Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Saving on Groceries Pt. 7: Coupons and Rebates

I am not an extreme couponer, not even close. Over the past year, I decided to try out some grocery rebate apps on my phone as well as a couple of coupon apps to see how much money I could save. The short answer? Not much. If you don't want to make the effort, then don't even worry about reading this post at all. Whether it's really worth it or not should be negligible if you are already doing everything you can to save with the other 6 posts I wrote.

First, about coupons. I tried to use some paper ones but always forgot them, let them expire, or had a printer than ran out of ink or was not aligned properly. I'd say don't waste your time. I tried a couple of apps that used coupons for this purpose.

Don't recommend: Grocery IQ: saved me about $15, mostly on cereals, name-brand razors...and that's it. It takes a long time to scroll through 600ish coupons every week, so I don't recommend doing that unless you want to do a search for a specific thing that you like to buy name-brand. Then you still have to print it and remember to use it before it expires. It's too much of a pain.

Highly recommend: Smith's (or any other Kroger store): It saved me almost $90 over the year, the app is very easy to use, and there's something completely for free every Friday. Because I am registered with the website, I occasionally get paper coupons for things I've bought before. Sometimes they are for free things that are actually quite valuable (free Silk almondmilk, which usually costs $3, for example.) Most of the coupons are digital, so that means they're already loaded to my card. All I have to do it scan it when I shop, and the coupons are applied automatically. It's so easy.

Now for rebates. They are a little more annoying to use, but that depends greatly on the app.

Don't recommend: Checkout 51 did not have a lot a lot of rebates for things I buy. I never got to cash out because the cash out amount is $20 and I only earned $9 this year.

Highly recommend: iBotta, because it's easy to use and earn money. There are lot of bonuses offered, and I earned several this year without hardly trying. There are always rebates for "any brand" items and produce. Receipts are easy to scan if they have a QR code at the bottom (like Walmart, where I buy most of my food.) Disadvantages include having to scan barcodes on some things and waiting to cash out at $20, but it usually doesn't take too long to earn that much. I earned $65 this year from iBotta, so I think it's worth the time.

Highly recommend: Savings Catcher from Walmart is extremely easy to use. Just scan the QR code on the Walmart receipt after shopping. For that reason alone, I recommend it. It hasn't saved me as much as iBotta (only $32 over 2 years), but it's worth using because of how easy it is.

Possibly recommend: Mobisave, because though there aren't as many rebates available, you get your money automatically every time and don't have to wait to accumulate a certain amount. Every brand rebates aren't worth much, but there are a few good offers every week. I saved about $14 with this app, but again, the money is already in my account without having to wait to earn a certain amount.

Possibly recommend: SavingStar: Cash out at $5, not as many offers, but sometimes there are offers for things I use (like diapers, toilet paper) worth $5 alone.

There are a few apps I tried for a little while but gave up because they were obviously not worth my time: Favado, ReceiptHog, Snap, Shrink, and Shopmium.

My total savings this year were about $200, which is a savings of about 4%. Again, if you don't feel like making the effort, then don't even bother. The main motivating factor for me was setting up a PayPal account for the rebate funds. With those savings, I was able to save up for a nice, new blender. (They helped but didn't provide 100% of the money I used.) Anyway, it's a lot like collecting pennies in a jar: not too fast, but it does add up over time. I plan on using my rebate money for something else big in a few years.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Canning Tips: Water Bath

Now that I know a thing or two about water-bath canning, I thought I'd share what I learned this year from doing it.

Is is worth it?

In short, canning your own food is well worth it if the stuff you're using is on sale or free (like from a garden). Buying regular-priced produce, canning jars and lids, and spending the time doing it will not save you anything. However, canning is essential if you have limited storage space but really cheap produce.

I canned over 40 jars this year of various brands, and not one of them failed me. A few tips to keep in mind before you start:

1. You can use a stock pot to water-bath can. There is nothing special about a "real" canner except that it has a handy rack for lifting the jars out.

2. Extra canning tools aren't essential, but they are recommended. I have a jar lifter, head space gauge/bubble remover, and lid wand. All of these tools are pretty cheap at Walmart.

3. Don't use any jars that aren't canning jars. Used canning jars are okay as long as they don't have cracks or chips.

4. Sugar and salt are not necessary to preserve the food, but they can help with color preservation.

5. Don't reuse the seals unless you have reusable ones. They exist, but I haven't tried them. They cost more up front that the single-use kind.

