Savings on Food, part 2: How to get free food and drinks

I like going out to eat sometimes.Some quick tips for free food and drinks:

  • Sign up for the Human Bean’s V.I.B. Club. ¬†You’ll get a free welcome drink and coupons in your email.
  • Get a Qdoba Rewards card. ¬†For every 10 entrees (or 5 if you take advantage of double points days on Wednesdays), you earn a free entree. ¬†They also frequently send email coupons for BOGO meals or will add free chips and salsa/guac/queso to your card.
  • Tokyo Joe’s has a rewards club too. ¬†They send a monthly newsletter with deals for Addict Club members and you can earn points towards free entrees. ¬†They also give you a free meal on your half-birthday.
  • Other places with rewards:¬†Sonny Lubick’s Steakhouse, Garbanzo, The Rio¬†
  • Check out giveaways for national “holidays.” ¬†I got free coffee from the Human Bean yesterday for National Coffee Day, and main other chains were doing giveaways as well. ¬†If you hear of some holiday related to food, chances are someone is giving away something for free.
  • Grab coupon books and open your Valpak, or look online for local coupons. ¬†There are lots of BOGO deals or significant discounts for restaurants, even some locally owned ones. ¬†Always Google before you pay!
  • Sign up for birthday deals! ¬†Lots of places do birthday giveaways, like Larkburger, if you sign up for their email list.
  • Use a student ID for discounts/freebies if you are lucky enough to have one. ¬†Same for senior discounts. ¬†If you are old enough to qualify, take advantage of that shiz!
  • Spin every wheel, enter every drawing, and participate in every free contest you can. ¬†I won a free pound of ground fresh ground coffee and a reusable mug the other day by spinning a wheel at a festival. ¬†No commitment by me, but a pretty great payout.
  • Go out with friends and “forget” your wallet. ¬†Just kidding, don’t do that.

 

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Digit Update: Real, Tangible Savings

Digit update

Holy crap! Digit has saved me over $250 since I’ve joined! ¬†I currently only have about $8 in my Digit account because I’ve been transferring every $50 to my savings, but that is real, tangible savings that I never missed from my checking account and wouldn’t have saved on my own. ¬†Digit is now offering bonuses if you leave your money in their account (they use the interest they earn on users’ money to pay themselves), but I get a better return rate on my savings account. ¬†If you haven’t tried Digit yet, you need to do it. ¬†I never miss the money and it’s a nice surprise to see how much has accumulated when I get the handy account balance texts. ¬†It is also so SO easy to use. ¬†All commands are done via text so you don’t even have to log into the account online. ¬†I only do it when I need a screenshot to post. ¬†Digit is phenomenal. ¬†Do it.

Roasted Roma Tomatoes

I wrote this post last fall and for some reason never posted it.  Here you go:

In order to maximize our CSA share, I bought 30 lbs. box of roma tomatoes.  What does one do with 30 lbs. of roma tomatoes?

I suppose this was an option:

 

Instead, I opted for roasting them.  I think I made a wise decision.

This is in a box that holds a case of beer bottles. THAT'S A LOT OF TOMATOES.

This is in a box that holds a case of beer bottles. THAT’S A LOT OF TOMATOES.

By buying in bulk, I saved on the normal cost of tomatoes, plus these are locally grown and so flavorful and delicious.

I halved all the tomatoes and laid them out on cookie sheets covered with parchment. ¬†The parchment prevented the tomatoes sticking to the pan and allowed me to use the pan multiple times in a row. ¬†I drizzled them with some extra virgin olive oil and roasted them for 40 minutes at 375¬į and then increased the temperature to 400¬į for the last 20 minutes.

Roasting

Roasting

I had multiple batches so I seasoned them each differently. ¬†I sprinkled some with red pepper flakes, some with oregano and basil, some with rosemary (the rosemary tomatoes were my favorite), some with 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s, and left some unseasoned.

