Grocery Shopping

I’ve written before about saving money at the grocery store by playing The Grocery Game as well as about ways to save with or without coupons.  I thought I’d share a few more tips I’ve picked up since then. I must be getting pretty good because I’ve averaged 48% savings over my past four shopping trips (one per week).  To quote one of my favorite original-Arkansan sayings, “I’m not braggin’.  I’m just tellin’ ’cause I’m proud.”

A $4 loaf of bakery bread for 75 cents

Oops, We Baked Too Much – This rack can be found in or near the bakery in most grocery stores.  In Kroger, it really is called the “Oops We Baked Too Much” rack.  It is filled with bakery items that are about to go past their sell-by date.  In most cases the markdowns are 50% or more.  I stop here first and ferret out the good bread, cookies, etc.  I freeze the bread until I need it.  My picky husband did not notice that he was eating previously frozen bread until I asked him to get a loaf out of the freezer one day. Generally the bread lasts 5 days after I buy it off of this rack.

Manager’s Specials on Meat – I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but I just recently realized that the marked down meat is all moved to one area of the refrigerator case.  Makes it much easier to browse.

Clear-Out Corner – I’ve also found that most stores have a clearance corner where they throw random items in a last-ditch effort to get rid of them.  High discounts can be found, but you have to dig through a jumble of dry goods, personal care, and non-food-and-drug items.

A little helper searches the lower shelves for sales

Look High and Low – In every aisle, higher priced items are placed at eye level.  You’ll often find less expensive brands, off brands, and sale items placed on the lowest and highest shelves.

Ten cents off Gas at Shell – This tip is specific to Kroger card holders in Arkansas.  You can now use your Kroger card to save 10 cents per gallon at all Shell gas stations in the state.  You do have to have at least 100 points ($1 spent in groceries = 1 point) accumulated on your Kroger card to use this card benefit.

Store-Specific Digital Coupons – Many grocery chains are now featuring their own digital coupons on their websites. You register your store shopping card, click the coupons you want, and they are automatically loaded to your card.  When you swipe your card at the register, they are automatically deducted from your total.  Visit your store’s website to see if they have digital coupons, and go here for  Kroger e-coupons.  If you are a Target shopper and have a smart phone, you can sign up to have coupons sent directly to your phone.  At the register, you bring up an image of the coupon, and the cashier scans it. – Groupon is not really grocery specific, but I think it deserves mention here as a great way to save money (as long as you only buy Groupons for things you normally use).  Sign up for a Groupon account, and they will email you a city-specific deal every day. You decide whether you want to buy it or not.  Savings are usually 50 to 65 percent and cover a wide range of goods and services: everything from car washes to trendy clothing boutiques have been featured here in Little Rock.

And finally, a little tip for my WLR tribe members.  It’s about saving time, not money.  But then, time is money…

Our new Marketplace Kroger (read: sort-of-Super-Kroger) is beautiful, but slightly overwhelming.  On my way out of there today, I noticed that they have store maps with a product index available.  They’re on the same stand as the weekly ad.  Grab one to take around with you, at least until we all learn the place.  You might think you’ll look a little silly carrying a map, but you also look a little silly doing three laps through the store, spending two hours finding everything you need. (I know this from experience.  I saw the sushi guys pointing and laughing at me today.)

Cutting yourself on the lid is no longer the scariest thing about canned goods.

Yesterday, my friend Nicole sent me an email asking if I knew that most aluminum cans used to store food have linings that contain BPA, a chemical that’s been linked with cancer and other health problems.  I responded that I did know, and then started to feel guilty that I knew and didn’t tell her. On the one hand, the studies on BPA are somewhat controversial – some say BPA isn’t harmful at all – but still, I’m the mom who immediately bought BPA-free bottles and shelled out the big bucks for metal sippy cups when the BPA frenzy first broke.  So, EVERYONE, please know that the majority of the aluminum cans in your pantry contain BPA that could be leaching into your food.  Do what you will with the information, but if you decide to throw out all your canned goods, please donate it to a food bank,  (Is possibly BPA tainted food better than no food?  I think yes.) or at least recycle the cans.  If you want more information on BPA in aluminum cans, you can start here.