6. Don't forget to adjust for high altitude! I have to add 10 minutes on processing times because I live at 5,000-ish feet. It never hurts to process something a little longer if you're not sure.

How I usually do things: prepare the recipe of whatever I'm making, heat the jars in my canner, heat the lids over low, set up a clean towel with all my canning tools, fill the hot jars with hot food and wipe the rims, put the lids on, put back in the canner, and process. When they're done, I put them on the counter on a clean cloth. You can heat the jars in the dishwasher, but I figure it saves time in getting my canner up to boiling, so I just do it in there. That, and my dishwasher is always full of dirty dishes...

Find my canning recipes here!




Monday, September 30, 2013

Wheat Sprout Recipes

Whoa, recipes with sprouts? I know it's a little strange, but to live on food storage without fresh veggies means that sprouts become pretty important. I tried out these two recipes with great success. I will admit that they're a little weird and not what I eat every day, but they were both good and exceeded my expectations.

I found these recipes in some food storage cookbooks.

Sprouted Wheat Patties

Grind in your food processor or blender:

2 c. wheat sprouts

Add remaining ingredients and mix well:

2 T. minced onion
2 T. minced mushrooms (optional)
2 T. minced green pepper (optional)
1 egg, slightly beaten
salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Heat a pan on medium heat with 1 T. butter or oil. Form mixture into 4 thin patties. Cook each patty for 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Season to taste if needed.

*These tasted a lot different than I expected! They had a similar texture to ground meat and almost the flavor, but mixed with the nutty flavor that wheat has. They're really hard to describe, but they are really good! I think they make an acceptable "veggie burger". They hold together well and aren't crumbly at all, even though my sprouts weren't ground up very finely. I want to play around with the spices more, but you could season them with almost anything.

Essene Bread

being "cooked" in the dehydrator


2 c. wheat berries
1/2 t. salt

Sprout the wheat berries until the sprouts are as long as the kernels. (You will end up with more than 2 c.) Grind the sprouts and mix in the salt. Form the mixture into a thin disk. Dehydrate until crisp around the edges and flexible. (You can use an oven, but it's a little harder. Use a preheated baking stone and cook on the lowest temperature that your oven will go.)

*This tastes NOTHING like the bread I've been eating my whole life. It's crisp, almost like a cracker, and very flavorful considering that it's only two ingredients.

Customize this recipe by adding any of these things: 1-2 c. finely chopped veggies; 1-2 T. poppy, dill, or sesame seed; 1/2 c. dried fruit

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Comparison of Wheat Cereals

It's amazing how much difference texture can make when thinking about breakfast cereal. We plan on eating some form of hot wheat cereal once a week in the event of a zombie apocalypse, so we tried all three versions to see what tastes best. It turns out that they're all easy to make but pretty different in taste.



Cereal
How to Make
How to Cook
Texture
wheat berries
whole berry
slow cooker for 3 hours on high, make sure berries are covered with water
chewy
cracked wheat
food processor or hand grinder
4 c. water, pinch salt, 1 c. cracked wheat on stove for 15 minutes
creamy and a little chewy
cream of wheat
grinder on coarse setting
4 c. water, pinch salt, 3/4 c. cream of wheat on stove for 2-3 minutes. Use a whisk to avoid lumps.
creamy
so yeah, not my thing! (also not my pic)

Serving suggestions for all three:

salt (a must)
butter
honey
brown sugar
dried fruit
milk or cream

Our favorites:
I personally like cracked wheat the best! Cream of wheat is too runny and weird for me, and the berries are a little annoying to chew.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sprouting

colander method. Needs a little more vigilance since they dry
out faster, but you can sprout a larger amount of things.

If you're looking for a tutorial on mung beans, click here. Mung beans are a little different from other types of sprouts because they need darkness, a longer sprouting time, and pressure to grow long, thick sprouts. Other types of beans, grains, and seeds aren't like this at all, but they're just as easy. Keep reading!

The basic sprouting instructions are similar for all sproutable things, but here's a review.

1. Soak the beans/grains/whatever for the appropriate amount of time. Smaller seeds/beans, etc. = less soak time. Bigger seeds/beans, etc. = longer soak time.

