Archive for August 2011


August 19, 2011

In recent years I’ve come to take a harder look at the forms of entertainment I engage.  Part of this has come out of necessity, since I am always with my kids it is pretty much impossible to watch an R-rated movie for very long without one of them popping into the room.  (And they inevitable show up at the most inappropriate parts.)  Not that I’ve ever been a big fan of gratuitous sex scenes, but I never really thought twice when two unmarried characters obviously slept together even if no nude shots were involved.  Now I notice themes in television, movies, and music that promote promiscuity and profanity in a way I never did before.

Now those of you who have known me for very long know that I used to be a HUGE fan of The Rock Horror Picture Show.  I was sixteen when I saw it in the theater for the first time.  I started attending every performance at my hometown theater.  I met several of the cast members of the stage show, and I even filled in a few times as minor characters.  I organized groups from high school and college for the big Halloween shows.  I knew every audience participation line and owned the four-CD boxed set.  I often dressed up as the character Magenta.  (Just for the record, I never attended RHPS with a drop of alcohol in my system; it gave me a natural high every time I went.)

This may have also seemed kind of odd to those who knew me.  I was never much of a rule breaker.  I never received a detention in school, and I only recall being grounded once in my life.  Everyone was quite aware that I was a virgin and would mostly likely remain one until marriage.  Yet, here I was involved in this raunchy glorification of breaking all societal rules:  promiscuity, homosexuality, slavery, and murder.

I think for me it was a way of “breaking the rules” in a fairly innocuous way.  I could dress up in my pajamas (with my bra peaking out), go to the theater, dance in the aisles, and scream profanities at the top of my lungs.  For a little while I could pretend that I was not the nerdy freak that everyone treated me like in my everyday life.  Once I blossomed in college Rocky Horror fulfilled less of a “need” and just became about fun and catching up with friends I had made at the show.  And as I entered married life and later had children it became a source of nostalgia.

I actually went a few times after we moved to Illinois, even met the president of the RHPS fan club Sal Piro, and had a lot fun.  But more recently I have struggled with the place this movie has in my life.  I have not watched it in the theater or at home for at least two years.  I think I have just outgrown Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It’s like that favorite pair of jeans that shrunk up in the wash and just doesn’t fit anymore.  It was all really just a form of pretend play for me anyway.  Now I am “breaking the rules” of society in new, more meaningful ways.  Instead of yelling out profanities at a movie screen, I am yelling out about the profanities within our society like abortion.

This past week I dropped off two copies of the movie and my RHPS fan book at the local used bookstore.  The bobble-heads (that have been sitting in my garage forever) will probably go to Goodwill.  I wasn’t ready to part with my CDs, but they are going into storage.  I will also keep my RHPS t-shirt, a hand-me-down from my best friend and former college roommate who was wearing it the first time we met.  I am not ashamed of my time with RHPS, but at the same time I hope that my children have no desire or need to engage with it.


7 Ways to Save Money on Your Grocery Bill

August 14, 2011

Raising four kids on one income in the Chicago suburbs, our cost of living is pretty high.  We try to keep to a weekly grocery budget of $200, this includes hygiene and household products and diapers.  These are some ways I have come across to save money on our grocery bill.

1.  Make a Price List:  Put together an Excel spreadsheet or notebook listing items that you regularly purchase.  Then spend time at two to four  grocery stores in your area and mark down the regular (not sale) price for each item.  (Don’t forget to mark the sizes of items to figure out unit prices.)  You can also start by grocery shopping at a different store each week and then filling in the prices from your receipt.  Once you have a basic price list you will have a better idea of which store offers the over-all lowest prices as well as be able to figure out how good of a deal you’ll get when things go on sale.

I have my spreadsheet divided into different groups of products such as dairy, can/jar, frozen, household, and hygiene for easy reference.  And I try to update my price list after each shopping trip using my receipt and any other prices I happened to jot down.  At the very least, it should be updated once a month.

2.  Make a Shopping List:  I have a basic shopping list in an Excel spreadsheet that I print out each week.  The top half of the page  is for Aldi, where I buy the bulk of my groceries; the products are listed in the order they are found in the store.  The bottom half of the page is for the “regular” grocery store.  This could vary from week to week based on deals or circumstances.  The items are arranged in alphabetical order.

Before shopping trips I look through by cupboards and my menu plans for the next week, and I circle any items that I need to buy on the list.  I also look through “regular” store circulars for special deals they are having that week.  Then on the back I write a list of sale items that I will definitely be buying and a list of sale items I might be buying if the sale/coupon price is cheaper than the similar item at Aldi.  I mark each item that has a coupon with an asterisk.

