Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Queen of Food and Money

Hello, blog!

I am writing this post solely out of the overflowing glee I experienced today after scoring some outrageously good deals grocery shopping, and the desire to share some discoveries I've made -- especially in the world of shopping at Meijer and Aldi. (I have a deep-seated hatred of Kroger, so I'm sorry, but I will be of no assistance there.)

I know, really thrilling stuff, right?

But meal planning, bargain hunting, grocery shopping, and recipe testing are all things I like that hold hands and become part of my foodie life. I LOVE food. I love cooking and baking. And, I love saving money so I can buy more sweaters and handbags save it up for the future like a responsible adult.

Anyway, if you ever struggle to know where to start with saving money at the grocery store (extreme couponing is too stressful), here's what I do. You might like it and find it's not so horrible and time-consuming!

1. Check Ibotta, Checkout 51, and Shopmium.

Okay, first you might need to download them. These apps are all available for the iPhone; I believe they're all available for Android, too. The awesome things about them:

  • They're FREE!!!!!!!
  • They give you FREE MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!
  • They're easy!
I know that it sounds too good to be true, but I believe they make their money through the advertising that brands and companies get by offering rebates on them. Ibotta gives you stores that you can shop from to obtain the rebates while Checkout 51 will give you a rebate no matter where you shop, which is BALLIN' if you go to Aldi, because it's already cheap and they don't take any coupons anyway.

Each app has a bunch of rebate offers that change periodically, some products just generic (like a jug of any brand of milk or apples) and some that are brand specific (like Doritos). The app gives you instructions, but you essentially take pictures of your receipt with the phone camera in the app and select which rebates you are claiming that are on the receipt and send it. That's it! They'll let you know when it goes through, and your money will be in the account! Checkout 51 sends you a check when you reach $20 and Ibotta & Shopmium can either put it into Paypal for you or send you a giftcard.

So when I start planning meals and shopping for the week, I look at these apps first to see if there's anything I would use on there and plan around those things.

2. Check mPerks and see what rewards and coupons there are.

If you haven't heard of mPerks at Meijer, you will go nuts when you find out how easy it is to use and help you save. It's basically an account where you can clip online coupons and also put purchases towards rewards for even more savings (such as getting $5 off your next trip if you spend $30 on deli products one month). 

The awesome part about it is that they have MOST coupons that you'd find on coupons.com, but instead of having to print them out, you just punch in your phone number at the Meijer cash register and your PIN that you make up, and it automatically applies all the coupons you've clipped! Woop woop, run on, sistah!

ESPECIALLY clip coupons for things like salads, or other produce/deli perishables. Meijer almost always has some things like salad mix, potato salad, and cheese in that whole area of the store marked down because they will expire sooner than the others. There will be a huge orange sticker that tells you 20% or 40% off because it needs to be used soon! I got a really fancy Asian chopped salad today for about a dollar because of a $1.00 mPerks coupon and 40% off because it needs to be eaten by tomorrow. And it will. Mwahaha.

3. Check the ad circulars super fast.

It seems like a pain to do this, but I just go on both Meijer & Aldi's websites and look at the deals that week. If any line up with coupons or rebates that I have saved -- and are also things that we will actually use -- then I put that on my shopping list and high five myself! And then if there are any other crazy deals that I want to take advantage of, I make note of that, too, so I don't forget to go down those aisles when I get to the store. (I'm notorious for forgetting to look at any frozen food unless I write it down because it's just darn cold over there.) 

If you aren't far away from each store you want to go to, it's also handy to see where to get certain things. This week, Meijer had no deals on avocados -- they were about $1.50 each! Ugh! But Aldi had them for $0.60 each, so I decided not to impulse buy them at Meijer just because they sounded good. Cheap guacamole for all!

4. Make your list.

I just use the notes app on my phone. I write down everything I plan on getting and how much they should cost, if I know what that is, to get an idea of how much I am spending. Then you know what your wiggle room is when you spy some of those Brookside dark chocolate pomegranate candies that you compulsively grab when you see them. (Duh, they are the best.)

OPTIONAL -- I also take screenshots from the apps where my rebates and coupons are, just in case my phone reception is awful in a store and I want to check if there's a certain size of coffee creamer or tub of cottage cheese I have to buy to meet the requirements for the deal.

5. Get your reusable shopping bags and a quarter ready.

If you haven't shopped at Aldi before, first of all...

...get thee to an Aldi immediately. 

Your brain will probably explode from all the awesome stuff they have in their own store brands for ridiculously cheap prices. Their produce has been hit or miss sometimes but they are improving a lot. However, you need a quarter to stick in the shopping cart -- which you do get back when you hook it back up to the other carts -- and your own bags save you money since you have to pay for bags at the store. I have a few of those thermal bags as well to keep cold foods cold, which is super nice when you go to a few stores in one trip and don't want all your refrigerated and frozen goods to be all melted and sweaty when you come home at the end.

6. Hit the store.

Don't forget to punch in your mPerks info on the little screen at Meijer when you check out, and don't forget to hang onto your receipts for when you get home and redeem all your sweet app rebates!

7. Dance because you are the queen/king of food and money.

It goes without saying!

