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10 Ways To Fight Rising Food Costs

The cost of pretty much everything is going up these days, and though you can scale back on the non-essentials, you still need basics like, oh, say, food. Along with and partially due to gas prices, food prices have been steadily rising and will likely continue to go up, so unless you’ve learned how to grow a Money Tree, you may want to alter the way you shop. Here are some common and some not-so-common tips that can help you save some big dollars in a little time.

Shop with a Calculator

If you’re trying to stick to a budget at the grocery, calculating costs in your head might work for the first few items, but as your shopping cart fills up, you’ll eventually just start guesstimating at your total and likely end up over-budget. Bring a calculator, a shopping list and a notepad and keep track of everything you’re going to purchase. Remember to factor in discounts and applicable taxes and there should be few surprises at the check-out line. For you smartphone fanatics, try using a grocery list app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry phones to help keep you organized and even help you find grocery coupons on-the-fly!

Try Extreme Couponing

If you’ve never heard of it, extreme couponing is when a deft coupon hunter takes advantage of a number of factors (double coupon days, buy one get one free, buying in bulk, etc.) to buy hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of groceries while only paying pennies on the dollar after coupons are accounted for. There are many different levels of extreme couponing, and you don’t have to be a reality show-level pro to save some serious cash. Learning all the little tricks of the trade may seem overwhelming, but there are countless websites and blogs on the Internet that offer assistance. Our own Printable Coupons section is a great place to start!

Buy in Bulk

Wholesale stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s sell pretty much everything, and most often they sell in bulk and at a deep discount. Consider joining a wholesale club and take advantage of their great savings on food. Just remember not to overbuy, even though the deals are tempting, and be mindful of expiration dates–you don’t want to waste money on food you won’t get around to eating. If you’ve got the freezer space, consider vacuum-sealing and freezing any freezer-friendly extras you might buy.

Start a Buying Club

Another great way to get food at wholesale prices is to start a buying club with your friends, neighbors, family or even coworkers. Several people can get together and form a group that is able to buy directly from wholesale food companies, such as the companies that sell food to restaurants. There’s a bit more work involved, but the rewards are phenomenal!

Cook From Scratch

Sure it’s easier to go to a restaurant or toss a prepared meal in the microwave, but you end up paying so much more for that convenience. Preparing food yourself saves a bundle and also yields much more food per dollar. If you’re a cooking newbie, pick up a basic cook book or enroll in a cooking class! Kitchen stores like Chef Central and Central Market–and even supermarkets like Whole Foods–sometimes hold cooking classes for cheap or even free.

Try Freezer Cooking

Freezer Cooking is a great way to save both money and time by cooking in bulk. This is especially great if you’re not fond of cooking everyday and it’s also a fantastic social activity you can do with your friends. Buy food in bulk, and then prepare two weeks’ or even two months’ worth of meals, properly freeze them, and then BAM! Pop one of your pre-prepped meals in the oven or microwave for your own instant, homemade dinner.

Join a Co-Op

Shopping at a food co-op is a great way to save money and support local farmers, and by joining and/or volunteering you’re eligible for even more discounts. Being a member also allows you to contribute to and have a say in the business. Find out if there’s a co-op near you and get to saving!

Shop Strategically

Items in your grocery store aren’t laid out all willy-nilly; stores are specially designed to make you spend the most money possible. Generally, higher priced items are placed at eye-level to entice you, so remember to look up and bend down to find the best deals. Also, be mindful of end-cap and special product stands. They’re designed to look like there’s a discount, but that isn’t always the case. Ooh, and don’t forget to check the “Specials” aisle for seasonal and clearance deals!

Buy Locally & In-Season

It’s nice that we’re able to have fancy fruits and vegetables from all over the world year round, but transporting fresh bananas from South America and shrimp from the Philippines makes those products more expensive. Buy your favorite foods from local sources when they are in season, then freeze or preserve them for the months ahead. It’s much cheaper and you’ll likely have less wasted food! (For even more preservation methods, try canning at home.)

Grow Your Own Groceries

A great way to save money and become more self-sufficient (AND reduce your carbon footprint) is to grow your own veggies, fruits and herbs. Find out what the best plants are for your area and how to tend to them, and then get to planting! If you live in an apartment or urban area, don’t despair. There are many different ways to grow in the space you have, so do a little research and get creative!

