How to Save $50+ Per Week on Groceries

How to Save $50+ Per Week on GroceriesI try and check Mint regularly, and am constantly surprised but how much we’re spending on groceries. I don’t think we eat such extravagant meals at home, but each month, I’m shocked by our grocery bill. Sure, some of that is a result of not eating out frequently, but we can probably do a better job of controlling our costs.

Most people don’t realize just how much they spend at the grocery store. When their shelves are bare, they simply drive to the nearest grocery store and stock up on whatever looks appetizing. But as you’ve probably already guessed, this is bad for your wallet. By taking a more methodical approach to the matter, you can save a minimum of $50 per week on groceries. Here are some great tips that will help get you on the savings track:

Create a List

It might not be fun, but it’s definitely worth a try if you’re the “spontaneous spending” type. Basically, just plan out your meals from Sunday to Saturday. Create daily meals plans that are healthy and that won’t break the bank. Next time you’re feeling hungry, you’ll cook what’s on your list rather than order a pizza. Plus, you won’t need to waste time or money going back to the grocery store since you would have already purchased everything you needed on one trip.

Do You Like Fruits and Vegetables? Try Purchasing Them In-Season

Most of us want to eat healthy, but fresh produce can be expensive, which discourages us from ever trying. Fortunately, there’s a solution: try purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in-season. For example, during the months of November and December, pears will be much less expensive (since they’re in-season) compared to other produce. Take advantage of what’s cheapest year-round!

Shop at Budget-Friendly Stores

Places like The Fresh Market or Whole Foods can easily consume an entire week’s paycheck in one shopping session. To avoid this, try shopping at stores that are more budget-friendly. Places like Trader Joe’s and tradition supermarkets are well known for their everyday low prices.

You can even find attractive prices on certain food items at your local dollar store (spices in particular can be found quite cheaply at dollar stores). At most supermarkets, spices can easily cost several dollars each. At a dollar store, well, you know the drill. Take a trip to the dollar store one day. You’ll be amazed at how much stuff they sell for just a buck.

Avoid Pre-Cut or Prepared Items

Foods that already come prepared or prepackaged can be major time savers, but they also tend to be quite expensive. For example, you can purchase the ingredients for a pizza individually for less than the cost of buying a pre-made pizza. And you will probably have enough to cook multiple pizzas! Whenever possible, purchase basic ingredients for the meals of your choice rather than purchasing the frozen or prepackaged alternative. Your food will be healthier, and those ingredients will come in handy later, too.

Final Piece of Advice

Always watch your items as they’re getting scanned. Sometimes products get rung up more than once accidentally, and sometimes they don’t ring up properly. By watching everything as it gets scanned, you’ll be able to immediately notify the cashier if you get charged too much for an item. Arriving home only to make this realization means that you’ll need to get back in your car and correct the mistake (which requires gas and time), and sometimes may not even be worth it. It’s just one more tool in your belt to help you save $50+ per week on your grocery bill.

Wedding Gift Etiquette – Buy A Gift or Write A Check?

Wedding Gift Etiquette“So what do you want for a wedding gift?”

I remember peopled asked me this a ton right before our wedding, and I’m sure all engaged couples get this question.When people pose it, they’re looking for a simple answer. “Please buy me four Egyptian cotton towels in mushroom from Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” they’d like me to tell them. Or, “We really like the copper pots from Williams-Sonoma,” they want me to say.

But most people don’t say that.

First of all, if they really wanted to know, they shouldn’t be asking the guy in the first place. They should ask the woman instead. My wife would have the perfect answer. She’d be able to tell them exactly what we (read: she) wants, exactly where to find it, and exactly how much it costs. It was the same with our engagement gifts. I usually replied with a generic, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll love whatever you get! We’re just thrilled you’ll be there to celebrate with us.” Why? Because wedding gift etiquette makes me cringe. The gifts aren’t the reason we’re getting married, so asking what I want makes me uncomfortable.

How Much Should I Spend On A Wedding Gift?

This is my main apprehension to doling out any truly useful wedding gift advice. I don’t know how much my fiancée’s friends from college can afford to spend, and it’s downright tacky to ask. In many cases, our friends are young(ish) professionals, just finding their professional footing. I’d hate to tell them that a $60 waffle iron was what we were eyeing, only to find out later that the money spent on the gift severely stretched their budget. In other cases, I have a general idea of what someone can afford – say, family members like aunts, uncles, or cousins. I know my cousin, a lawyer, is doing well in his career, but that doesn’t mean I should take advantage of it.

The answer to the question, “How much should I spend on a wedding gift?” is inherently personal – and, inherently intangible. A 2009 article from CBS News broke down suggested wedding gift expenses this way:

Co-worker and/or distant family friend or relative: $50-$75
Relative or friend: $75-$100
Close relative or close friend: $100-$150

That’s the average, though. According to proper wedding gift etiquette, the scale of the affair is not supposed to factor into the gift-giving decision. That is to say, if one of your co-workers has a five-course, sit-down dinner at a country club while another has a buffet reception at the local VFW hall, but you’re equally close with each, it shouldn’t affect what you buy (ie, you don’t have to “pay for your plate”). However, the cost of living is far higher in Washington, DC, than it is in Roanoke, Virginia – meaning the same $75 gift may look thrifty in the Capitol and simultaneously luxurious three hours to the south.

