Shop Seasonally

To me, saving money does not have to be stressful, and it should not be stressful for you either. As I mentioned before, to be able to save on groceries, I always plan my meals and their ingredients before I head to the store. However, if you find yourself not so comfortable with making meal plans, an alternative to planning on what to buy is to buy seasonal products.

While I like to make a list of what I want to eat ahead of time, I have to admit that this is not always a fun task. It is simply because I cannot predict which product will be out of stock at the supermarket. Of course, I can find that out-of-stock item at another supermarket, but it will cost me time and money to drive to another store. What is worse is that the other store may run out of this item too, and as a result, I have just wasted my time and gas. To fix this issue, I will just buy what is available plus the freshly harvested seasonal products. What I love about shopping seasonally is the freshness of the products. Although the selection of seasonal produces may not work well with my plan, I can never walk past a fresh batch of vegetables without getting some.

Another reason I like to buy seasonal products is that they often cost less. For instance, if you want to buy some fresh cherries during the winter months, chances are you will end up spending a lot of money on not so high-quality cherries. This is not the market ripping you off; it is just not the right time. Every year, I love it when summer comes. At the end of spring and the beginning of summer, fresh cherries are always readily available. What is even better is that you can visit U-pick cherry farms to pick the ripe cherries off the trees yourself. It will be a fun activity for you and your family or friends.

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

What I find to be the most interesting reason to buy seasonal produces is that I can learn to become flexible with my meals. Nowadays, I often hear a lot of young people complain about their lack of cooking skills. Although this does not seem to be a big deal at first, later on, it can cost you a lot of money for eating out every day. If you find yourself not very good at cooking, you can start with simple recipes to see if you are good at cooking or not. For me, I used to think that I am a terrible cook and that I will burn everything I touch in the kitchen. However, after I tried cooking, I finally realized that I can cook quite well. From the beginning, I started with fewer preparation recipes, then I gradually moved on to more complicated recipes. Now, I can cook many complicated dishes with confidence. I find that by buying seasonal products, I can modify my food so that it does not break my pocket.

Do you like seasonal products? If so, head to the nearest farmer market this weekend and buy some fresh produces to support the farmers.

Shop Locally

Who doesn’t love a shopping trip at a local grocery store or a farmers market on the weekends? After a long week of hard work and stress, spending some time at your local grocery store or a farmers market is the best way to relax as well as to spend some quality time with your family or friends. Aside from having yourself some good time on the weekends, buying your groceries locally can also save you a lot of money. Most of the time, local grocery stores and farmers markets offer a wide variety of products that are not only less expensive but they are also organic or non-GMO. Although big-name grocery stores like Whole Foods Market or Sprouts Farmers Market always carry a lot of organic produce, their price is also much higher. This is because these companies have to pay a lot of different fees to run their stores. If you are into money-saving, you should rather think about shopping locally instead of shopping at the big-name grocery stores.

Before I discovered the local grocery stores and farmers markets around my neighborhood, I used to spend a fortune on quality produce. To be honest, I am not a big fan of big-name grocery stores. While I do like organic foods, I do not always find that I need to consume organic food all the time. At places like Whole Food Market, even non-organic food is expensive. Once again, this is because of the cost to run their stores. When I buy organic food, I only buy food that I eat every part of it. For instance, since I don’t want any harmful chemicals sprayed on my apples, and I don’t peel the apples, I buy organic apples. For other types of produces like orange and banana, the non-GMO option is good enough for me. With that said, I buy a lot of my groceries at local grocery stores and farmers markets to save money.

When I shop locally, I often get to know the store owner or the farmers who grow these products. By chatting with them, I get to know them even better and how much hard work they put into growing their products. I especially love going to the local farmers markets that only pop-up on the weekends since the grocery sellers in these markets are real farmers from the local farms. They always offer the freshest produce at a very reasonable price. After I talked to a couple of farmers from my trips to the farmers markets, I learned something very interesting. As you may know, in order to be certified as organic, the product must be free of chemicals for seven consecutive years. A lot of the time, this requirement will not work since different types of fruits and vegetables attract different types of pests. It is not easy to have a quality crop when there are absolutely no pesticides to block the insect from destroying your crop. Thus, sometimes farmers still have to use pesticides on some fruits and vegetables, and this resulted in these fruits and vegetables being “not organic.” However, the local farmers are very responsible in terms of using pesticides. They only use it when absolutely necessary, which means organic or not, their products are always fresh and safe to eat.

In conclusion, I find that local grocery stores and farmers markets are a good choice to shop for fresh and healthy products. Search for local grocery stores or farmers markets in your area and stop by to support them when you can.