After they cooled, I put them into quart sized freezer bags, marked them with the date and the type of seasoning, and stacked them in the freezer.

These tomatoes were absolutely one of the best things I’ve ever made. ¬†I didn’t use canned tomatoes or marinara sauce until they were gone. ¬†I used up 30 lbs of tomatoes in probably less than two months–that’s how spectacularly good they were. ¬†This fall I’m going to do at least 60 lbs. because I want my freezer to have these FOREVER. ¬†I don’t think you’d get the same flavor using store bought tomatoes because fresh-from-the-farm tomatoes are so flavorful, but roasting helps bring out the flavors and caramelizes them slightly so that they are unreal delicious so it’s worth a shot if you can’t get your hands on farm-fresh tomatoes.

Kill Your Television…No, wait! Don’t! He never did anything to you! Just get rid of your cable.

By special request from my Aunt Becky, here’s how we live without cable and watch everything we want to watch for less than $50¬†a month (including high speed internet):

  • Fight with your internet company.¬† Don’t actually fight, but kill them with kindness until you threaten to leave. ¬†Every time our bill goes up, I immediately call our internet company and ask if they can do anything to help us save on our internet. ¬†If they say no, I tell them that I can’t stay with them if I am paying full price for internet because it’s too expensive. ¬†My trick, though, is to be as nice as humanly possible to everyone I talk to and try to joke around and make small talk with them. ¬†These people are in call centers being yelled at all day. ¬†I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “Wow, thanks for asking how my day is going. ¬†People don’t usually do that.” ¬† I actually had to call this week and was able to lock in a $30 discount for two years without every having to threaten to leave. ¬†The first person I talked to told me he was only authorized to give discounts on bundling (no, I don’t want to pay extra for DirectTV or a home phone…you’re missing the point, guy), but said that since we’ve been with the company for two years the loyalty department would be able to find me discounts on internet only. ¬†After 3 minutes on the phone with the loyalty department rep, I had a two-year discount locked in that was the same as our intro price without having to add any services. ¬†Total time commitment: 10 minutes.
  • Get a streaming device.¬† We spent $30 on a Roku three years ago during an Amazon sale and we can stream a huge number of channels to our TV. ¬†It has a remote for maximum laziness. ¬†We have friends that use Chromecast and Sony, and they basically do the same thing. ¬†Find what works for your preferences and try to get it on sale to cut your initial costs.
  • Netflix and Hulu+. ¬†We survive on these two subscriptions. ¬†Each is roughly $8 a month. ¬†Paying for Hulu+ allows us to stream to our Roku. ¬†If we were watching on our laptop, I’d probably stick to regular Hulu. ¬†The convenience of watching it on our TV is worth it. ¬†Netflix is life so no explanation necessary.
  • HD Digital Antenna.¬† Andy likes football. ¬†Football is hard to stream from the internet, if not impossible without a cable subscription…UNLESS you have a digital antenna. ¬†We can get Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS over the airwaves and that covers quite a few sporting events. ¬†We also get PBS and a million Christian channels so we could have church in our living room all the time. ¬†(http://www.ourladyofperpetualexemption.com/) ¬†We initally went to Best Buy where they sold us a shitty antenna for $35 that didn’t pick up¬†ANYTHING. ¬†We returned it and they told us we’d have to spend at least $100 to get a roof-mounted setup. ¬†We went to Target, spent $30 on a digital antenna with an amplifier, and now we have channels. ¬†Antenna TV will always be affected by location, the weather, solar flares and other strange phenomena, but we can generally get the channel we’re looking for out of either Denver or Cheyenne.
  • Find out who you know that pays for cable or¬†satellite. ¬†Andy’s parents pay for cable and HBO. ¬†We have friends who pay for DirectTV. ¬†We can go to their houses to watch anything we can’t stream. ¬†We may or may not use their logins… ¬†If you are from a television provider, we most definitely do not use anyone’s login information.
  • If all else fails, find a sports bar with specials.¬† We like college sports, especially CSU and Wyoming. ¬†Their games aren’t typically shown on major channels. ¬†If we can’t stream it, get it on our antenna, or find a house where we can watch it, we’ll head to a bar with reasonable prices and ample TVs. ¬†Road 34, The Bar, CB & Potts, Tap N Handle, Blind Pig, Ryan’s, and Taps have all worked well for us in the past. ¬†The CSU Alumni Association usually hosts watch parties for games so you can watch in the company of other fans and have the game day experience.

