulk of our diet made up of fresh fruits and veggies and homemade items. With some planning ahead and cooking in bulk and freezing, you can eliminate the need for many processed foods without spending a great deal of time and thought.

One of my best tips to help one be more efficient when it comes to cooking from scratch is just to look for ways you can make extra. If you’re making waffles, make a double batch or triple batch and freeze the leftovers for breakfast later in the week. If you’re making cookies, double the recipe, bake what you’ll eat right away, and freeze the rest of the cookie dough in balls and then pull out how many you’ll need and bake them later.

Another thing which has worked well for me is to try and bake for a few hours one day per week or to take 20 minutes everyday and bake up a triple batch of something and freeze most of it. This guarantees I almost always have a few different things on hand for quick breakfasts or snacks or bread to go along with dinner.

What are your best recommendations for saving money on groceries without clipping coupons?

Super Savings Saturday: You gotta see this to believe this!

I think this shopping trip takes the cake for my best shopping trip of the year…

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(Click on picture to enlarge for the full effect–the entire table was stuffed with food and household products! Please especially take note of the BOX of Pampers–100 diapers in all!)

Total spent out of pocket?

$49.60!

$2 under the $51 budget I had (We budget $40 per week, but I usually don’t spend all of it and "roll over" the extras to the next week.)

After almost three weeks of little-to-no shopping–thanks to a well-stocked pantry, fairly-dismal sales, and my attentions and energies being focused elsewhere–I guess I made up for it this week.

Since the deals usually linger at Target and Wal-Mart for a month or more and they are a bit more of a drive, I save my coupons and just hit both stores once every 4-6 weeks. This was the week to hit both of them and hit them I did!

At Target, my total before coupons was $83. After coupons, it was $38. And then I paid with gift cards I’d earned free from referring a few folks to . So I spent $0.00 out of pocket!

Best deals at Target: $0.89 Natural Skippy peanut butter (on price cut to $1.89, used $1/1 Target coupon), almost-free Electrasol (combined Target mailer coupon with $2.25 manufacturer’s coupons), free Joint Juice and Powerade, Physician’s Formula Organic blush for $0.67 (on clearance for $2.67, had $2/1 peelie on it!), very cheap crayons and school supplies, Pantene Beautiful Lengths for $0.79 each (used $2/2 coupon from Target mailer and 2 $2/1 manufacturer’s coupons) and a HUGE 100-pack of Pampers on clearance (clearance price: $23, used $4/1 Pampers mailer coupon $5/2 Pampers Target coupon).

Between the clearanced box of diapers, another pack of diapers I bought, and the 2 mega packs of refill wipes, we should have enough diapers and wipes to last us for six weeks!

At Wal-Mart, I spent $8.61–I got free Schick razors (used $2/1 coupon from recent insert making them free), bought more Muir Glen tomatoes, used my three last $3/1 Planter’s coupons to get free Kettle roasted peanuts by buying Kool-Aid (anyone want some? We don’t get near Kool-Aid!), bought Luvs diapers for $2.47 (used $5/1 coupon), got one package of Yo-Plus yogurt for $1.08 after coupon, and 2 packages of Kotex for free (used $1/1 coupons).

I spent $11.02 at Hen House and I got three bottles Old Orchard juice for $0.68/bottle (on sale for $1.68, used $1/1 coupons), three boxes of Curves bars for $0.98 each (on sale $1.98, used $1/1 coupons), Farm Fresh whole milk from a local farm, a dozen eggs, and English muffins.

Next stop was Hy-Vee where I spent around $13.56 and got lots of peaches and pears, frozen veggies, cottage cheese, orange juice, free Huggies CleanTeam wipes (the small packs are priced at $0.97, used $3/2 coupon and got the overage!), and 3 packages of chicken (two packages were manager’s special SmartChicken thighs on special for $2 each!).

Our last stop, Aldi, we spent $16.41 and got odds and ends: Sugar, 2 packages cheese, cucumbers, kiwi, carrots, tortillas, butter, toilet paper, and 3 loaves of bread reduced to $0.59 each, 2 packages of hot dog buns reduced to $0.39, and 2 packages of hamburger buns reduced to $0.25! The buns are all going straight into the freezer to save for later–I couldn’t resist such a great deal!

We are now well-stocked for the next two weeks and I’ll probably only have to make a small trip to the store for more produce and milk and the best deals next week. Yay!

What is so exciting to me about getting all of these great deals is that these were in direct answer to prayer. I prayed specifically before going into each store and I also prayed for God to give the girls grace to be cheerful and obedient. I never expected to make it to all of those stores with the girls by myself in one afternoon (I was planning to split it up over two days and stop when they started getting tired–but they never reached that point so we just kept going!). Nor did I expect to get such great deals.

God is always faithful to do "exceeding abundantly above all that I could ask or think": the girls ended up having a blast with me (there was almost no complaining at all!) and we snagged quite a few more deals than I had planned on. God is good.

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How’d you do this week? Post
about the deals and bargains you were able to snag this week on your
blog (with pictures, if possible!) and then come back here and leave
your link below.