As if that weren’t enough, today I found out that an environmental group in California has found that several brands of juice and packaged fruit contain illegal amounts of lead.  These brands range from small local juice companies to national giants and include both organic and non-organic products.  All the products tested are marketed towards children. You can see the list of products tested here and get more information on the now formal case here.

So, another couple reasons to support local foods.  And avoid buying canned goods, or anything in a plastic bottle.  And start searching yard sales for a juicer. And figure out a way to grow your own apples.  And make one of your kids major in chemistry so you can understand all this stuff.

Nicole put it best in her email response to me: “Ugh!  Is there anything I can buy that won’t harm my child??”

The One Small Change initiative officially wrapped-up on Earth Day.  However, since the project has gotten such a great response, with several of us planning to continue making changes through the year, Hip Mountain Mama has decided to keep the blog going, complete with prizes and guest posts.  So, this is my review of the first four changes we made this year:

Our first radish harvest

Local Food – this one got off to a slow start, but now that the farmer’s markets are opening, and the Argenta Market is in business, it’s much easier to find local food resources.  Our little garden in the back yard has started providing a little bit of produce as well: radishes.  It doesn’t get much more local than that!  We’re also getting ready to pick up our second Basket of the Month.  We skipped the April basket because we were out-of-town.  That’s one of the benefits of the BAM – you don’t have to get a basket every month.

Cloth Diapers – still doing well with this, although all the extra use means that I need to “strip” the diapers, which I have not done in a long time and need to look up instructions for.  I am hoping to get Callen potty trained this summer, so I might have a good deal on some cloth diapers come fall!

Garden – our Garden is growing right along.  I’ve made several rookie blunders: I don’t think I planted the radishes deep enough, and trying to grow the tomato and pepper plants from seed was a mistake. This weekend’s plans include a trip to the garden store to purchase a few established tomato and pepper plants. Our rain barrel works wonderfully, gathering rainwater from one of the downspouts so that we conserve water and save money.

Composting – I am still learning about composting, so I’m not really sure that I am doing it right, although the basic process seems fairly easy.  It certainly has reduced the amount of food waste that is going into our trash can, which makes me happy.  The composter is getting pretty full, though, so soon it will be time to take some of the good dirt out and spread it around.  Last month we also took part in a recycled landscaping project:  our neighbors thinned out several of their bushes and were nice enough to let us have them to plant in our back yard.  Right now the leaves are all brown and dead, so that’s another research project: should I cut them back, or leave them alone until fall?  Either way, I’ll be pampering them with some compost.

I am planning to continue the One Small Change project through the year.  It’s a great way to keep me focused on making earth-friendly changes in our household, and one change per month isn’t overwhelming.  Stay tuned for our May change!

In January, I posted about the One Small Change project.  This is my February report.

In January, I pledged to start feeding my family more local food.  Turns out that January is not the most ideal time of year to  make such a change.  No farmers markets open, not much being grown locally, and my family was out of town nearly half the month.  I did sign up for the Basket a Month (BAM) program through the Central Arkansas Farmers Market, but due to weather and lack of production, the January basket was cancelled.  So, in the end, while I do have some local food scheduled to come my way via the BAM, my family and I have not increased our local food intake.  hum.  My short-term solution is that I’m planning to put together an order from either the CAFM online market or Petit Jean Farm.  I’m not sure which because I have a head cold that is making it hard for me to think about food.  I also have a plan to meet with fellow Arkansas blogger, The Park Wife, who runs a Farmers Market.  I’m hoping she can help me out with resources and tips.