I don’t always stick strictly to the list (sometimes you come across a surprise deal or something you forgot to put on your list), but it does usually make sure that I get the basics that I need to get through the week without having to make a second trip back to the store.  The more often you go to the store, the more likely it is that you will pick up a few impulse purchases that will break your budget.

3.  Organized Couponing:  We recently watched the TLC show Extreme Couponing.  While I don’t see myself ever going “extreme”, it did inspire me to get more organized with my couponing.  Couponing101 is a great website with tips on getting started.  The most important thing is to put together a grocery binder.  Before I put together my binder, I had no centralized place to keep my coupons.  Some would get pinned to the bulletin board, stuck to the fridge, stuck in my wallet, or stashed on a shelf, and then I would forget all about them.

In my grocery binder I have the following things:  copies of my basic weekly shopping list, cut coupons in alphabetical order by product name stored in baseball card protective sheets (I personally separate coupons for non-food items and restaurants in a separate section of baseball card protective sheets), and my price list.  Those lists are also in protective sheets, and I have some dividers between the different sections for easier reference.

In the front inside pockets of the binder I keep an envelope for coupons I will definitely use on the next shopping trip and my current filled in shopping list.  In the back pockets I keep an envelope for coupons that are cut but need to be filed and store circulars.  I also keep a list of great deals that I found on certain dates to see if I can discern a sale pattern.

The most important things is to take the binder with you to the store.  First of all it will have your shopping list and all of the coupons you know you will use.  Secondly, having your price list within reach is nice for when you come across special sales that were not listed in the store circulars.  And if you come across a special deal that you can combine with a coupon, you can pull that coupon out of the protective sheet and move it to your envelope.  Then when you get to the register you have a nice neat stack of all the coupons you are going to use that day.  (It can also be handy to have a writing utensil, a mini-calculator, and some blank paper handy if you want to make notes. figure out prices by unit, and/or keep track of your grocery total before you get to the register.)

4.  Let go of brand loyalty:  The first time I shopped at Aldi I dismissed it because it didn’t have name-brand foods.  When I became more budget conscious I started going there just to get pantry and dairy staples at a cheaper price (white sugar is white sugar).  Then I started branching out and trying some of their Aldi-brand foods.  I discovered that some of them were really good, sometimes even tastier than the name-brand equivalent.  I also realized that some of the generics were really name-brand foods with a different label.  Other things were maybe not quite as tasty as the name brand but still tasty enough.  And other generic things were just plain gross compared to the name brand.  As a result I now buy the bulk of my groceries at Aldi.

Now there are some items that Aldi just doesn’t sell or that their generic just doesn’t taste good to us.  These are the things I get at the regular grocery store.  But even there, the generic brand is often cheaper and just as tasty.  And sometimes I have a coupon to get a really great deal on toothpaste even if it is not the brand “I have always used”.  In the end dental health relies more on how long, how often, and how well one brushes rather than the brand of toothpaste one uses.  So, if you can let go of your loyalty to certain brands you can sometimes save a lot of money.

5.  Don’t take all of the kids with you:  I know sometimes we have no choice on this one, but the more that you can avoid taking the kids with you the more money you will save.  First of all, it can be a total distraction making sure that no one runs off or destroys a display.  Secondly, they will ask for at least one product each per row, and the odds are at least five extra unplanned items will end up in your cart.  Either way, a lot of energy that should be spent on price comparing and making notes gets spent on the kids.  When you are frazzled you are more likely to make sloppy decisions that cost money.

I usually have a baby with me until she is close to 18 months old.  I keep her in their car seat carrier, in a sling, or strapped tightly in the grocery cart, and I make sure she is fed and diaper-changed before the trip.  Sometimes I might take one older child with me to be my assistant and practice some consumer math, as well as enjoy some quality time.  But this still might cost me a little extra money.

6.  Make a menu plan:  Every family plans their meals differently, but the more you plan the more likely you are to cut costs.  I have a three-week rotating dinner menu with seven meals listed per week.  They are usually a mix of “throw together” meals and a few that require more forethought, but I don’t assign them to specific days to give myself more flexibility.  I do try to make the meals that have more perishable ingredients at the beginning of the week, so they get used before they go bad.