10 Ways To Save Money With Social Media

With all the money you’re spending just to be connected to the rest of the world — computer, smartphone, Internet service bills — it’s about time it pays you back, right? Well it can! Social media has evolved from a just a way to connect with friends on Facebook to an expansive network of people, companies, stores and more. Here are 10 ways it pays to save by using social media.

Follow Retailers

Rather than plastering circulars with coupons hoping for business, a growing number of retailers are turning to social media to connect with the shoppers who’ve shown interest in their brand. More and more companies are offering coupons and deals on sites like Facebook and Twitter, so by ‘liking’ or following them, you can snatch up those savings! Just do a search on either site for your favorite companies and “like” their Facebook page or follow their Twitter account to keep up with their latest offers.

Check-in with Foursquare

If you’ve already got a smartphone, you can start racking up the savings by checking in on Foursquare! What started off as a way of letting your friends (and potential stalkers) know where you are has now become a way for businesses to reward their loyal customers. Many companies offer savings for checking in at their location at a certain time or by sending you a coupon when you become the ‘mayor’.

Join a Shopping Community

Since you’re likely already spending time on Facebook, it makes sense to casually follow your favorite brands, but it you’re looking for a deal-intensive experience, join up with a shopping-focused community! Sites like JoeShopping.com allow users to get together socially and compare prices, review products, upload and find coupons and deals, and even earn rewards points. It’s a great way to be more active in your search for savings, and you might even make a few friends.

Find Deals on Twitter

If you don’t want to follow every brand you’re a fan of in order to get deals, there are twitter accounts solely dedicated to hooking you up with savings! Accounts like @JoeHotDeals, @Groupon and @AmazonDeals tweet nothing but great coupons and discounts. If you don’t want to miss a single deal, make a Twitter list containing your favorite coupon accounts, check it daily, and you’ll save a ton!

Check Coupon Blogs

If Twitter isn’t your thing, you can still find great deals on good ol’ fashioned blogs. Besides regularly checking the JoeShopping Blog (You do check it daily, right?), sites like Krazy Coupon Lady, Budget Savvy Diva and Rather-Be-Shopping give you coupons and discounts for online and brick-and-mortar shopping. And if you don’t want to check a million websites everyday, you can create an RSS feed filled with your favorite money-saving sites!

Air Your Grievances

Another handy thing about social media is that it’s now much easier to get the attention of brands and retailers. If you’ve had a bad experience with a store or product, and you post your dissatisfaction to a social network like Twitter or Facebook, there’s a chance the company will respond with a coupon or discount, or at least an apology. It’s the modern equivalent of writing a letter to the manufacturer. It doesn’t always work, but it also doesn’t hurt to try.

Swap Your Stuff

In addition to using social media to find discounts and coupons, you can also find totally free stuff! In exchange for YOUR stuff, that is. Most swapping sites — like Swap.com and Title Trader — are focused on books, cds, dvds and games, but there are also swapping sites for baby stuff, electronics, and even make-up! It’s a great way to simultaneously get rid of unwanted items and gain what you really need.

Monitor Your Spending

Want to keep track of what you’re spending? There’s an app for that. No really, it’s called Tweet What You Spend, and it allows you to enter your purchases from your mobile phone, and then it keeps a journal of your spending habits. There’s even a “Wall of Shame” feature where you can drag and drop purchases you’re not so proud of. By seeing your spending laid out, you can figure out where to cut and how to save.

Set Up a Donation Fund

Nowadays it’s almost safer to spend your money on the Internet than to drop a check in the mail, and that’s something you can take advantage of. Sites like Green Note and HoneyFund allow you to set up funds for your kid’s college education or your upcoming honeymoon that your friends and family (and even strangers) can contribute to. With a physical check, there’s pressure to make it a bigger amount, but with an online fund, you could get a lot more micro-donations you might not have gotten otherwise.

Create Your Own Group

Even though there are countless social media sites that can help you save, it’s likely that the best resource you have are your closest friends and family. Start your own savings group on Facebook or Yahoo and invite everyone you know to join. Everyone can look for different types of deals and then share with the rest of the group! And that’s when you’re truly getting social with your savings.

10 Great Ways To Save Money On Traveling

Let’s face it, traveling costs a lot of money. In a down economy often the first thing to get cut in a family’s budget is vacation. Vacations do not have to become an elusive dream. They simply require wiser research, planning and shopping smarts. Here are 10 ways to save money on traveling:

1. Purchase airline tickets on Tuesdays 

You can really get the cheapest flights depending on when you purchase your tickets. Shop on Tuesday late at night, as many airlines post special sales on that day and late at night.