For FEBRUARY, my One Small Change is that I plan on getting back into using my cloth diapers more on Callen.  Somehow, with all the travel, the cold temps that discourage me from getting them out on the clothes line, and just the general fast-fastness of life, I have not been using my cloth diapers as I should.  So, for February, less disposable and more cloth!  Hopefully this is one change that will become defunct by the end of this year because we won’t need ANY diapers.  A mommy can dream, anyway.

Nicole!  Are you out there cleaning something with homemade cleaner?  Post and let us know how your January One Small Change turned out.

I just learned about a great blogger movement called One Small Change.  The basic concept is that between now and Earth Day (April 22, 2010), each participating household makes one change to be more earth friendly and blogs about each month’s change, so that by the time Earth Day rolls around everyone has made four changes and shared those changes with others.  I love this idea because it gives me a way to FOCUS (That’s my word for the year.  More on that later.) on greening our household, and also prompts me to do more blogging about environmental topics, which I’ve been wanting to do.

I’ve actually already told you about the first change for our household in my post about resolutions.  The first change will be to eat more local foods.

I would love it if you would join me in this adventure.  Check out the One Small Change webpage, and post about your change on your blog.  If you don’t have a blog, you can leave a comment on this post saying what your January change is.  Then, when I post in February, you can comment with your February change, and so on.

I’m headed over to the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market website to see about placing an order through their online market!

The first day of the new year is coming to a close.  We’ve already said goodbye to 2009.  I hope that you are as excited as I am about the promise of this new year. As that Semisonic song goes, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Normally I am not one to put big stock in New Year’s Resolutions.  However, this year I have some very real goals that I plan to make good on.  I think having this blog to write these goals in actually helped me to think harder about what my goals should be.  Plus, I recently learned that you are 10% more likely to reach a goal if you share that goal with someone else.  So, now you can all hold me accountable.

Buy More Local Food – This year I will make it a priority to utilize local resources for my family’s nutrients.  In addition to providing fresher food with fewer preservatives and other ingredients that I can’t pronounce, locally grown food is better for the environment because fewer resources are used for transportation and processing.  After watching Food, Inc. and listening to Joel Salatin talk, I also feel it is my duty as a consumer to put my “vote” behind real food instead of mass-produced, chemical laden junk.

In addition to the local Farmer’s Markets, Central Arkansas has a great resource for accessing the local food market:  This website offers two wonderful programs.  First, the basket a month program is a subscription program that provides members with a basket full of locally grown food such as produce, meat, eggs, cheese, milk, and rice. The cost is $180 per three months.  The second program is the Online Market, where you can choose which products you would like to receive and order them online each week.  Two amazing services, really.  Before we moved here, I had never heard of such a thing.

Basket a Month Baskets

Spend More One-on-One Time with My Kids – This is the “gimmie” of the bunch.  Carina will be starting official preschool this week. Her hours will be different than Callen’s Parent’s Day Out, so it will give me an opportunity to spend time with each of them separately each week.  The important part will be making sure I fill this one-on-one time with activities that are important to each child. For Carina: arts and crafts, cooking and baking, and playing with puzzles and blocks (Callen eats her crayons and markers, is very dangerous in the kitchen, and is all about scattering puzzle pieces and toppling block towers). For Callen, basically, anything where he doesn’t have to share or take turns, since that is so hard for a person his age to have to do all the time.

Submit My Writing Once a Month – For over 6 months now, I’ve been saying that I’m working on “getting my freelancing career started.”  The problem is I’ve spent a huge amount of time researching freelance writing and very little time actually writing.  I’m sort of famous for that.  So, this year, I will submit my writing for publication or competition at least once per month.  My research tells me that actual publication will be few and far between, but it will be a huge learning process and a step in the right direction.

Back in the Day

Compete in a Triathlon – You can’t have a New Year’s Resolution list without a nod to fitness, right?  Callen is coming up on two years old, and while I feel pretty happy with the way my body has recovered from childbearing, I still have about 5 pounds of flab flabbing around my mid section.  For those of you who didn’t know me pre-kids, I used to compete in sprint distance triathlons. This is a hobby I miss greatly.  So, two negatives are coming together to make a positive goal here.  Fitting in the necessary training will be a challenge, but I know I can do it.  Anyone want to join me?