For about $50 this week, I got bratwurst, stew meat, pitted dates, tomatoes, bananas, green beans, broccoli, strawberries, two salad mixes, pumpkin beer, organic veggie chips, goat cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, natural coffee creamer, the list goes on and on... I am probably a little too pleased with myself, but we are eating really good this week for crazy cheap without spending hours clipping coupons and checking out at the store with four separate transactions.

Speaking of which, I ALWAYS END UP BEHIND THOSE PEOPLE AT THE STORE. It's some kind of curse. No offense if you do that, I just have bad luck and always find you. 

Anywho, planning to write more interesting things again besides boring ol' groceries, but in the mean time, I hope you at least try Ibotta or those other apps! They are a lot of fun and you can't beat even more money in your wallet!

Love, Lara

Friday, March 21, 2014

Become Less

Life is so full of paradoxes!

This reality has taken an awfully long time to make sense to me. I go into almost any new venture with really high expectations -- "I want to start out the right way by doing _________," "I will never make the mistake of doing ___________," "I will remain focused on ___________ no matter what."

When I arrived at New Staff Training with Cru, I definitely had a list of traits and habits that I had in mind for myself as I started a new journey to work as a full-time Christian worker. I would always trust God to receive what I needed, be it wisdom, improvement in an area of my life where I needed help, or the partnerships needed for Darin and I to get to work on campus. I would never believe lies or make bad boundaries in my life. I'd read all my assignments for our classes. I was going to start out as the perfect person who wouldn't do anything wrong at all! What a great career I would have.

The ironic thing about this attitude is that in my desire to be so great, I started putting a lot of pressure on my human ability to do the right thing. I found out little by little that my human strength is really not very strong at all. We woke up too early for classes, so instead of reading, a nap sounded awfully nice. And when I totaled my grade for how much I read and it wasn't 100%, I was so disappointed in myself -- how could I have been so lazy? When I was learning about how this season of life would look where we were building up a team of ministry partners, why was I nervous about it? I waged internal warfare against myself, where the self-righteous me was shocked and appalled by the real me that was scared. Stop being a baby! You can do this! Lots of people have!

Downward and downward the spiral will go until we are just plumb exhausted and upset. We run out of gas. (Our tanks are pretty tiny.) In all our efforts to be successful and positive-thinking, we are hopeless and feeling like failures.

I've already tumbled down the slide to the bottom a couple of times in the past couple of months, and every time, a small task would present itself that still needed to get done. It was like a cruel trick. Despite already being wiped out, upset, and feeling like I've already done so much, I didn't have a choice but to do it, whether meeting up with someone when I said that I would or simply making a call. 

(I have always despised talking on the phone! I don't know why! Maybe I can't read someone's face when I'm talking to them, or maybe I'm worried that they don't see how earnest I am. I don't know. Even with my close friends I can't stand it. Jesus take the wheel.)

I would cry out to the Lord, "Why can't You just give me a break? Why do I feel this way? Can't You motivate me, or just supernaturally take it away? I've done enough and I don't want to do anymore. Please, please help." And still waited. No magical burst of energy. A burning bush wouldn't pop into my living room and tell me that it was okay and that God magically took care of it for me, and just to make another cup of coffee and turn on Netflix to take a break.

Exasperated, I would step out and just do what needed to be done, thinking God wasn't interested in helping. 

And then it would happen.

Things would go better than I could have expected. Someone I didn't know very well and was anxious about meeting would have so much in common with me, and start to become a dear friend. I'd receive encouraging words from someone I've never even met before and gave a call over the phone. I'd finish a task amazed at how easy it was after all.

God hasn't chosen for me to be guaranteed success before moving in faith and trusting Him; He is leading me to walk upstairs in the dark even if I can't see the steps. 

This passage in Jeremiah 17 has ministered a great deal to me today as I ponder these ways of God, how He seems to enjoy showing up just in the nick of time, demonstrating that He has been worthy of our trust all along.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8

I highly recommend not being like me. If you say you trust in God, don't expect your human strength to give you every success. Let yourself be human, and depend on your Creator. I am praying this for myself and anyone else who is struggling to hold everything together on their own. 

(I wanted to say to let it go, but just the thought of those words makes me see snowflakes and characters with freakishly big eyes, and hear things that I am so tired of hearing that I'VE DONE IT AGAIN AND IT'S STUCK IN MY HEAD! ARGHHASDHA)

Hopefully you'll see that this paradox -- the more we want to become awesome, the less we should assume that we alone can do it -- is truly enjoyable and leads us into Jesus' peace and rest.

Now, of course, my favorite thing to do: share pictures of my life, just because I like them. Maybe other people do, too, but I'm not sure and that's okay by me.

My two chins and I celebrating the warmth of the beach.

Cru World Headquarters in Orlando, FL! Beautiful and exciting place to visit.

We gave that pup a laundry pile -- pups love laundry piles.

The beautiful, enormous piles of snow left for us when we returned from Florida. It's been quite a winter... let me tell you.

My first Pistons game! It was a blast. Love all Detroit things and love crossing them off my list.

My favoritest best friend and I -- knowing that if we smile too big, both of us flash wayyyyy too much gum action. It's all about restraint.

Love, Lara