2. Don’t fly on the weekend

Fly during the week instead of on the weekend. It costs more to fly on the weekend. The weekdays are less busy, with more options for flights and seating if you choose a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

3. Just drive

If your destination is within a day’s drive, then drive. This will save money on car rental and airfare. Gas is pricey but the cost of airfare for a family of four is a whole lot more.

4. Hotel loyalty

If you have a preferred card for a hotel chain, plan to save those points up for your next vacation. This may mean you are planning a year in advance, so start using that credit card for purchases now so you can accumulate points towards your future hotel stay.

5. Hotel specials

There are a number of online websites that help save you money on hotel stays with specials and hotel deals like HotelCoupons.com. or HotelClub.com. Be sure to frequent them, if you do not have a hotel preferred card. Also look for Hotel.com coupons, Hotwire coupon codes and coupons for Priceline.

6. Buy groceries

If you are driving, bring a crockpot and buy your own groceries instead of eating out all the time. Even if you are flying, make sure to choose a hotel that has a kitchenette so you can prepare convenient meals in your room.

7. Choose a hotel with a complimentary breakfast

Many hotel chains offer a free breakfast and that will save you several meals for the week or two you are on vacation. Some are just a light continental food, while others offer full hot buffets.

8. Choose a hotel with indoor and outdoor pools

If you and your family are fans of swimming, pools offer onsite recreation and relaxation – at no cost! There is no extra driving involved either. Sometimes it’s just nice to stay put and pools can entertain the swimmers in your family for hours, while you sit back and read a good book. After all, vacations are all about relaxing and taking it easy, right?

9. Sightseeing

When planning your sightseeing activities, look for free events first, especially for the kids. There are many historical museums that are free or charge minimal admission fees.

10. Online Coupons and Deals

Many businesses offer tourists discounts in the form of online coupons and deals. For instance, many will partner with a couple of other businesses to offer families a discounted rate for visiting all three places.

In order to take advantage of the greatest savings possible, plan, plan and plan some more. Research the place you are visiting, find out area attractions and research them out individually to find out what special deals and coupons they have to offer before deciding on your individual activities. Intentionally plan around those deals.

With proper planning, implementing these 10 ways will save you money on future traveling. There’s no reason why your next vacation should be postponed. Plan, prepare, book, and enjoy!

Spend Some Time Pampering Yourself This Valentines Day

Today is the day: Happy Valentine’s Day! My favorite color is pink, so any holiday that revolves around it is one that leaves me feeling pretty giddy inside. Plus, all the hearts, chocolate and candy everywhere put me in a good mood, too. We usually celebrate by going out to dinner, but this year we are staying in and cooking a “pink and red” dinner.

I know that some people say it’s silly to have one certain day to celebrate love, but I really don’t see anything wrong with making your love, family and friends feel special. We should really strive to do that every single day.

Whether you are going out tonight, staying in, celebrating with your significant other or spending it with your best friends, I hope that you will take a little time to love on someone else that is equally important: yourself! A little extra love and care can work wonders on our bodies and minds. We all deserve it.

I’ve come up with a few ways to pamper yourself tonight (or sometime this week). Do these to get ready for your big date or even the next day to wind down and relax. Share these ideas with your significant other or your friends to make them even more fun.

Take a bubble bath – $6.99

There really is nothing better than taking a hot bubble bath. It’s the perfect way to wind down and relax your body. A hot bath is known to release muscle tension, as well as soothe tired, aching feet. I like to turn on some music and light a few candles when I take a bath to set the mood. There are so many fun scented bubble baths, too, so be sure to experiment. One of my favorites smells like funnel cake. Yum!

(Buy.com coupons)

Paint your nails – $5.97

There is something about fresh painted nails that just makes me feel good. Since it’s Valentine’s Day, hot pink or red are great color choices. I tend to always have my nails painted pink. One of my favorite “trendy” colors right now is gray. Try it. I promise it looks amazing! Add a sparkly topcoat for a little extra sass.