Happy New Year to all of you!  Do you have any resolutions?

At least, not all the time.  Like all habit-altering, budget-affecting decisions, delving into buying organic produce for your family can be overwhelming.  I thought these two lists might help.  You’ll have the greatest impact, ecologically and healthfully, if you try to buy produce from the first list organically.  The second list is a few items for you to cross off of your worry list.

Produce with the most pesticide residues*:

Organic peaches sometimes get holes in them...from your kids nibbling on them when you're not looking.

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Imported Grapes
  • Red Raspberries

Items with the least pesticide residues:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Corn
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet Peas
  • Watermellon

*Based on data from studies by the USDA, Consumer Reports, and the Environmental Working Group

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to see Joel Salatin speak about sustainable farming.  Mr. Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farms, “a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm.”  If you saw the film Food, Inc, you would also remember Joel as the fast-talking farmer with suspenders and straw hat.  Essentially, Joel Salatin is one of the leaders in the movement to return our food system to one that is healthier for both humans and the environment.  His new book, Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front, gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the battles with the “food police” that Polyface Farms has gone through in an effort to bring fresh, wholesome food to their customers.

Salatin’s lecture carried some of the same themes as what you’ll hear him talk about in Food, Inc., but he went into much more detail about our country’s food regulation systems.  I was really shocked to learn about what is considered to be illegal by the “food police”, as Salatin calls them (AKA the USDA).  A sampling of what you can’t do as a commercial food producer:

  • You cannot sell Raw Milk.  Raw Milk is unprocessed milk. It is taken directly from the cow, cooled, and bottled. Read: You have to process milk before you sell it, and processing costs LOTS of $$.
  • You cannot sell meat that has not passed through a processing plant (again, LOTS of $$).  Processing plants cannot be located in an agricultural district.  Meaning, raw meat must be taken from the farm, driven many miles to a huge processing plant, processed, and then driven back to said farm.  So, we’re wasting fossil fuels via transport, not to mention the contamination issues that come from processing plants.
  • Open air processing is illegal for chicken.  However, the chicken processed in open air at Polyface farms tests out to having 25 times less bacterial contamination that the chicken you find in the grocery store.
  • You can’t have a sawmill on a farm (you know, close to where the trees are).  Polyface, and other farms like it, use sawdust as a natural bedding for animals and mulch for plants, but it has to be trucked in.  In addition, having a sawmill would give the farm another sustainable source of income via wood products.
  • Insurance guidelines also make it illegal for Salatin and Polyface farms to sell another farm’s produce in their farm store, allow their high-school aged employees to use a cordless drill, use the farm office to write books, charge a fee for giving a farm tour, or allow anyone to camp on the farm’s property. (Some volunteers had proposed this so that they could be on the farm to learn about sustainable farming practices).

Salatin had lots of stories to tell about all of his illegal activity which really brought to light one simple fact: the “food police” has no concern for quality of food. It’s about “controlling the market access to food,” or in other words, making sure the industrial food companies don’t lose any of their business to the small, locally based farmer.  Salatin made an interesting point:  90% of the work that Heifer International does in other countries is illegal here in the United States (Heifer is a Little Rock based non-profit that works in poverty-stricken/rural countries to create locally based food-production systems).

Salatin also talked about the chemical-based foods that our country has become addicted to, and how it affects our health.  He pointed out that our culture thinks it is normal to eat things that you can’t make or grow, things that contain ingredients you can’t pronounce, ingredients that were created in a test tube in a lab.  “Normal,” he says, “Is the fact that we each have over 3 million bacteria living inside of us.  That bacteria doesn’t think that these engineered foods are normal.  If we want to be healthy, we need to feed our bacteria what they’re used to eating – REAL FOOD!”  In the time of H1N1, it’s interesting to consider this: would it cost our country more to create vaccinations to protect us all from the germs, or to create a food system that provides everyone with nutritious food that builds our immune systems up so that our bodies are better equipped to fight germs on their own?