Your Shopping List Is Your Friend

The simplest way to save money when grocery shopping is to stick to your list. Most of the time, grocery stores intentionally place more expensive items in the most convenient locations, usually within arm’s reach near check-out stations or randomly throughout the store. This clever trick works every time since people love the convenience, and a lot of people end up getting something they did not plan on buying before.

Make a Good List

I must admit that sticking to “buying only what you need” is not as easy as it seems. Before heading to a grocery store, we often tell ourselves that it will be just a quick trip, and we will only get what we need, nothing more. However, as we are in the store, thanks to the clever distribution of products in the store, we end up buying almost everything we see. To combat this, I always make a very thorough list before I go shop for my groceries. The reason is very simple. As long as you have a list full of items you need, chances are, you will not lay eyes on things you do not need.

To make a good shopping list, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you live alone, try to think about how much meat and vegetables you will need by visualizing your next meals. Once you have a good idea of what you want to eat, write them down. If you live with other people and share food with them, ask them what they want to eat and write it down. The point of this practice is to make sure you do not have to make multiple runs to the grocery store which may result in you or your friends falling for the store’s trick. Nowadays, you can find apps that can help you with this task by suggesting meals and the needed ingredients.

Stick to Your List

When you are in the store, do not look to the right, do not look to the left, look into your list. If you find this practice is too extreme or strange, at least try your best to finish your shopping list first before window shopping. As you make yourself stick to the list, you are busy with finding the ingredients listed. The more ingredients you add to your shopping cart, the easier it will be to realize how much money you have spent already. You can do a quick calculation by adding up the estimated price of each item to see how much you will have to pay when you check out. I am currently living with someone, and our shopping cart often costs around $50 each time. Before, when I used to live by myself, my shopping cart often cost me a lot more because I never had a list of what I wanted to buy. Last but not least, by sticking to your shopping list, you can ignore other products that are placed conveniently in your way. 

Did you make a grocery list for your next grocery shopping trip? If not, go ahead and do it.

Save on Groceries – Part II

Buying in Bulk

To save money on groceries, a lot of people decide to buy in bulk, use some, and put the leftovers in their freezer. So, how is this going to help you save money or not help you save money?

Advantage

When you buy in bulk, the price per unit is relatively cheaper. This is obvious since retailers always want to sell more so when you buy in large quantities, the price will be lower. Next, if you are a simple person who does not need to rotate their food too often in a week or month, then buying in bulk will save you a lot of money. For instance, I love salmon, so I often buy half a salmon instead of just one or two pieces every day. When I buy a large amount of salmon, I have already had a plan in mind about what dishes I will cook. This way, I can make sure that I do not need to freeze leftover salmon which may be forgotten for a long time at the back corner of my freezer. Usually, after I bought my salmon from the supermarket, I cut it into many smaller pieces and marinate them based on different recipes I want to cook. My favorite salmon recipe is grilled cajun salmon. I also love teriyaki salmon and baked salmon. Last but not least, if you live with other family members or roommates who also share the same food with you then it is ideal to buy in bulk.

Disadvantage

The biggest disadvantage of buying in bulk is that you risk throwing leftover food away if it is spoiled before you could consume them. After I moved out of my parents’ house, more than once, I have thrown away a lot of food that I bought in a large quantity. This is definitely a waste of money since I just buy something only to throw it away later. To avoid wasting both your money and food, plan ahead on which ingredients you will need more than the others, then head to the grocery store and buy only what you really need.

Freeze Your Meal

Nowadays, the world is getting very convenient. However, this also makes us lazy. A lot of people buy their meals online or from the store to later find out that those prepared meals cost them a fortune. To prevent wasting too much money on packed meals, you can buy fresh ingredients from the store and prepare yourself some of your favorite dishes. In my case, I always plan ahead on what I want to eat. After I know what dishes I want, I buy enough ingredients and meal-prep on the weekends. I usually marinate the proteins and let them chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before freezing them. This way, no matter it is fish, meat, or shellfish, the proteins always soak up all the flavors. Last but not least, another type of food you can freeze to use later is leftover food. Most of the time, people throw away leftovers because they get bored of eating them. However, if you pack them up and freeze them right away, you can heat them up and use them later.

Photo by Hamilton Beach on Hamilton Beach Blog

If you have not already, check your fridge to see if you have any leftovers that you want to put away. Freeze them immediately so you can eat them later.