(Drugstore.com coupons)

Soothe your feet – $19.99

My mother in law just gave me one of these foot spas for Christmas and I have made very good use out of it. I’m on my feet all day at work and they definitely need some TLC every now and then. It’s a little like taking a bath and getting a foot massage at the same time. That sounds perfect, right? Be sure to get a good foot lotion to rub on after for extra moisture. Men can enjoy this, too! My husband enjoyed it, although he would probably not admit to that. : )

Try a facial – $7.14

I did my first at-home facial about two years ago and I have been hooked ever since. Burt’s Bees is one of my favorite brands (for anything) because it works and it never bothers my super sensitive skin. A facial rejuvenates tired skin and leaves your face feeling clean and refreshed. Try a chocolate facial mask for only $1.99. That’s the next one on my list to buy!

(Target coupons)

Curl up with a good book – $3.55

This one is a little more about pampering your mind. I love to read, but so often I find myself turning on the tv instead. Make it a point to spend some time with a favorite author. A book can stimulate your brain and increase your creativity, all while helping you escape to a fantasy world for a little while. Light a few candles to really set the pampering mood. Head to your local library and score some great reads for free while you’re at it!

Sometimes we get so busy with work and life that we forget to take time to take care of ourselves. I hope this list encourages you to do a few special things for yourself this week. We all deserve to be pampered a little bit every now and then. Even the simplest things can restore and rejuvenate us.

While you’re at it, you can even use a few of these ideas for Valentine’s Day for your significant other (hint-hint: guys!). Women definitely love to feel special.

Star Wars Fashion May The Force Be With Your Clothes

George Lucas’ epic Star Wars series is back on the big screen where it belongs! This weekend sees the release of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace in 3-D and chances are, whether you’re still getting over the whole Jar Jar thing or you’re boycotting 3-D movies in general… your kids will still drag you into the theaters to see it.

But you can’t be caught wearing any old jeans and a sweatshirt, now can you? The fashion police would toss you in the Rancor’s Pit before you finished buttering your popcorn! So what’s a Jedi Master to wear to a Star Wars screening? Glad you asked! We’ve compiled a list of the hottest Star Wars fashion picks around. From a Jedi bath robe to TIE fighter cufflinks, we’ve included choices suitable for Jedi Knights and young apprentices alike.

Jedi Bath Robe

$89.99 at ThinkGeek.com

After a long day of fending off Stormtroopers, kick back and relax in your very own Jedi robe. Made from soft cotton terrycloth, this officially licensed bathrobe is one-size-fits-all. Also available in Sith.

Star Wars Baby Sleep Set

$12.00 (reg. $16.94) at OldNavy.com

He may be a little short for a stormtrooper, but this Darth Vader Sleep Set for baby is the perfect fit. Available in sizes from 12 months to 4T, the set comes with a long sleeve rib-knit top and coordinating fleece sleep pants. Available exclusively at Old Navy/OldNavy.com.

Stride Rite Kid’s Star Wars Slip-On Sneaker

$34.99 (reg. $37.95) at Endless.com

Young padawans will love these comfy canvas sneakers, which come checkered with black and white graphics featuring images from the movies. They ship via hyperdrive, too (fast, free 2-day shipping!)

Star Wars Chewbacca Furry Zip Hoodie

$69.50-$71.50 at HotTopic.com

We could never quite understand a word Chewie was saying, but there’s no question this Chewbacca hoodie screams cool. Don’t worry, no Wookies were harmed in the making of this hoodie (it’s made with faux fur.) Sold exclusively online.

Robeez Star Wars Yoda Infant Slippers

$30.95 at Shoebuy.com

Comfy, your baby’s feet will be. These baby booties feature soft, non-slip leather soles and an elastic ankle band. Infant sizes 1-3.

Star Wars Expressions of Vader Men’s T-Shirt

$17.99-$19.99 (Was $26.99) at Amazon.com

When it comes to expressing emotions, you could say Darth Vader is a one-trick pony. This men’s t-shirt is made entirely from cotton and comes with free shipping when you spend $25 or more (or use your Prime membership!) at Amazon.

Star Wars TIE Starfighter Blueprint Cufflinks

$59.95 (reg. $89.95) at Amazon.com

Tie your sleeves down with these Tie Fighter Cufflinks. They’re made from rhodium plated base metal and enamel and includes a limited edition collector’s storage box.

Star Wars Rebel Kiss Junior Womens T-Shirt

$23.99 at SuperHeroStuff.com

Love this t-shirt? We know. Relive the famous kiss from the movies with this Rebel Kiss t-shirt. The image features a lip-locking Princess Leia and Hans Solo and comes distressed for a neat, retro look. 100% cotton, 200% awesome.