The thing that strikes me the most about Joel Salatin is his ability to completely overturn the farmer stereotype. He describes himself as a “Christian, Libertarian, Environmental, Capitalist, Lunatic, Farmer”  Salatin is incredibly well spoken, using words like “pathogenicity”, and you have to really have your listening ears on to soak it all in.  He has written and published six books.  I wasn’t surprised when I found that he has a bachelors degree in English.  He’s setting the example for a new generation of farmer, turning us all back on to the “old” way of thinking about our food, so that we can know what we are eating is made of and where it came from.

Salatin’s final message at the lecture was this:  “Opt out and do it.  We vote three times a day on the legacy that we will leave our grandchildren, one bite at a time.”

If you want to vote for local, unprocessed food and healthy farmland for our grandchildren, here’s a website to get you started: – Enter your zip code to find local food markets, including farmers markets and farms that sell direct.


Look for this logo on the foods you buy!

A few months after I starting playing the Grocery Game, I started collecting Boxtops.  I was amazed at how  many I had after just a few weeks.  Boxtops are little coupons that you find on many grocery items, such as Betty Crocker products, Juicy Juice*, Chex Mix, Kleenex, and tons of other products.  Each coupon is worth 10 cents to your local school.  You simply save them and then turn them in to the school of your choice.  It takes me about three seconds to rip the coupon off of the product and toss it into a big plastic cup in the cabinet. Even though my kids aren’t old enough to attend yet, I drop my collection off at the local elementary school every few months.  Last year, we helped our school raise over $1,000 through the Boxtops for Education program.

There is a Boxtops for Education website where you can track your school’s progress, download coupons for Boxtops products, and download worksheets that you can use with your kids as you collect Boxtops.  Carina and I are working on filling up the “abc worksheet” right now – this is the first time we are trying out a worksheet.  She doesn’t understand the concept of the box tops, but she does like to collect things, color, and glue.

So if you’re in the mood for an easy, feel-good type of project, keep your eye out for the Boxtops logo, and start doing a little good for your local school.

*I am a member of The Juicy Bunch, a focus group for Juicy Juice, and I have to tell you so every time I mention Juicy Juice.

If you like to eat out, shop, or travel (who doesn’t like at least ONE of those things?)  then it’s time to get your copy of 2010 entertainment bookthe 2010 Entertainment Book.  The Entertainment Book contains over 400 coupons, many of which are BOGO for restaurant entrees, specifically for your local city or region.  I picked up my 2010 Entertainment Book last week, and was happy to find that there are 13 coupons for $5 off at Kroger again this year. Those coupons alone more than pay for the book.  In addition, we often turn to our Entertainment Book for discounts on last-minute hotel bookings, venue tickets for places such as museums and plays, car rentals, and the occasional online shopping venture.  All in all, my local book (Little Rock) offers over $12,000 in coupon savings, separated into the categories of Fine Dining, Casual and Family Dining, Fast Food and Carryout, Entertainment and Sports, Travel and Hotels, and Retail and Services. The book has two indexes, one sorted by location and another sorted alphabetically, that make using the book really easy.

On the downside, the cost of the book went up from $20 last year to $35 this year.  However, if you use at least 5 of the BOGO coupons, you should earn your cost back.  If you can find someone selling the book as a fundraiser, you can get it for $30.  I picked mine up at Barnes and Noble.  You can also order the book online at When you order online you get a $25 restaurant gift certificate with your purchase. However, I will say that I experienced some really terrible customer service from this company when trying to order my book last year, so it was worth it to me to buy from somewhere else.

What?  You don’t want to pay for your Entertainment Book?  Well, then, I have a contest for you.  Coupon Cravings is giving away an Entertainment Book here.  Good Luck!

Once you buy your book and register your membership on the website, you can also print more coupons online.  This includes coupons for other cities, which is great for when you travel.

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