Posts Tagged ‘food’

There’s An App For That: 2 Ways To Slash Your Dining Budget

January 20th, 2010

We all know the best way to slash your food budget is to stop dining out, make your own food, take a sack lunch, and eat at home for dinner. That’s why my first “App”-posts in this series center around cutting your grocery bill using The Grocery Game:

Part 1 – Review of The Grocery Game
Part 2 – Personal Interview with Julie, a GG user

Eating every single meal at home is not only HARD, sometimes it’s darn near impossible. Long commutes, work schedules, and social activities often get in the way of your plan. Or maybe you just want a break from home cooking and want to get a meal out.

Luckily, you have options to eat out that won’t bust your budget. One tangible way to succeed is to buy coupons from! partners up with local dining establishments to provide gift certificates at reduced rates. These local shops get publicity, and the consumer gets a deep discount. A win-win all around!

A typical certificate worth $25 at a particular restaurant can be purchased for $10 – a 60% savings!  Quite often, will run sales upwards of 80% off of their normal sales price. So in otherwords, a $25 certificate can cost you as little as $2 – insane!

Current deal at

Currently on their website, is offering certificates for 70% off regular sales price ($25 for $3) PLUS a $50 certificate off of a trip from Use the promotional code FEAST when checking out, and of course, see their website for details.

There Really IS An App For That!

I came across an iPhone app to help you find restaurant coupons, called Upon initial inspection, it appears not to be directly affiliated with, but only provides a list of establishments listed on Basically a 3rd party app for

The Pros
It’s a free download, and can use your current location to help you find restaurants in your immediate area that take coupons. This is really helpful when you’re on the go and don’t have time to figure out what restaurants are nearby when surfing through

The Cons
They charge their own $1.00 convenience fee when purchasing a certificate through their website.  But like I said, this is a 3rd party app and they have to make money somehow.  I consider them the Ticketmaster of restaurant coupons.  If you are already out on the town and can’t use the regular website, looks like the next best alternative.

I Need Your Comments!

Have you ever used or the iPhone app What was your experience? How else do you save money when eating out?

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There’s An App For That: Personal Account – The Grocery Game

January 18th, 2010

Last week I reviewed The Grocery Game, a real-world application to help trim your household food budget.  To give personal insight, I recently interviewed my neighbor, Julie.  A teacher by trade, Julie has transitioned to stay-at-home motherhood with the addition of her first child.  Moving from duel-income to a sole breadwinner while adding an extra mouth to feed means big sacrifices and careful planning with your household budget.

Julie is the textbook definition of a home economist, and a big winner in The Grocery Game.  Here’s what she had to say about her experience in coupon cutting:

Why did you start using The Grocery Game. Were there rough patches initially?

I have always loved to save money and get a bargain. I had tried in the past to use coupons, and at times got great deals. The problem I ran into was that I was spending a tremendous amount of time finding the deals and then trying to find the coupon I was sure I had clipped. I had heard about the Grocery Game and a couple of years earlier I actually gave it a trial run. I wasn’t successful at it then because I didn’t have a good system for organizing my coupons, and I didn’t understand the idea of stockpiling.

So what changed where The Grocery Game became a success for your family?

Well, two years and a baby later, and down to one income we needed to lower expenses, and I decided to do it again. I did a bit of research and figured out how to set up a coupon binder, and went at it whole heartedly. I have gotten our monthly grocery bill down to $130, and in the last 5 months I have saved over $5,600 while spending under $1,500.

How do you like it so far?

I love it!!! Many people hate the idea of paying for a site to help you have money. Please, please, please believe me: it is worth every penny! The site does all the work for you, all you have to do is clip your coupons, print your list, and head to the store. The time savings is huge. I want to spend all the time I can with my daughter, not looking at sale ads. The GG has allowed me to do this. Plus, how can you not love saving TONS of money!

What were you spending on food each month, and what are your spending goals with GG?

I had a monthly budget of $500 for all food and supplies, including going out to eat, previous to GG.  I have gotten our bill down to $130/mo, and it is only that high because I choose to go to Sprouts once a week and spend between $10-$15 on fresh produce and nuts. It’s kinda like my little treat for saving so much money. My stockpile could last 3-4 months, possibly longer. We only go out to eat 1-2 times a month. Now I put $250 in my food envelope per month, and I have money left over at the end.

Was it a rough transition learning to sort & cut all those coupons?