LEGO Star Wars Boys’ Swim Trunks

$18.00 (reg. $24.00) at Kohls.com

Vacationing in Kamino? These board shorts are perfect for swimming in oceans (or pools!) They include mesh lining, a drawstring waistband, and are designed to reduce UV ray exposure.

Star Wars Darth Vader Too Epic To Fail T-Shirt

$19.50 – $23.50 at HotTopic.com

Oh, Vader. This men’s t-shirt is available in sizes XS – 3X and is included in HotTopic.com’s Buy 1, Get 1 50% off sale.

Who is your favorite Star Wars character? Tell us in the comments below

Best Travel Toys To Beat Backseat Boredom

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of packing the family up and heading out on a summer road trip. That is until about 15 minutes into your travels, the kids get restless and the dreaded “Are we there yet?” questions start.

So what can you do to keep the kiddies content while they’re cooped up in the car? Before you whip out the Nintendo DS or try distracting them with a DVD, take a look at our list of toys you’ll want to pack to help beat the backseat boredom blues. Not just travel-friendly, these toys are good for them, too, with brain teasers, arts and crafts, and (tolerable!) learning music making our list of car ride must-haves.

Crafts & Creativity

While the thought of unleashing craft supplies in the car sounds like a bad idea, have no fear. These creativity kits don’t require any glue, so there’s no sticky mess. Plus, there are no long drying times, so the kids can enjoy playing with the finished product right away. Playskool Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head Silly Suitcase ($20), Suction Cup Critters ($10), Melissa & Doug Deluxe Fuzzy Make Your Own Monster Puppet ($20.)

Drawing Boards

Got a budding artist in the family? Kids can illustrate to their hearts’ content with these lap-friendly drawing boards. The Crayola Glow Station On the Go Day & Night ($15) lights up so kids can keep drawing even after the sun sets. The Alex Car Valet ($24) features a flip-down table and storage compartments to keep their supplies neat and organized. The Crayola Beginnings Color Me A Song ($21) triangular-shaped crayons helps keep them from rolling away when the roads gets bumpy.

Puzzles and Brain Teasers

Keep their wheels turning while your wheels are turning with these brain teasers and puzzles. Kids 6 years and up will enjoy the Perplexus ($20), a maze game that has kids maneuver a metal ball through the colorful pathways. Eye Find: A Picture Puzzle Book ($13) includes a magnifying glass and paper flashlight for spying the tiny objects hidden inside. Brain Quest for the Car ($11) quizzes kids on history, geography, and more and can be read aloud for a fun, family challenge.

Magnets

Magnetize their imaginations with these magnetic sets. Magnetic Poetry Kids Story Maker ($13) lets kids create their own stories using the included word magnets that stick right to the travel case. Kids can arrange the colorful magnetic blocks in Imaginets ($30) into any shape they can think of building. (Bonus: the board doubles as a dry erase board!) Here’s one for the older crowd: Buckeyballs ($30) includes 216 rare Earth magnets that can be shaped in hundreds of different ways for hours of construction fun.

Activity Books

Tell your kids to crack open a book and you might be met with groans. But not with these entertaining activity books. The Rand McNally Kids’ Road Atlas ($4), which includes road maps, puzzles, and interesting state facts, is so fun filled that they won’t even realize they’re learning. The Spiral Draw Book ($20) includes four Spyro drawing wheels and three color-changing gel pens to create colorful circle and spiral designs. Doodlepedia ($13) teaches kids about animals, science, space and more as they complete the drawing and coloring tasks in the book.

Stickers and Felt

Unstick the boredom that comes with being stuck in the car with sticker books. This Melissa & Doug Play House Reusable Sticker Pad ($5) includes five pages of “rooms” that can be decorated (and redecorated!) with over 175 of the included stickers. Although this book’s title, The Most Incredible, Outrageous, Packed-to-the-Gills, Bulging-at-the-Seams, Sticker Book You’ve Ever Seen ($13), might leave them out of breath, it won’t leave them out of something to do, with over 450 full-color stickers. FeltTales Happy Tails ($20) includes more than 20 felt playing pieces that can be repositioned on the included storyboard.

Music

After “99 Bottles” gets boring and the lyrics in today’s Top 40 music on the radio get inappropriate, there’s got to be something else to listen to in the car besides KidsBop. Here’s some music that kids (and parents!) won’t mind listening to. The Best of Schoolhouse Rock ($13) is catchy, fun, and will have them learning all about conjunctions and how bills are passed before either of you know it. For the Kids ($11) includes songs like “The Rainbow Connection” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” from singers like Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, and Tom Waits. Ziggy Marley’s Family Time ($13) which won a Grammy for being the “Best Musical Album for Children”, includes cool, reggae-influenced beats that will have both kids and grown-ups happily jamming along.