Save on Groceries – Part I

Grocery shopping is the most mundane task in everyday life. However, if you don’t plan carefully before you shop, you may end up spending a lot of money without realizing it. How many people can say that they only get what they need from a grocery store? Almost none. In every shopping trip, we often add extra items into our shopping cart as we walk down the aisles. This is not 100% our fault since grocery stores are designed to attract customers into buying more. Although sticking to buying only what is listed on our grocery list is not easy, it is not impossible, and here is what I usually do on my grocery shopping trips.

Before You Head Out

1. Make a Brief Visualization of Your Next Meal

The most important part of saving money on groceries is to plan what to buy. This task is the easiest but a lot of people decide to skip it all the time. To make sure I know what I need to buy, I often think about what I want to eat. Start with protein, then grains, then vegetables, must always have the veggies or your belly will hate you, and last but not least, dessert.

2. Look Into Your Pantry Carefully

More than once, I have looked into my pantry only to realize that I have more ingredients than I am aware of. This is the result of adding extra items into my basket during grocery shopping. Once you know what you want to eat from the last step, look into your pantry first to see if you already have what you need. In my case, I always have at least 1 or 2 ingredients that I will need to cook my next meal. For instance, if I want to make shrimp and asparagus stir-fry to serve over brown rice, I will look into my freezer to see if I have enough shrimps yet. Then, those asparagus should be bought fresh from the market so they will become item number one on my list. Next, I need some garlic and ginger. Whichever I do not have in my pantry, I will go ahead and buy. Since I always have a big bag of rice at home, I don’t have to buy rice every time.

In The Store

1. Round-Up The Numbers

While you are in the store, as soon as you add one item into your basket, note down the price. You can do this on your smartphone or a piece of paper. The goal is to keep track of how much money you have already spent. While you write down the prices, round them up. This will make the task easier as well as trick your mind into realizing that you have already spent a lot. For instance, if something costs $11.79, I will write it down as $12. If it is $6.10, still write it down as $7 instead of $6. The reason is very simple. If you add $11.79 to $6.10, you will see that you spent $17.89. The problem with this number is that you may forget the “89 cents” and think you have just spent $17. But if you add $12 to $7, you will see that you have spent around $20 already for just two items.

2. Look for the Discounts

Nowadays, discounted prices are among the most effective ways to draw customers’ attention. Retailers can trick customers into buying more because everything looks cheaper. However, if you stick to buying only what you need, discounted items are a blessing. Do not forget to look closely during check out. More than once, I had to stop the cashier and asked him or her to match the price with what I saw either on the store’s website or the pop-up sale tags. Even though you see a discounted price, the system may not work properly, and you may end up paying full price. Just be careful every time you check out and ask for a price change if you can find a cheaper price. Most stores will gladly honor your discount.

Check out this delicious drinking yogurt called Mango Lassi by Dah!

Only Buy What You Really Need

Before I figured this out, I used to spend a lot of money buying everything that I thought I needed. Normally, when we go shopping, we shop to buy stuff that we need to have. However, if we keep buying everything without carefully planning, then we may end up buying a lot of things that are not really necessary. The more you shop, the more you feel like you need something. I have been through this so I am sure over buying is very common for most people.

When I first moved out, I had to set up everything in my new place. At first, I did not think that I needed a plan on what to buy, because I did not know what I really wanted or needed. While I was still in my parents’ house, I never really need to think about buying anything other than my own desk and the computer. I believe my experience is similar to a lot of other people. When we live together with our parents, they are the ones who buy things. From the beds, sofa, tables, chairs, and so on. Since our parents are the ones who plan and put the plan to work, we often do not see the real struggle. I still remember seeing my parents do some research online to find the prices on what they are about to buy, and I just ignored them. 

After I moved out, without carefully planning ahead, I moved into my new place with a desk, a computer, three boxes of clothes, and some other miscellaneous things. Though my parents did give me some suggestions on what I should have, I still did not know what else I needed. Within the first month, I bought a microwave and a conventional toaster oven. I used my old mattress so everything seemed to be enough. However, the place always felt empty because I did not have enough stuff around. Sometimes I felt like I needed an extension cord, or a coffee maker, or a table lamp, and I spent lots of time driving back and forth buying random things.

As time went by, I gradually developed the habit of buying things as soon as I feel like I need them. I started to love the feeling of buying brand things from the stores or unboxing an Amazon box or two at random times. Though this seemed like fun at first, later on, I slowly realized that I was burning my savings. Instead of buying things I really need, I bought things I felt like I needed. This means a lot of things I bought were just random things that should never be there. Because of my impulsive buying habits, I always found myself struggling to manage to last till the end of every month. 

