6 Tips To Reduce Your Grocery Bill

Grocery ShoppingOne of the areas of our spending that I must constantly monitor is our food expenses. With the continuing food price creep, I found our spending can really spiral out of control if I’m not really watching it closely. I keep a running total of how much I’ve spent to help me stay on budget throughout the month. When I see the grocery budget is running low, I get really creative with the meals. Here are a few ways that I’ve been able to whittle our grocery bill down every month:

Plan a Menu
I’ve found that making a weekly menu (and forcing myself to stick to it) has really helped to lower our grocery bill. Every Sunday I sit down and look through the pantry to see what I already have on hand, then I make a daily list of what we’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I post it on the fridge so everyone in the family knows what to expect for meals the coming week.

Meatless Meals
Adding a few meatless meals into our week has also helped to decrease our grocery spending. Egg or bean burritos, salad and soup nights, as well as “breakfast for dinner” have all been favorites in our household.

Cooking From Scratch
I’ve mentioned several times in the past that I’m not a great cook, but I do know how to make a few of the basics. My bread machine gets used every day. A fresh loaf of bread or breadsticks combined with a salad and simple soup makes a complete and filling (but inexpensive) meal.

Buy One Get One FreeStock Up on Sales
Every week when the grocery sale ads come out I look them over to see what items are on sale that I regularly use. When I find a good sale on an item I stock up on it so that I won’t be buying it again until it comes back on sale. Since I do a lot of my shopping at Publix, I really like their buy one get one free sales (BOGO). I’ve been most successful using this method with cereal – I don’t think I’ve paid full price for a box of cereal this year.

Freezer Meals
Inspired by some other bloggers, I’ve taken to preparing meals that I can store in my freezer. This has been tremendously helpful not only timewise, but dollar wise as well.

Coupon Codes
Of course, any discussion about grocery savings wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how coupon codes can also help you to save money. To really maximize the savings with coupons, I always try to pair them with an existing sale. Some of the best deals I’ve gotten have centered around coupon stacking – a method whereby you combine a store sale, with a manufacturer’s coupon. I can save quit a bit using coupons when I purchase the items during Publix’s BOGO sales. I usually find my coupons in the newspaper inserts.

What are your best tips for keeping your grocery budget in check?

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Thinking of Investing in Bank Loan Funds? Here’s What You Need to Know

Investing

The following article is a guest post. Bank loan funds can be a good investment. They often have fairly high yields with less risk than some other high-yield investments. They can bring some stability to your portfolio as well as bring you the benefits of diversification. But just like any other investment, bank loan funds are not without their risks.

If you’re thinking of investing in bank loan funds, it’s important to understand what they are and what the potential risks are. Some investment professionals advise steering clear of bank loan funds altogether, especially in uncertain markets. But if you know what you’re doing, and you’re willing to assume the risk, bank loan funds can bring a stable rate of returns to your portfolio.

What Are Bank Loan Funds?

A bank loan fund is an investment vehicle that lets investors buy shares of corporate bank loans. Banks and insurance companies may make these loans to companies with less-than-perfect credit, but that in itself isn’t a reason to worry about not getting your money back. More than 80 percent of companies that have defaulted on their bank loans have been able to pay the investors that own shares in these loans. When the economy is doing well, you’re probably not going to need to worry about losing money on bank loan funds. Just like a lot of investments, the losses come when the economy tanks.

Upsides of Bank Loan Funds

One of the best things about bank loan funds is that they offer a higher rate of interest than you’ll get with CDs or savings bonds, but at what many consider to be a comparable level of risk. Bank loan funds offer returns as much as two percent better than those of CDS or Treasury securities. These funds offer floating rates, which change whenever short-term interest rates rise. Every 30, 60, or 90 days, bank loan fund yields will be reset. When interest rates are trending upward, that’s good news for your returns.

Bank loan funds also have a fairly stable share price. Though you might be worried about getting your money back if the company that took out the loan declares bankruptcy, you can rest assured that these funds invest in what are known as senior secured loans, which will be the first ones to be paid back in case the company in question declares bankruptcy. You’ll probably still get your money back even if a company defaults on its loans.

If you choose an investment vehicle such as a bank loan fund, you’re getting a diversified product, just like with a mutual fund. You won’t be buying just one company’s loan, so if one company defaults on its loan, it won’t affect the value of your investment much.

Downsides of Bank Loan Funds

So, what are the cons of investing in bank loan funds? For one thing, the floating rates discussed above can be less of a perk if overall interest rates go down. Furthermore, you can’t take your money in and out of a bank loan fund whenever you want; depending in the rules of the fund you choose, you’ll only be able to make withdrawals at designated times, like monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Many bank loan funds require investors to leave their money in the fund for the first year and there might be fees to pay if you remove your money from the fund within the first three years. Investing in these funds can also be expensive; high expense ratios as compared with bond funds, for example, can really cut into your profits.

Hand and CalculatorLike other investments, bank loan funds are hit hard during times of recession. While returns can be much higher than those of CDs or Treasury securities, they can also be significantly lower. In October 2008, bank loan funds saw returns drop by a whopping 13 percent. That’s a lot, considering an average fluctuation in returns is about 0.5 to 1.5 percent a month.

Bank loan funds also have a liquidity problem. Because the market for bank loan funds hasn’t been around long — about 20 years — there aren’t as many buyers and sellers in the market as there are for some other markets, so it can be hard to liquidate bank loan fund shares. If a bank wanted to sell off a large fund, prices across the industry would drop enormously.

Many investors are wary of bank loan funds, but they can be a good investment if used as part of a diversified portfolio. They’re especially good in prosperous times, but you should be aware that they do tend to drop in value quickly when the market goes down.

Cheap Fall Meals

During this time of year I am always on the lookout for cheap Fall type meals. I’m not looking for just any cheap meal, though. As crazy as our house becomes during the first months of school between football and soccer, the last thing I have time to do is spend hours in the kitchen preparing dinner. My solution is that during these months I often prepare a couple of extra dinners on Saturday that I can make ahead of time for the coming week. Those are the types of cheap meals I’m looking for.

Does that sound like I’m hoping for too much? I don’t think so. I’ve found a few favorites that I rely on, but I’m always on the lookout for something new. If I share a few of mine, will you share yours?

Pasta Baked Macaroni Bake
This hearty pasta bake is filling and easy to make. A pound of hamburger (sautéed), a couple of cups of pasta (boiled), two cans of tomato soup and a can of corn are all combined in a casserole dish. Then, simply bake in the oven for twenty minutes or so to enjoy a bubby, tasty meal. A simple salad is the perfect complement to this dish.

Chicken Casserole
Although this dish takes a long time to bake, its prep time is really fast. Boil five or six chicken breasts until they are thoroughly cooked. Place them in a casserole dish and cover them with ½ can of cream of chicken and ½ can of cream of celery soup. Add two cans of vegetable mix on top and then the rest of each can of soup. (I stop here to freeze the meal and start again on the day I want to eat the meal.) Bake the mixture at 350 degrees until it bubbles. Layer the contents of a can of refrigerated biscuits across the top to form a crust and continue baking until the biscuits are done. Yummy!

Homemade Ground Beef MeatloafMom’s Meatloaf
No meal is as comforting as a warm slice of meatloaf. We use two pounds of hamburger, ½ cup of bread crumbs, an egg, two tablespoons of brown sugar, one tablespoon of dry mustard, 2/3 cup of barbecue sauce, and a dash of salt and pepper to create our meatloaf. Mush the whole mixture together (my kids love to help with this). Place into two loaf pans and cook for thirty minutes or so.