Play Together

Having the kids seat belted within an inch of each other for hours on end and someone’s bound to get a noogie or a nose bleed. But with these play-together toys, they’ll keep each other entertained while steering clear of any sibling rivalry (at least until the next exit.) Nifty Plates from the Fifty States ($13) will have kids working together to keep track of all of the state’s license plates they pass. Travel Bingo ($10) is another group game that will have your kids marking off each square when certain objects are spotted outside of the car window (like a dog or a stop sign). Me Vs. You ($11) is a mixture of classic pad and pencil games (like word searches and mazes) that has kids compete alongside one another to finish each fun challenge.

Save Money In The Kitchen With 5 Easy Tips

Allow me to share a little confession with y’all: I am not the best cook. I know, I know, my poor husband. But here’s the thing… I don’t enjoy cooking that much.

I don’t like grocery shopping. I don’t like getting hot in the kitchen. I don’t like spending time on a meal and it ending up tasting horrible. I don’t like having to throw out food because it goes bad. However, I do love sitting down to a delicious meal that I made and I love seeing my husband eat my cooking.

I have started working on meal planning (thanks for making it easy, Pinterest!) and it really helps to ease the “pains” of cooking. I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve learned that will help you save money in the kitchen and avoid having things go to waste. Most seasoned cooks are probably familiar with most of these, but as a novice cook, I have had to learn slowly but surely.

1) Meal plan with “like” items

This certainly doesn’t mean that you have to eat the same thing every night, but if a meal only requires half of something, find another meal to use the other half. For example: if one meal needs half of an onion, make sure that you pick a meal later in the week that needs the other half. I know it sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how many times I have thrown out things (mostly veggies) because I didn’t use them before they went bad.

2) Check your fridge

Do this before you meal plan to see what items you have already. Then pick meals that will use some of those items. You benefit in two ways: it won’t go bad before you use it and you won’t have to buy as much, so your grocery bill will be less! Win, win.

3) Use your freezer

This is something that I honestly didn’t even know that you could do when I first started learning how to cook. Your freezer can become your best friend. If you have extra food of some sort (maybe those onions from #1) and you have no plan to use them, stick them in the freezer. They will last longer. This is true for most food items. I freeze a lot of our meat (like chicken, ground beef, ground turkey) so that if for some reason we end up not cooking and going out to eat instead, it will still be good when we are ready to use it.

4) Make friends with leftovers

This one is hard for us sometimes, just because neither of us are huge on leftovers. You can save so much money by eating them, though, rather than letting them go to waste. My favorite way to enjoy leftovers is for lunch the next day. Also, think about ways to make it a “new” dish. If you had pot roast for dinner, make sandwiches from the leftover meat. Sometimes presenting it in a new way can make it a little more enjoyable.

5) Buy in bulk

We have a membership at a store that sells tons of items in bulk and it has helped us save a lot of money when grocery shopping. The key is to only buy items in bulk that you know you can use before they go bad. Also, not everything bought in bulk is a great buy, so don’t get too “bulk happy” when you shop. Buy smart.

I hope that some of these tips will help y’all save a little extra dough in the kitchen… pun intended. As I said above, I certainly don’t yet enjoy cooking (I’m trying!), but I do enjoy saving money wherever I can. For some reason, the food tastes even better when you know it’s good for the wallet, too.

14 Tips For Saving Money When Dining Out

When trying to cut back on spending, one of the first things to generally go are trips out to restaurants. Sure it’s cheaper to eat at home, but dining out is about more than just the food. It’s a social experience. So unless you have absolutely no social life at all (or your significant other is one amazing chef), it’s likely you’ll eventually give in and head out to dinner. When that happens, here are some tips to lessen the toll on your wallet.

Order water instead of drinks – Alcoholic drinks are definitely pricey at restaurants, so skipping those is pretty obvious, but sodas and tea are also getting more expensive. A fountain soda at a chain restaurant can cost $2.50 or more! And some places don’t even offer free refills! So by ordering water, a couple can easily save five bucks or more at dinner, and a family’s savings can be even greater. Plus, water is the healthiest option. (Have you seen the calorie counts in alcoholic drinks?)

