Ways to Stretch the Dollar

spice canisters
OK – we’re all here for one reason or another, whether we have a job, not or we just like saving the money we make so we can enjoy a better quality of life.
Let’s be honest- coupons can’t be our only means of saving money. How else can we cut back? Save money? Or where can you get assistance if you don’t have any money coming in?

I’m going to start with places to find assistance, if you are without a job apply for Unemployment benefits. Even if you don’t think you qualify – apply anyhow. The worst they can say is no. But if for some reason you do qualify they will provide you with some (although minimal) income for up to 6 months. Unless the Government decides to give emergency extensions again – the chances of someone getting a full 99 weeks of benefits currently are slim.

In Michigan you can apply online or in person:Visit UIA Online

If you are in another state, visit the Department of Labor online to find the office you should apply at.

Food Assistance

Even if you do not qualify for Unemployment Benefits – you may appy for state aid in another form, like Food Benefits. This is a monthly allotment of funds that can be used for food products.

In Michigan you can apply online or in person: Visit DHS Online

Michigan’s Department of Human Services also offers Cash Assitance, Child Care and Support assistance, Medical Services and Emergency Services.

If you apply for food benefits – please use them properly. Remember you can use Coupons while on food benefits. But misuse of benefits can hurt recipients who are using the program to feed their family.

If you are another state, you can locate your local Government assistance programs here.

SNAP Benefits

This is a program I recently became aware of- SNAP Benefits, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And when I say recently, I mean within the last couple weeks.

This is the federal food stamp program – not the State program. It was renamed in October 2008. And it wasn’t until this week I actually started seeing signs at Walgreen’s and other stores saying they accept SNAP benefits. While I have seen the signs for Michigan’s Bridge Card or EBT for years now.

To find out more about the SNAP Benefits and how to apply visit the USDA Online.

If you are not in need of government assistance, what can you do to stretch those dollars? I have a few tips and tricks we do around here.

Buy in Bulk

I know – you’re saying I mentioned early on I was against hoarding of products, and that this usually requires expensive memberships but bear with me here!

In our house we not only have a Sam’s Club membership but also a Costco one (Costco seems to only be on the East side of the state, and not near Mid Michigan where I often visit). Each membership costs us anywhere from $30-50/year. Yes, it seems like money you wont get back but we usually save more than that a year there.

Belonging to a large warehouse seller like Costco or Sam’s club not only allows you to take advantage of the great deals they offer on their food, but other items you wont usually snag with coupons for every stage of life. (Side bar: you can actually buy coffins at Costco.. no joke) Yes- you are using your coupons to get most of the sides/food you will use in your house – but meat is rarely on sale to rock bottom prices like at the large warehouses.

We use our Costco Membership to keep the freezers stocked with Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts and ground Hamburger. The chicken breasts are packaged 2 in a little pillow pack and are easy to just grab 2 when making a meal.

One of my personal favorite things to get at Costco is stock or broth for my recipes. I tend to use the Pacific brand since it’s gluten free, and most store brands are not. At Kroger or Meijers one box is $4.00 or more. I get a 6 box carton for $9.00 at Costco.

We only make a once a month trip there, but the savings we get on food more than pay for the membership.

But the best savings – member exclusive gas prices. Just a couple weeks ago gas prices jumped well over $4.20 around here. We could still pull up to Costco’s gas station and get it for $3.90. While there is a similar program at Kroger which saves us 3¢ automatically and up to 40¢ per gallon (depending on how much you spent there in the past month) I rarely get the 10¢ off per gallon let alone the 40¢!

Costco and Sam’s club are also great for replacing your tires, or car battery – prices that none of the big chain stores will even touch. Tire service at Costco includes a 3 year warranty, free rotations and if for some reason your tire goes out before your 3 years is up they will credit you for the amount of tread you have left.

Visit Bulk Stores

No this isn’t a typo, or a repeat of categories. This is one of my favorite things to do. I love to cook from scratch but I hate to pay the full price of spices.

Magnetic Spice Pods

I picked up some cheap spice pods at Ikea and was given a bunch from my sister last year for my birthday. I go to the bulk store and get 1-2 tablespoons of the spices I may need for a recipe, instead of buying a full bottle at the grocery store.

A perfect example: Cardamom – I needed 1 tsp for a Pfeffernuesse recipe for Christmas. A bottle at Kroger is $30! Up until this point I thought that Saffron was the most expensive (it still is) sticker shock set it! So I drove up the block to the bulk store and got a couple tablespoons. It still cost me a few dollars, but at least I had the amount I needed and didn’t break the bank.

Spice Canisters

Bulk stores are also great for things like flour, baking chocolates, candies and even oatmeal. If you do decide to buy in bulk, consider getting a good storage system. My personal preference is the glass canisters from Ikea- air and moisture tight and most importantly CHEAP!

Yes I know it looks like I have a huge variety here, but honestly it’s all gluten free flours so I can make a few things once in a while like bread, or cookies.

Cook at Home – from Scratch

This is something I do 5-6 nights a week. Mostly I blame it on my food allergies, but really it helps our wallets. I can go out to Kroger and get a bunch of food items for under $10 and make us a meal for two, and have left overs for our lunches the next day. Now if we decided to go out – even the cheapest fast food is going to be $15. Not only is it going to hurt our wallet, but more likely our stomachs!

Yes, cooking at home takes up more time. I am lucky enough to have the time to cook from scratch. But other than pasta, most items take just as long to make from scratch as the box. I make homemade potatoes au gratin from scratch, including prep work it takes 45 minutes. The boxed kind takes 5 minutes prep and 45 to cook.. Why would I choose to do it that way?

Another benefit of cooking from scratch- you know what exactly you are eatting!

I’m not saying don’t use the boxed meals- we know the deals are great on those. We personally limit them in our household. Partially due to the allergy, but more because of the additives in everything out there.

Buy Locally

This may seem like a “duh” category. But items that are grown and harvested locally with cost you pennies compared to those shipped from over seas or from the other side of the country. Visit your local fruit market or farmers market for great deals.

Another bonus- you’re helping the local economy, possibly creating more jobs even :).

Grow it yourself

This is not for those with the dreaded “black thumb” like my mother has. Whether you start from seeds or buy starters at the store – growing you own fruits and vegetables can save you a ton of money.

That being said- this requires time and effort. I tried to do this a few years back before I moved in with my boyfriend. The soil in his yard wont sustain vegetables – however my flowers love it. Part of the problem was he didn’t have the time to water them while I was gone. Another problem was the wild animals. Squirrels, bunnies and even wild cats were well fed in his neighborhood for a while.

You also have to be very knowledgeable about your soil acidity, and watch your plants- remember to not let those tomatoes touch the ground or they’re not any good!

But if you choose to grow them yourself, enjoy the fresh fruits of your labor. You may end up with more than your family can eat in one season- consider freezing them (if you can) or canning them. Yes, I know how 1950’s this sounds – and my house is from that era, so I actually have a canning room!- but one season’s harvest can keep feeding you throughout the whole year.

Do whatever you can to stretch your dollar. And if you have other tips and tricks please let me know!


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