Monday, September 27, 2010

Room by Room: Kitchen (Grocery Shopping)

Key idea: Food shop (strategically!) once a week to save time and money.

I'm sure it's no surprise to you that grocery store owners and food distributors would like to help you part with your money. Here are a few notes and tips on how to get some bang for your buck next time you go food shopping.

Did you know that stores make money when:
  1. Necessities like milk and bread are placed at the far back corner of the store so that you have to walk past displays and quite a bit of other merchandise first?
  2. House brands are labeled in less attractive colors and are usually not at eye-level like name brand products? (You have to crouch down to get the insanely cheap three-pound package of frozen mixed vegetables at my store, whereas the $2.99 steam bags are in easy reach).
  3. They run promotions like 5/$10? Why don't they just say the item is on sale for $2? You'd be amazed how often I catch myself thinking I have to buy five. 
  4. Smaller quantity packages are sold at the same price as the larger packages that used to be available? Remember when your ice cream came in a half gallon carton? Mysteriously, it now holds 1.5 quarts.
Suggestions on how to combat these plans:
  1. Eat before you go and refuse free samples. Just a smell or taste of a sample gets you in the mood for a meal and will tempt you to buy more. Plus, those Oreos won't look as good if you are satisfied.
  2. Build your list throughout the week as you notice things that need replenishing. Also review the sale circular, inventory your pantry and plan your menu. Then, if needed, recopy your list in the order you travel through the store. This will keep you on track and greatly reduce impulse purchases. See the nifty checklist at left.
  3. Limit the amount of time you have at the store so that you don't find yourself browsing. Get in and get out.
  4. Did you note that I mentioned you should plan your menu? This takes discipline but I can usually plan a week's worth of menus in 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Pulling the recipes and identifying needed ingredients will save you frustration later in the week and eliminates last minute trips (a.k.a. additional opportunity for impulse purchases).
  5. Ignore the items placed on endcaps, strategically positioned in the aisles and in the checkout lane. They aren't hiding the bargains there.
  6. Know the store(s) you shop at and what their regular and sale prices are for the items you use. Some products will be on sale at a better price if you can wait another week or two. For instance, our favorite chips can be advertised for 2 for $6, 2 for $4 or buy one get one free (the best deal).
  7. Take some time to calculate the unit cost of items, even if it means using the calculator on your phone. The 24-pack isn't always a better deal than the 12-pack. Also be sure to compare the volume or weight of competing brands. For instance, two cereal boxes that are the same height may not be as wide or thick, so one may hold less.
  8. Stock up on pantry items if you have room. Stores often have good deals around the holidays on flour, cream cheese, crackers, etc. for holiday entertaining. There are also a lot of coupons issued in November and December. A warning from my mom: the price of butter is always higher in time for holiday cookie baking, so buy yours in October and keep it tucked in the back of the fridge for a few weeks.
  9. Leave the kids at home if you can. They will only find more to add to the cart.
  10. Take your reusable shopping bags in with you. Most stores give you a few cents off for each bag you use.
Readers, do you have any other tips to share?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Room by Room: Kitchen (Gadgets)

I'm going to dedicate the next number of posts to ideas for each room of the house. We'll start with one of my favorite places...the kitchen.

Utensil Drawer Before
I mentioned last time that I was going to sort through my kitchen utensils and gadgets. It feels so good to have this finished! I have a whole drawer dedicated to my gadgets as well as part of a silverware drawer and a utensil crock on the counter. Honestly, I had a problem pulling the drawer all the way out to empty it. There was too much stuff jammed at the back. I finally got it out and carried the drawer to the dishwasher so that I could run everything through a fast wash (see below). As I loaded, I counted. Though I thought I'd have more, there were around 75 gadgets, spoons, and serving pieces. And yes, I'm a Pampered Chef-a-holic!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Green and Clean Products

Have you ever heard of essential oils? These are often used in aromatherapy because they capture the essence (scent) of different plants. Some oils like thyme, lemongrass and cinnamon have recently received buzz for their antibacterial qualities.

A few months back, I was treated to a sample of a non-alcohol antibacterial hand wipe, and the active ingredient was thyme oil. It was nice, but I didn't think I needed to buy something special since I usually just wash my hands unless there isn't water readily available (camping, etc.).

Still, I was excited to learn that there was a plant-based and natural way to disinfect starting to hit shelves. I've never felt like I had a good system for cleaning my kitchen sink. After putting things down the garbage disposal (including raw meat trimmings) and hand washings, it just never seems very clean. Since I know that everything I use to clean sinks and bathrooms with with ends up going down the drain and into the water supply, I was hesitant to try bleach or other commercial sprays.

Imagine my delight when I was shopping at Target today and found a thyme oil based antibacterial cleaner from Method! I even had a coupon! So far, I am sold on it. I even used it on some of my son's toys. A few things to note:
  1. There is a distinct herbal smell to the product, but after a few minutes I was used to it. It even made me hungry!
  2. Carefully read the directions so that you let the area/object air dry after spraying; there is no need to wipe. If you spray and wipe immediately, it will not have time to kill the germs.
  3. Cold season is coming soon, so this will be a blessing. It kills 99.9% of common household germs including flu, rhinovirus, e. coli and staph on hard, non-porous surfaces. And the smell might even open up a stuffy nose!

Friday, September 10, 2010

One Organized Celebrity

Check out this article from the October issue of Good Housekeeping. It's an interview with and sneak peek into the home of Jamie Lee Curtis about her organizational systems. Not everything she does would work for me, but I love the principle behind what she does--making sure that she has time to do important things (volunteer at her son's school, read, develop relationships) rather than being bogged down with errands.

Monday, September 6, 2010

In Easy Reach

Key idea: Keep things as close as possible to the place where they are used.

Several years ago, our family had the 'opportunity' to clean out a farmhouse owned by then-deceased relatives. The home had been lived in by generations of the same family for at least 100 continuous years. Imagine the things that we found!

Many of the items that we found were amusing, not the least of which was an attractive serving platter buried in a drawer of undergarments. Yes, china in a drawer of underwear. Why those elder relatives determined a second-floor bedroom was the right place for dinnerware is beyond me, but I am willing to bet that you probably have something similar happening in your home. Some less extreme examples:
  • My husband and I have an office in a spare bedroom, and we each have our own desk. Yet on any given day you'll find both our laptops on the dining room table.
  • I know a lot of people who keep spare toilet paper in a hall linen closet. Not exactly convenient if you run out.
  • A relative (who shall remain nameless) stores dish cloths and towels on the far side of the dining room.
Am I being picky? Possibly, but hear me out.

I'm sure that in your ideal world there is "a place for everything and everything in its place." But I want to know: have you identified the best place? In other words, I'm asking to step back and be thoughtful about where things are located in your home or office.

A couple questions to get you thinking:
  • How do you use your kitchen? Do you have the utensils you need in proximity to the stove and table, but also handy when unloading the dishwasher? Or are they just at the same place you put them when you first moved in?
  • Do you find yourself going up and down steps, or crossing from room to room when cleaning or completing routine tasks? If so, maybe you need to reorganize for efficiency.
  • Would it make sense to have multiple sets of cleaning supplies, so that you don't have to cart the Windex from room to room?
  • Are you frequently pushing things out of the way when you are trying to get to items in the pantry, closet or cabinet?
I hope this offers you some food for thought. I think I'm going to find time to reorganize my kitchen utensils soon, so I'll post some photos!