To fix this problem, I started to learn how to plan carefully on what I really need. It was not easy at first, because I did not know what I may need until I needed it. However, I managed to make a plan to categorize the importance of things I wanted to buy. For instance, since I drink a lot of coffee, I better invest in a coffee maker. I bought a Keurig because I could make both coffee and hot water for tea. Instead of buying plastic bags to use as trash bags, I save bags from my shopping trips and reuse them. I also asked my friends if they have bags that they don’t use. By focusing on only buying what I really need, I was able to limit my spending on random things. 

Reuse Plastic Bags – Photo by Naomi on This Roller Coaster Called Life

The best way to both save money and protect the environment is to use reusable bags. Start planning carefully on what you need to buy today.

Happiness is Homemade

The most important part of this saving journey I am walking on is to cut costs. Over the past few years, I have learned that cutting different costs each month is the best way, at least for me, to build up my savings and get out of debt. The practice I am about to share with you may not be easy to do but if you are willing to try, nothing is impossible.

To me, saving money simply means spending as little as possible. If you have a good and stable source of income each month, you may not need to be too strict on yourself. However, for me, and so do many other college students and people who are living paycheck to paycheck, we need to be very disciplined or we will run out of money before the end of each month. With that being said, what I did was I cut back on eating out and focused on homemade. 

How I Started Cooking My Food

As of this point, many people would think that this method may not be applicable to them simply because they do not know how to cook. If you do not find that you can cook, don’t worry because you can always learn. By the time I moved out of my parents’ house, the most edible dish I could cook was the sunny side up egg or fried egg. Within the first two years after I moved out, I lived off of canned food, fried egg, and pricey take-outs. When I was at home with my parents, I did not have to worry about what to eat. My mom always cooked a lot of delicious foods for the family. Though I get to enjoy delicious foods every day, I never really learned how to cook, and the result, fried eggs or canned food. If you look closely, none of the above foods are healthy and can be eaten for an extended period of time. Take-outs and canned foods are packed with a lot of unhealthy fats and sodium. Not only did they not provide your body with nutrients, but they also make you gain weight or cause other negative health effects. Thus, to stop wasting my money on unhealthy foods and also to learn some new skills, I learned how to cook.

Cooking turns out to be much easier than I thought. Especially nowadays, there are countless convenient kitchen appliances that can help you with home cooking. For example, when I first started cooking, I did not know how to cook a steak properly. More than once, I burned my juicy steak and threw it away. Today, if you want to cook a perfect steak and find that you do not have a lot of experience with it, you can get an air fryer and let it do your cooking. There are a lot of recipes online that you can find on how to cook a steak with an air fryer. Not only that, when you invest in an air fryer, you can also get back many health benefits. For instance, the air fryer does not use oil to fry foods, so you can cook many different fried foods without worrying about consuming too much oil. 

Another good investment in your kitchen is the instant pot. An instant pot has seven different functions, therefore, you can just research a recipe, buy fresh ingredients, prepare and throw them all in the pot. You can make from stew, soup, slow cook, to saute and steam. An instant pot can also make steamed rice and yogurt. 

This was how I started my home cooking journey. I tried to find all the help I could from the internet and other people. With the help of today’s smart kitchen appliances, cooking is not that hard. Are you ready to start cooking your own meals daily?

Beware of Credit Cards

Your Credit Card Is Not Your Friend

Although credit cards are necessary, keep in mind that they are not your friends. Since credit card companies live on interest charges collected from their customers, they always try their best to get the most money out of your pocket without you noticing it. Nowadays, getting approved for a credit card is easier than ever. Everybody owns at least one credit card, and we create a bad habit of using credit cards anytime and anywhere instead of using actual money we have in our checking account. The most common way credit card companies, especially smaller ones, use to attract more customers is to ask you during checkout if you would like to save 10 or 15 percent on your purchase. From Target, KOHL’S, or TJMaxxx, to JCPenney or Macy’s, every single retailer wants to offer their customers some sort of credit card. 

Most of the time, these credit cards have very high annual interest rates. Unlike in the past when we had to wait two to four weeks to see if we were approved for a credit card, in the present day, this process takes much less time and effort. This clever trick resulted in a lot of people having more than one credit card and using them carelessly. Though credit card companies nowadays often offer some cashback on your purchases, if you look carefully at the interest rates, you will see that cashback has no use in saving you from debts. The more you spend, the more credit card companies take away your money.