Mason jar with Parm. lid (great for drainage)
2. Place them in a sprouter and rinse them off. I've used a couple of things that all work: Mason jar with mesh/other breathable lid, colander lined with paper towels, two sour cream containers of different sizes with holes poked in them (only really necessary for mung beans, since they need dark.)

3. Rinse the sprouts 2-4 times a day to keep them moist. They shouldn't be really wet, or they can get moldy. When using a Mason jar, I keep it tipped over so the excess water can drain out.

4. Keep the sprouts in a cool place with good air flow. I keep mine on the counter. Sunlight doesn't matter at this point since they don't have leaves, so don't worry about how much light they get.

5. Once you see sprouts, start tasting to see how you like them (unless they're beans that need cooking). Grow them longer if you want. When the sprouts are done, store them in the fridge for up to two weeks. Let them dry a little on paper towels before putting them away. They will last longer that way!
sprouted beans: what "tiny sprouts" look like.
used sour cream containers with punched holes.

sprouted wheat in Mason jar. sprouts as
long as the wheat berries.

I tried sprouting everything found in my food storage just to see what would happen. I was pleased with the results, so here's a handy little table of my findings.



To Sprout
Soak Time
Sprout Time
Done When...
Taste Notes/ Favorite Uses
black beans
12 hours (overnight)
2 days (3 days maximum)
tiny sprout
Cook before using! No change in flavor, can use like normal black beans. Try in: Black Bean ChiliSweet Potato & Black Bean BurritosPupusasBlack Bean SoupChicken Taco SoupBlack Bean FajitasVeggie Burgers
pinto beans
12 hours (overnight)
2 days (3 days maximum)
tiny sprout
Cook before using! No change in flavor,can use like normal pinto beans. Try in: Refried Beans
white beans
12 hours (overnight)
2 days (3 days maximum)
tiny sprout
Cook before using! No change in flavor, can be used like normal white beans.Try in: Boston Baked Beans, Bean & Spinach Dip, White Bean Chicken Salad
chickpeas
12 hours (overnight)
12 hours
tiny sprout
lentils
8 hours
12 hours
tiny sprout
Eat raw or cooked. Try in: Lentils, Rice, and OnionsLentil Tacos
mung beans
(tutorial here)
1 day
2-5 days
long, thick sprout and starting to get a few leaves
rice
8 hours
2-3 days
tiny sprout
Cook and use as normal. Takes less time to cook, about the same as white rice. Texture and taste both improve, as the rice gets a little sweeter and softer. We are big fans.
sunflower seeds
2 hours
2-3 days
sprout as long as the seed
Great in salads (raw).
wheat
8 hours
2-3 days
sprout as long as the grain
Eat raw or cooked. Try in: salads, patties, Essene bread, Blender Wheat Pancakes

A few more notes:

1. Some sprouts (most beans, not including mung) MUST be cooked before using, or they are poisonous to some degree. These are noted in the chart.

2. The length of the sprout is up to you, but I think shorter sprouts generally taste better. The longer they get, the more "earthy" flavor the sprout has and tastes less like the original grain/seed.

3. I prefer almost all sprouts cooked. That isn't a problem, because they are really versatile and still have the awesome nutritional profile. (Cooking does destroy some nutrients, but cooked, sprouted grains/seeds/beans are still infinitely healthier than unsprouted!)

4. There are a whole bunch of things that can be sprouted: alfalfa, clover, radish, broccoli...almost any seed. Don't use seed packets intended for planting, because most of those have pesticides in them. I don't sprout any of these things because of the cost to get the seeds. (There's no health food store around here.) For sprouting just about anything else, see http://sproutpeople.org/. They're pros on sprouting and can sell you good-quality (though expensive) seeds to grow just about anything.



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cooking With Wheat (In Non-Floury Ways)

Until recently, I'd never really thought of using wheat for anything but flour. I'm comfortable with using whole-wheat flour but had never tried using the grain in its whole, unground state. After doing a little research and poring through a few food storage cookbooks, I decided to try wheat in ways I never have, just for the heck of it and to see how I'd like the variety.

Cooking wheat berries on the stove takes a long time. Mine took about an hour before they finally got to the "splitting open" stage, which is how you know they're done. I consider an hour too long to baby-sit something on the stove, so I tried my slow cooker. 3 hours on high did the trick and yielded perfectly chewy, but done, berries. So, how the heck do you eat these things? They're chewier than brown rice and nuttier in flavor, so not all the suggested uses were equally liked in our family.