Buy A Gift

Another question I’m getting a lot these days has to do with exactly what type of gift my fiancée and I want to receive. Namely, do we want a physical gift or just money?

The easiest answer is to simply point guests to the wedding registry. After all, that’s what it’s there for. Months ago, we spent a painful (don’t tell my fiancée I said that) afternoon using one of those barcode-scanner-things to load up our registry. Now, while I can’t say I paid all that much attention to what my fiancée actually scanned, I can tell you – with certainty – that there’s a lot on that registry. Some of the items were cheap; things like place mats and hand towels and napkin rings were less than $5 each, and some were these great gifts.. Other items, like our bedding set and cutlery, were far pricier. Some of my friends who have gotten married have even registered for furniture or their honeymoon, allowing guests to donate an amount they’re comfortable with to the newlyweds.

That’s what makes registries so ideal. They’re kind of like a matchmaker, a gift middle-man, ensuring that the bride and groom get exactly what they want while giving the guest the opportunity to select the ultimate price tag without broaching wedding gift etiquette.

Write A Check

The fact is, the decision to buy a gift isn’t for everyone. For one, guests traveling from out of town may be encumbered by a bulky gift. For others, like a cousin with a new baby, it’s just another thing to add to an already busy to-do list. And I realize that other than to me and her, this isn’t the biggest day in world.

That’s where giving money as a gift comes in to play. A friend of mine let it be known through word of mouth that she and her husband-to-be wanted cash for a wedding present. When it was all said and done, their extensive guest list of more than 200 had given them a whopping $15,000 in cold, hard cash (and slightly less-cold, less-hard personal checks). A college buddy and his wife intentionally created a small bridal registry, so their wedding guests would have no alternative but to hand over a check.

Some wedding guests don’t like giving money as a gift because it feels impersonal, sterile, antiseptic. Likewise, many engaged couples don’t like asking for money because it’s perceived as tacky, uncouth, and greedy. The bottom line, however, is that for many couples, cash is king. For a couple starting their lives together heavily in debt, it can be far more freeing than a food processor ever could be. For a couple looking to buy a house, the windfall of several thousand dollars in wedding gifts can mean the difference between a loan approval or denial – unless, of course, banks are now accepting bone china as part of an acceptable down payment.

Readers, what are your rules for giving wedding gifts? Do you follow a specific formula?

Updated August 17, 2015 and originally published May 7, 2012.

A Beginner’s Guide to Index Funds

A Beginner's Guide to Index FundsIf you have more than a few months of savings in a checking or savings account (and have a pretty stable situation), you should consider investing your money. Once you have an emergency fund saved up, it’s time to put your money to work. Your money should earn money, and the best way to do that is investing.

You may be a novice, but by now you should know the basics of investing. The best part about investing these days is that you don’t need to be an expert. In fact, you don’t even need to know what you’re doing, because there are systems in place that can take care of everything for you. I’m someone who is constantly plugged in to Wall Street, and yet I still rarely pick stocks. Why? Because I like diversity, and why invest in one stock when I can invest in hundreds? This is exactly where index funds become our best friend

If the stock market bewilders you, don’t feel bad. Understanding the inner workings of the market takes dedicated study and constant attention and it’s not for everyone. We don’t need to pretend that we’re better at picking stocks than someone who spends all day researching. Most people don’t have the time or money to make consistently profitable decisions on individual stocks; index funds exist for that very reason.

What is an Index Fund?

To better define an index fund, it’s important to know what both an “index” and “fund” are within the context of the stock market. A stock market index is the valuation of an individual section of the stock market based on the prices of certain selected stocks. Unlike a mutual fund, which is comprised of stocks selected by a human person (or group of people), an index fund is managed automatically by computer. There are global indices, national indices, and indices that track specific market sectors. You may have heard of the S&P 500 or Russell 1000. These are examples of index funds that contain (you guessed it) 500 and 1000 stocks, respectively.

A fund is simply a large repository of capital that belongs to many investors and is used to purchase stock. This arrangement gives individual investors more opportunities to diversify their investments. If you buy one stock and it doesn’t do well, you could be out a significant amount of money. But if you spread your money throughout many stocks, you’re spreading out your risk. The likelihood of many stocks tanking is much lower than the likelihood of just one stock decreasing a lot.

Index Funds vs. Mutual Funds

So, if an index fund is run by a computer and a mutual fund is run by a person, which one is better?

With an index fund, the goal is to match the performance of the index. If the index increases by 6% in a year, the index fund should increase by 6%, too.

With an actively managed mutual fund, there’s the chance to beat the market. But pound for pound, index funds have a reputation for outperforming managed funds over-time. On top of this, index funds allow you to succeed on the stock market with virtually zero experience. In addition, index funds usually have super low fees (as low as 0.05%), while mutual fund fees regularly exceed 1%.

The Benefits of an Index Fund

Warren Buffett, the world’s most famous investor said it himself: “Just making monthly investments in a low-cost index fund makes a lot of sense.” Why? Because “Owning a piece of America, a diversified piece, bought over time, held for 30 or 40 years, it’s bound to do well. The income will go up over the years, and there’s really nothing to worry about.” In fewer words: keep it simple, stupid. Quite often, the easiest approach is the best approach, especially for the beginning investor.

Where to Get Started

Getting started with your first index fund is designed to be easy. Take a look at some of the more popular index funds, like the Vanguard 500 or Fidelity Spartan 500 and you’ll find that both the risk and the barrier to entry are very low.

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