Monthly Balance

The bigger the monthly balance on your credit card, the more money you lose. When was the last time you paid off your credit card balance? The majority of people, including myself from the past, never pay off our credit card balance. Why? It is simply because we spend more money than we have. Since the idea behind credit cards is to make a purchase then pay the balance at the end of the month, a lot of people took advantage of credit cards and eventually buried themselves in debt. I used to know a guy, one of my workout buddies, who has almost every credit card from almost every available credit company in the United States. Why would he need that many credit cards? The answer is simple. He thought that is it a good idea to use credit cards to make purchases and pay them off at the end of each month. The problem behind this practice is that he has never actually paid them off. As a result, he buried himself in debt. The deeper you are in debt, the harder it is to get out. It is simply because you can only afford to pay the accumulated interest charges instead of the balance.

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

My Solutions

In order to free myself from credit card debt, I stopped using credit cards from small companies. Not only did these companies charge higher interest rates, but they also imply hidden fees. As a student, I often find myself struggling with my monthly expenses, so credit cards help me to cover bigger purchases. However, to avoid interest charges building up, I set my goal at the end of each month to pay off the balance. This helped me a lot to avoid paying for accumulated debt. Another reason I am still using credit cards is that a credit card is safer to shop online. Nowadays, online shopping is common, and there are often a lot of good deals floating around. It will be too risky to use my debit card to shop online since cyber thieves can hack into my bank account and cause countless problems. To best take advantage of your credit card, as soon as you use your credit card for something, try to pay off that amount as soon as possible. Do not wait until the end of each month since you may forget what you bought and how much money you owe the bank.

If you are still struggling with credit card debt, it is time to take action. Stop using your credit card for random purchases. Only use it when you really need it. 

STOP, THINK, COME BACK

Today I would like to share another fun trick I learned on my journey to save money. Every time I go shopping, I often buy a lot of extra merchandise that I did not plan to buy, and I am sure I am not the only one doing such a thing. Since every retailer’s goal is to sell as many products and services as possible, they often trick our minds into thinking that we need this and that. In most cases, we as customers are attracted to sale events, so the retailers often put up big signs throughout their stores to promote discounts on a wide variety of products. As long as you think you better get that deal before it is gone, you have fallen for their tricks, and some if not all of your money have gone. As to stop wasting money on things I don’t need, I created a rule and forced myself to strictly follow this rule. That is, Stop, Think, and Come back later.

STOP

As soon as you are about to grab something from the shelves, you need to stop yourself from doing that. Normally, once we put something in our cart, we tend to not put it back. In the old days when I was still buying random things at first sight, I often found myself in the situation where I see something on sale, I would grab it immediately because I did not want to miss the chance of getting a good deal. I also did not care if I truly needed it or not. I would just buy the thing anyway. Later on, as I learned to stop, I often stop myself before putting an item into my shopping cart. Every time I go shopping, if I find that I need an item, I usually just look at it, maybe take a couple of pictures, then completely walk away. As I walk away, I give myself more time to think about that item.

THINK

Depending on each individual, the time we take to think may vary. Based on my experience, give yourself time to think about an item at least until the end of your shopping trip. Normally, I take at least 30 minutes to several hours to shop, depending on where I go. The reason I give myself time to think about an item before buying it is that as I wander around the store, I see other items and gradually forget about the first item. If you find that you have been buying too much from the shopping trips, try to give yourself even longer time to think about a particular item. For instance, I used to think that I needed a new nightstand when I saw a very beautiful one, but instead of grabbing it right away, I took a picture of it and walked away. To see if I truly needed that nightstand, I went home and waited for at least a week. I gave myself more time to think about that nightstand, and I gradually realized that I may not need it. 

First of all, as soon as I got home, I examined my old nightstand to see if it was still usable. As I did that, I realized that my old nightstand was not very old. It was just dusty because I have not wiped it thoroughly after years of using it. Next, I compared the old nightstand and the new one to see if the new one was worth buying. I figured that although the new one looked beautiful, it was not as convenient as the one I am using. I eventually decided to not get a new nightstand and keep using the old one for at least another year or two.

COME BACK

This one is easy. After testing yourself for a short period of time, if you still find more reasons to get an item than not getting it, then go for it. However, just keep in mind that as long as there is the slightest feeling of uncertainty crosses your mind, you should stop immediately. For years, I listened to myself. Even when there is just a quick moment I am in doubt about spending money on something, I stop immediately and repeat the whole STOP, THINK, and COME BACK process. Sometimes it takes more than one test to realize whether you truly want to buy something.

Although shopping is a mundane activity, careless spending can lead to a lot of credit card debts that you will not be able to pull yourself out of. Therefore, on your next shopping trip, I would like to ask you to stop grabbing things randomly and give yourself some time to think. Only come back to get an item once your mind is completely clear.