Eat appetizers for dinner – This is especially helpful for couples and small groups since many restaurants offer appetizer samplers. A couple can share one sampler and 3-4 people can share two, and everyone still pays less than they would for a full entree.

Fill up on bread – While this may not be the best option if you’re dieting, it’s a good one for your dieting wallet. Not all restaurants serve pre-meal munchies like bread or chips and salsa, but if the restaurant does offer it, you can fill up on that. Then simply order an appetizer or entree to split! Just remember that your server works mostly for tips, so maybe tip an extra dollar or two to make up for the money you saved.

Look for coupons – There are several places you can find great coupons and deals for restaurants.Sign up on your favorite restaurant’s website and, with varying frequency, you’ll get offers and coupons right in your inbox. Check local magazines and newspapers for specials. There’s also the Entertainment Book, which features oodles of coupons for local restaurants. These books usually cost $20 or $30, but you’ll quickly make that up after a few night’s out.

Look for 2-for-$20 deals – Chain restaurants are rapidly jumping on this bandwagon and offering two- and three-course meals for only $10 per person. You have a limited selection to choose from, but it’s still a great deal. With tax and tip (and no drinks!), two people can have a lovely evening out for around $25.

Kids eat free – Many family chain restaurants (such as Chili’s) will offer free kids meals with the purchase of an adult meal. They generally pick a slow night, like Tuesdays or Wednesdays, to help entice more customers. For families with several kids, that extra savings can quickly add up. Check out sites like My Kids Eat Free!, or ask your favorite restaurant if they offer any similar deals.

Skip the apps and desserts – Many people already avoid this money trap, but it can be tricky, especially when dining out with friends. Hopefully you can convince the whole group to skip the treats, but if you can’t, don’t eat them and make sure you get counted out when the bill comes. And speaking of the bill…

Get a separate check – Many restaurants don’t prefer this, but it’s imperative that you try, especially when eating with large groups of people. If a group has ordered lots of drinks and extras, they’ll often split the bill evenly, so if you just ordered a salad, you might be looking at a $50 bill instead of $15. Being up front with your waiter (and your friends!) at the very beginning of a meal will make getting a separate check easier, so give it a try.

Go out to lunch instead of dinner – Most restaurants have much cheaper deals at lunch than at dinner, and most of the time it’s the exact same food in only slightly smaller portions. This is a great idea if you’re meeting a friend or having a casual date, since the atmosphere is a little more relaxed.

Look for happy hour deals – You normally think of bars and alcohol when you think of “happy hour,” but many restaurants offer happy hour specials that include things like half-off appetizers. Depending on the specific happy hour pricing, a couple can share two apps and even have an alcoholic beverage each and still spend less than $20 total!

Order over the phone – If you’re not interested in the restaurant experience but just don’t feel like cooking, you can place an order over the phone and pick it up. Many restaurants will even bring it out to your car for you. (Some even have convenient “pick up” parking spots right in front!) You’ll save on drinks and tip, and you get to eat your favorite dish in the comfort of your own home.

Buy restaurant gift cards – On websites like Restaurant.com you can save a bundle by buying discounted gift cards to locally owned restaurants. Savings vary by individual establishments, but on average, you can get a $25 gift card for around $10, sometimes less! If you’re interested in a chain restaurant, look up that restaurant’s corporate website and you might find a sale on gift cards, too. You can scoop up these deals for yourself, or use them as gifts!

Eat half – This is a great trick to keep your wallet and your waistline in check. Eat only half of your meal at dinner, then take the rest home and have it the next day for lunch or dinner. Smaller portions are better for you, and it’ll make your tasty dinner last even longer!

Split a meal – Portion sizes have grown progressively larger over the decades, so it’s pretty easy to order one entree and split it between two diners. Just be aware that some restaurants may charge a nominal “plate sharing” fee (check the fine print on the menu), but it’s usually nowhere near the cost of an additional entree.

4 Simple Ways To Get The Cheapest Flight This Summer

There’s just something about summer and traveling that go together. Whether it’s because more people are off during the summer or because the weather is more ideal, people tend to vacation much more frequently during the summer months. You can bet that the airline companies know this as well and often bump their ticket prices up accordingly.

Often we take vacations where driving is possible and usually cheaper, but sometimes you have to fly because of distance, time or the inability to drive where you’re going. Here’s 4 little tips that can help ensure you get the cheapest airline ticket wherever you’re traveling this summer.