I put together a list of each ingredient I would need to make every meal for that week.  When I am making my weekly shopping list, I consult the ingredient list to check my dinner supplies.  I also have a basic breakfast and lunch menu with limited options to choose from; I try to make sure that I have a basic stock of those items on hand.

If you have a menu plan, you can also save money by trying to make as much as possible from scratch.  If you are at a time in your life when cooking from scratch would result in nothing ever getting cooked, then don’t feel guilty about buying some pre-packaged items like pizza dough.  In general, home-cooked meals are a lot cheaper than restaurant food, so if you can avoid eating out you’re already saving money.

7.  Be discerning:  Sometimes you will have to decide between buying the smallest size or buying in bulk.  For instance, I can usually get 2 pounds of thin spaghetti at Aldi for $1.49, but the other day I had a Creamette coupon that allowed me to get 1 pound of thin spagetti for 46 cents.  One pound was enough to get me buy for awhile, so buying the smaller size with a coupon was a better deal.  On the other hand, I normally get 80 paper plates at Aldi for $2.49 but they had 300 paper plates on sell for about $4.50.  The latter was a better price per unit, and I happened to have enough money left in my budget to buy 600 paper plates at the bulk price saving  about $8 if I had paid the regular price.  (Yes, I know I could save more money if I didn’t use paper plates at all and just washed more dishes.)

So when you are using coupons, buying the smallest size is usually the better deal (unless the coupon says you must by the larger).  And if you don’t have a coupon, it’s often wiser to buy non-perishable items that you need at bulk rates (paper towels, toilet paper).  However, don’t buy things in bulk that you don’t immediately need unless there’s a great deal on them and you have the room in your weekly budget for it.  And sometimes we have to buy smaller sizes at a less cost-effective rate just because that’s all we can afford at the moment.


I know that there are still things out there that I could do to save more money at the grocery, but these are the seven that have helped me the most so far.  It was very time intensive putting together the different spreadsheets, but I did those over a period of years.  And once you have things basically set-up they are fairly easy to maintain.

I should also note that I am not a foodie.  I don’t enjoy cooking, and I don’t particularly enjoy shopping, either.  If I had to totally give up paper plates, disposable diapers, and paper towels and cook everything from scratch, I would not only go crazy but I would be losing time for other things that are more important to me like homeschooling my kids, eating, sleeping, and showering.  Others might be able to do all those things and do them with grace, but not me.  So, hopefully these are basic things that most people could do.

July 2011 Reading List

August 5, 2011

1.  And What About College? by Cafi Cohen:  This is about the third time I’ve read this book full of practical advice to prepare homeschoolers for the college admissions process.  With my oldest just starting third grade college seems so far away, but students really need to start preparing for the admissions process in 8th grade.

2.  Preparing for Adolescence by Dr. James Dobson:  This book is full of great information for pre-teens and teens to prepare for the physical and emotional changes of puberty and the moral dilemmas to which they can lead.  He addresses the book to children as young as ten, but I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable giving this to my child until age 12.  While it doesn’t get graphic, it does deal with sensitive topics such as intercourse and masturbation.  The copy I read was the 1992 reprint, and some of the references were slightly outdated.  I would be interested to get my hands on a more recent addition and see what the differences are.

3.  Overbite by Meg Cabot:  This a sequel to Cabot’s vampire book Insatiable.  It’s a pretty decent, but the ending didn’t completely ring true to me.  And I couldn’t shake the feeling that some of it was supposed to be a metaphor for the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.  My favorite character is feisty Sister Gertrude who always has guns with silver bullets strapped in her habit.

4.  I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris:  This is kind of the flagship book that discusses Christian Biblical courtship, questioning the validity of modern dating practices.

5.  The Care and Keeping of You by Valorie Lee SchaeferI had often seen this book along with the book by Dr. Dobson recommended for children on the cusp of puberty.  This one is especially written for girls and basically deals with health and hygiene issuesI think a copy of this book would be a good gift for a ten-year-old girl.

6.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney:  This was a post-read.  Bailey borrowed this from the library and really enjoyed it.  I was intrigued and decided to see what it was about.  It’s a fun read with an interesting visual format.  I don’t know if I will read the sequels along with her or not, but at least I know what Bailey means when she talks about “the cheese touch”.

7.  Start Here by Alex and Brett Harris:  This is a companion to their book Do Hard Things.  This one offers more practical suggestions for doing hard things and dealing with life when your attempt at hard things may not work out how you planned or worked beyond your wildest dreams.  I think a lot of adults could stand to read these books to change their own perspectives on life.