When I began GG I was buying 4 newspapers a week. This way I could build my stockpile faster. If you have a larger family you may want to buy more, but 4 is a good place to start. Setting up your coupon binder is really important. I watched You Tube videos to get an idea and then set it up in a way that made sense to my brain. I got a heads up from other couponers to pull apart the inserts and stack them, then cut them. This is a HUGE time saver! Do this and you will never go back! It also allows the coupons to be sorted before you clip! Now I spend about 30 min. a week clipping my coupons and putting them into the binder. Not bad.

How much time per week would you say you spend preparing (coupon cutting, list sorting, etc.) and how much time actual shopping?

I spend 30 min. cutting and sorting, and shop for about 2 hours (including travel). I get my list together, and only buy what is on the list. I go to Sprouts on Wednesday’s because it is double ad day and more is on sale. This is where I am at now. However, when I began I probably spent 10 hours a week. I also spent $500 getting my stockpile going, and I would hit every store each week. There is a bit of a buy in, but just set your budget and do what you can. If I had understood CVS and thier ECB (Extra Care Bucks) program, I probably would have spent half of that. Oh well, live and learn.

What stores are in your shopping rotation?

Currently I shop at Target, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Albertson’s, Tom Thumb, and Sprouts. I go to Target 2-3 times, Kroger 2 times a month, CVS 2 times, Walgreens 1 time, Albertons twice, Tom Thumb once or bi-monthly, and Sprouts weekly. Of course it does vary, but I would say that is about average.

2.5 hours?  That’s not long at all!  Do you have any other tips on saving time cutting coupons?

Many people wonder how I do it in such little time. I have found sites that post the deals and then I mimic them. This saves tons of time! Here are the best sites for me:

A Full Cup (visit the forums)

Swag Grabber

Hip 2 Save

Christine’s Coupons

Happy Couponing!

Feel free to comment or ask questions below on this interview with Julie.  If you’d like to sign up for The Grocery Game, use her e-mail address as a reference: sharpjulie [at] ymail [dot] com.

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There’s An App For That: The Grocery Game

January 12th, 2010

Not but a few years ago, my wife and I would routinely eat out every meal – and I mean EVERY meal. We justified it with long work hours and longer commutes. Who wants to get home at 8 or 9pm and then make dinner, right?

An Eye Opener

We finally pulled our heads out of the sand (and other various places) and realized that 2 sit-down meals/day x 30 days/month = in the ballpark of $1,500 PER MONTH!! We were getting fatter and poorer at the same time.

FOOD – The Ultimate Budget Buster

It sounds funny, but while we graduated from grad school with the Mt. Everest of all debt, it was recognizing our astronomical food costs that finally triggered a need to trim our budget. Why? Probably because the student loans can’t be changed – we just assumed we’d make payments on them for the next 30 years just like our mortgage – it was not going to change. However, food is a cost that was out of control, but can be changed with some effort.

There’s An App For That!
The Grocery Game

We still struggle with eating out too much, but the one application that’s helped us eat more homemade meals is The Grocery Game.

The Grocery Game’s premise is simple. Each week, you buy a Sunday paper and clip coupons from ads such as the SmartSource and Red Plum, and file them away. The Grocery Game has access to pre-release weekly specials from most major grocery and drug stores. They match up weekly specials with the coupons you have on file. So not only is the product on special, you also maximize savings by adding a coupon on top of it, which many times is doubled or tripled, which magnifies the savings!

The weekly list is color coded: black means buy if you need it (only a decent savings); blue means significant deal (stock up while it’s cheap!); and green means with the sale price + coupon, that item is FREE!

What’s The Big Idea?

The idea behind The Grocery Game is that you stock up on items when they are at rock-bottom prices, so you don’t have to buy them later at regular price. For instance, we have deoderant we bought for $0.25, and several months worth of cereal and we never paid over $1.00/box. Other items like meat, toilet paper, and air fresheners were all purchased at well over 50% off. All products are major brand labels.


The cons of using The Grocery Game all are based on the sacrificing of convenience. When you eat out, you don’t have to plan a meal, or keep an inventory of food at home. It is time consuming to clip coupons and establish a filing pattern. You also spend more early on while you are building your inventory. Most of the cons relate to establishing a system, and with anything, it gets easier the longer you do it.


Since you’re trying to break your excessive restaurant habit, ANY new system will have kinks to work out. Even The Grocery Game’s own website admits it takes a few months to work through a coupon cycle and build your inventory. The savings are obvious, substantial, and forces us to eat at home more because of the sunk cost of groceries in the fridge. We also love the “thrill of the hunt” to find the best deals, and in a twisted way, provides us an activity to do each week together that saves us money, when otherwise we’d be out on the town spending money.