1. As a substitute for rice (side dish), we decided NO. The berries are simply too chewy to pass off as rice, even brown rice.

2. As fried "rice", YES. The berries soak up the soy sauce and taste delicious. I cooked them just as I would regular fried rice.

3. As a breakfast cereal, YES. They are really tasty with butter, salt, and honey. The chewiness takes a little getting used to, but it's not unpleasant.

4. As popped wheat, NO. James said they tasted too much like Grape Nuts. I much prefer popcorn, since the wheat doesn't get fluffy. It's crunchy like a soy- or cornut, but the flavor is different. I tried cinnamon-sugar, but I think savory would be better, like seasoned salt. I didn't hate popped wheat, but since James didn't like it, we will stick to popcorn.

5. In salads, NO. I prefer my salads to be all veggies and have never really liked cold grain salads, or even pasta salad, very much.

6. As a meat substitute, NO. I never find any meat substitute to be convincing, and James hated the idea, so we didn't try it. I'd be much more likely to use beans or skip the meat instead of trying to fake it.

7. As bulgur, NO. The process for making bulgur removes part of the grain, and I wanted to use the whole thing since it's more nutritious.

8. In soup, MAYBE. The berries don't get soggy, but I don't often make soup that doesn't already have dumplings or noodles. The wheat berries would be good as a substitute for pearled barley, but they would definitely be chewier since they have hulls and pearled barley doesn't. A big advantage is that they wouldn't get soggy.

It was pretty interesting to try all these different uses of wheat.  Did I miss anything?


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Church's Guidelines for Food Storage

Every time I go to a food storage class, I get overwhelmed. There is SO much that a person can do to be prepared for a number of scary situations: loss of job, natural disaster, zombie apocalypse, you name it. There are many good members of the Church with lots of food storage lining their shelves and under their beds. I am not one of those people yet. However, I want to invite you, if you're ready, for the challenge of undertaking the long term food supply.

To summarize what lds.org says we need in our food storage (http://www.lds.org/topics/food-storage):

*Three-month supply. (Check!) If you've been following this blog, you could easily have one by now. If you don't, then don't go anywhere yet. The three-month supply is probably the cheapest and easiest to establish, no matter how little space or money you have. That's why I tackled it first.

*Drinking water. I won't be writing about this one since it's pretty self-explanatory. Here's the full page about drinking water: http://www.lds.org/topics/food-storage/drinking-water-guidelines?lang=eng.

*Financial reserve. Again, self-explanatory. Read here for the full page about finances: http://www.lds.org/topics/finances?lang=eng.

*Longer-term food supply. "For longer-term needs, and where permitted, gradually build a supply of food that will last a long time and that you can use to stay alive, such as wheat, white rice, and beans.
These items can last 30 years or more when properly packaged and stored in a cool, dry place. A portion of these items may be rotated in your three-month supply." http://www.lds.org/topics/food-storage/longer-term-food-supply?lang=eng#1. "You may also want to add other items to your longer-term storage such as sugar, nonfat dry milk, salt, baking soda, and cooking oil. To meet nutritional needs, also store foods containing vitamin C and other essential nutrients."

Isn't that short, sweet, and to the point? There are a multitude of things NOT mentioned. It doesn't mean that they aren't great to have, but the Church does NOT require it of us. Here's why:

“We encourage members worldwide to prepare for adversity in life by having a basic supply of food and water and some money in savings.

“We ask that you be wise as you store food and water and build your savings. Do not go to extremes; it is not prudent, for example, to go into debt to establish your food storage all at once. With careful planning, you can, over time, establish a home storage supply and a financial reserve.” (emphasis added)

I'm not saying that "those people" are extreme. They're smart. They have a lot of money and storage space. Not everybody has that, and I understand.

It's going to take lots of planning, time, and money to get a long-term supply.That's okay. I hope that anyone who reads my next posts will be able to take courage that this is a possible feat even if it takes a long time to accomplish. You know if you're in the right situation to start. We just got here, but we have a baby to pay for first. That doesn't mean I can't plan and be ready, so come along for another journey in organization, hard work, and faith. We can do it!