1. Check airline prices before booking your accommodations

Once you have a set-in-stone hotel reservation, your flight plans will be strict and won’t allow much room for flexibility. Hold off on booking your accommodations and make sure that you check out flights, too. If you find a hotel offering a special discount for a certain week, look up flights before you book to make sure that they aren’t more expensive than any other period. If the flights are more, you might not be saving money in the long run.

2. Be flexible with your travel dates/times

Weekend days (like Friday, Saturday and Sunday) tend to make ticket prices jump because more people travel on those days, so if you are able to bump your days a little bit, you may save a nice chunk of change. Again, this is another reason not to book your accommodations without checking flight prices because it may be cheaper to arrive on a different day than you originally booked. Also, be willing to travel at different times of the day. Most people like to leave early in the morning, but sometimes midday flights are cheaper because they are harder to fill. Just do a thorough check to ensure you’re not missing out on a price cut.

3. Use travel websites to price check

This one is HUGE. Use the internet… it can definitely help. My husband and I flew to Jamaica last year and we saved over $500 by price checking between tons of travel websites (like Expedia, Travelocity or Hotwire). Don’t be fooled by the first price you see, even if it’s advertised as the lowest airfare. I was shocked to see the difference in price of the exact same flights as I went from website to website. Check, check and recheck behind yourself. It’s worth the time.

4. Look at booking your to/return flights separately

This is another thing that really paid off for us when we were planning our trip. Initially we searched for our leaving/returning flights together, but we soon found out that we could save several hundred dollars by booking them separately. We ended up booking the different flights through different websites. So as you’re searching for flights, check and see if it’s cheaper to book them together or separately.

Those are just a few of the tips that we have followed as we look at flights for vacations. Remember that flight prices are different according to time of travel and location, so all of these tips may not work for all instances. However, the biggest tip is just to do your homework and spend time searching for flights. Don’t go with the first price you find. Start looking for tickets early on and give yourself plenty of time to search.

7 Ways Youre Wasting Money

As the economy remains sluggish, families are trying everything to save money. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to evaluate your spending habits. In turn, it can help you notice costly behaviors. Along with this, knowing some of the spending pitfalls is a great way to protect your finances.

Here is a look at some of the ways we waste money:

1. Having too much cell phone service

Many customers sign up for cell phone plans they won’t use. Therefore, it’s important to monitor your usage and make adjustments regularly. Better yet, instead of signing up for a contract plan, buy a prepaid phone. In many instances, you can receive a great phone and a plan that has all you need for less.

2. Using your credit card to earn reward points

Many credit card issuers offer a points system, whereby for every dollar you charge you receive a point. Some creditors may offer additional points for doing certain things like charging your groceries or paying for your dinner with plastic. Here’s the problem with this approach: They are teaching you to use your credit card in instances you don’t need to. Further, unless you pay off your credit card balance monthly, the amount you pay in interest likely will be greater than the reward points you receive.

3. Paying too much for credit

If you have a good credit score, then there’s no reason why you should have high interest rates. Call your creditors and request lower rates. In many cases, they may be willing to comply out of fear of losing you. In turn, you pay less for credit, which can make it easier to settle your debts.

4. Having a checking account that is only beneficial to the bank

While the days of free checking accounts are becoming outdated, there are institutions that offer competitive terms on these. There’s no reason why you should have to pay your bank a service fee just for them to hold your money. When searching for a bank, look for one that offers exceptional customer service and low fees. This can help you keep more of your money.

5. Going overboard with impulse buys

We all have things we buy that make us happy. Whether it’s a morning latte or a gossip magazine, these are purchases we look forward to making. While it’s good to reward yourself, be careful not to overindulge. For example, if you want to buy lunch out one day, that’s great, but be sure to pack one the rest of the week. It’s important to keep this balance or else you can develop costly behaviors.

6. Spending too much on groceries

The goal of grocery stores is to keep consumers shopping. Therefore, be sure to limit your trips to the store by planning meals. That way, it can help you stock up on the ingredients you need. Additionally, take the time to cut out coupons, and if your item isn’t on sale, buy the store brand.

7. Being lazy

If you don’t develop or evaluate your budget, how can you keep track of your money? This is a simple step to do and only takes a small chunk of your time. However, by ignoring this you are setting yourself up to lose money due to lack of planning.

These are just a sampling of the many ways you can waste money. Therefore, it’s imperative to monitor your finances regularly, as it can help you spot costly behaviors. By understanding how and why you spend your money, it can help you make better decisions, which will help you save more.