The Grocery Game charges every 8 weeks based on how many stores you want lists from. Weekly lists from one store costs $10 every 8 weeks. Additional store lists are $5 per 8 weeks. They carry most major grocery stores and drug stores, so for example, access to 8 weekly lists for Kroger grocery store & CVS drug store would be $15 – that’s less than $2/week!

Personal Account

Later this week I’ll post an interview with Julie, a neighbor of mine who is completely entrenched, and winning, at The Grocery Game.

Have you tried clipping coupons or playing The Grocery Game? Is FOOD the ultimate budget buster? Let me know how food fits into your budget – leave comments below!

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#044 — The 16 DOs & DON’Ts of Weekend Travel

April 14th, 2009

This past weekend, my wife & I took a weekend trip to Austin, and had a great time.  There were a few lessons learned to pass along.

The DOs & DON’Ts of Weekend Travel

  • DO clean your home before you leave; DON’T come back to a messy house.

On any vacation, it’s nice to come home to a clean house, isn’t it?  We don’t always follow this advice, but it is a relaxing feeling to come home and know you don’t have any chores to do for a few days.

  • DO use or some discount hotel website to book a cheap hotel.

If you’re not camping, it’s the best way to get a good deal on a weekend getaway.  We pricelined a 4-star hotel in Austin for $90, and may even been able to go lower.

  • DO make it a road trip; DON’T fly.

Drive somewhere.  Spending time on a drive can be as much fun and quality time as being in the actual destination.  Also, given the current gas prices, it’s just cheaper.  You also have the freedom to take the “back way” home and explore small-town America.  We did this by driving through part of the Texas Hill Country on the way back home.

The only exception to this might be a weekend trip to Vegas, since there’s such great package deals, and plenty of direct entertainment in the casinos to keep you occupied for a weekend.

  • DO pack a bottle of wine and some snacks; DON’T spend all your money at bars & restaurants.

You may be eating out all weekend, but if you pack a few snacks and drinks, it will cut down on your weekend food tab.  This is especially true with alcohol, which can often double your restaurant bill if you’re not careful.  To help soften the blow of a high bar tab, we brought a bottle of wine with us to share at the hotel, and grabbed some cheese & bread from the local supermarket.

  • DO find a way to make it an extended weekend; DON’T only make it a one-night adventure.

Weekends go fast enough as it is.  Find a weekend where you can take a Friday or Monday off to extend your time.  It makes your schedule a little more flexible and a little less stressful.  We took off Good Friday and made it a three-day Easter weekend.

  • DO see something of historical significance.

We arrived in Austin on Friday afternoon, with just enough time to stop by the state capitol building.  It was free to park that day, and free to enter the capitol and look around.  Texas is rich in history and it was a nice semi-educational detour to stop by and look around.  Next time we’ll have to go when the legislature is in session, so we can meet our local representatives.

  • DO ask for your friends’ recommendations; DON’T travel somewhere without some knowledge.

Everyone we knew, especially the native Texans, had been to (or went to school in) Austin.  There was not a shortage of excellent information.  Friends will give you the ‘insider’ information, like the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that don’t cost much, but have excellent food and atmosphere.  We found a great restaurant & bar by calling and getting a recommendation from a friend who went to college in Austin.

  • DON’T spend money at the chain stores; DO visit the local establishments.

I can eat at Chili’s or On The Border in Dallas; there’s no difference from one suburb to another.  The real fun is tasting the local cuisine or finding the mom & pop establishments.  It is more hit & miss this way, but ultimately you’ll have more memories of visiting the local shops or restaurants.

  • DON’T buy spa packages from the hotel.

This goes along with the chain vs. local establishments I spoke of above.  The hotel spa packages are overpriced, and don’t get you out into the town.  We found a day spa down the road that was local and had better prices.  The massages were great, although the pedicures unfortunately were a disaster.  Maybe we should have used more of my advice above, and asked a friend for a recommendation!

  • DO attend an out-of-town church service

I know growing up, being gone for a weekend meant no church service.  However, if you’re a person of faith, I highly recommend attending a church service while you’re out of town.  It gives you a fresh perspective on how other churches worship & operate.  A different pastor or speaker can also give you a fresh perspective on fairly common topics.  It also helps you realize that God is a whole lot bigger and encompassing than your local church, with all its joys and flaws.

How about you — What would you add to this list?  Any that you agree or disagree with?  Let’s see some comments below!

twitter-follow-me8photos by veganstraightedge & nicolasnova

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