How do you save on TV? ¬†If you only read and work out and are generally better than us TV addicts, I don’t care.

Saving on Food, Part 1: Groceries

The biggest chunk of my flexible spending each month is definitely food, whether that’s groceries or eating out. ¬†I love food, especially really great food, so it’s worth it to me to spend a little more sometimes. ¬†I want to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck though. ¬†Here are some ways I maximize my food dollars each month. ¬†This post has my grocery rules, and part 2 will have tips for eating out on a budget.

  • Buy whole foods. ¬†This is pretty simple. ¬†Buy things that only have one ingredient: the thing you are buying. ¬†My¬†list tends to include¬†produce, meat, tofu, eggs, grains, beans, etc. ¬†To do this, though, you have to…
  • Learn to cook. ¬†I feel very fortunate that my mom taught me how to cook when I was young so that I’m not dependent on frozen and boxed food now. ¬†Not only do we eat healthy because I’m cooking with whole foods, I can find ways to use up all the food I buy so that we’re not wasting anything. ¬†Cooking is also cheap therapy. ¬†I love cooking because I can zen out in the kitchen and not think about anything else, so it’s ends up being like a daily meditation time. ¬†I’ve learned that if I try to multitask while cooking I will probably burn the house down. ¬†About a month ago I put 18 eggs on to boil and then went to weed the yard for a few minutes. ¬†Two hours later, I had weeded most of the front yard, but then was reminded about the eggs by the smoke alarm and the most acrid smell¬†I’ve ever smelled. ¬†It took an entire scented candle and three sage smudgings to get the smell out of the house.
  • Leftovers.¬† I try to cook dinner most nights and then we eat leftovers for lunch. ¬†Buying lunch out is a huge expense. ¬†I know people who eat out every day and I honestly don’t know how they do it. ¬†Near CSU you’d pay roughly $8 a day for a meal on average for a fast-casual meal. ¬†That’s $40 a week, and $160 a month to eat. ¬†If you’re eating at a sit-down restaurant, the cost goes up to around $240 a month. ¬†For $160, I can buy groceries for two people for three meals a day for at least two weeks.
  • If you need to buy processed foods, look for better options.¬† We buy frozen burritos. ¬†A lot of them. ¬†I could make burritos and freeze them, but I generally don’t have time and they would all be consumed in two days. ¬†I know this from experience. ¬†But we used to buy the “fancy, healthy” burritos, until I realized that a) they were averaging $3/burrito, and b) they were filled with preservatives and junk. ¬†I can buy a package of La Favorita burritos for $7/pack of 6 and the ingredient list includes things like “tortilla,” “beans,” “eggs,” “green chiles,” etc. ¬†They are also a Colorado company so we’re supporting a local business, getting better food, and saving almost $2 per burrito!!!! ¬†There are quality convenience foods that will save you money if you shop around and are smart about what you buy.
  • Coupons.¬† I am not a crazy couponer. ¬†I don’t have time for it and people who coupon like it’s their job end up with processed garbage food like a pantry full of Hamburger Helper or 47 bottles of steak sauce. ¬†But I shop at King Soopers with our membership card so they track our purchases and send coupons for things we actually buy. ¬†My ¬†personalized coupons usually include things like mushrooms, spinach, avocados, Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, etc., and I get some in the mail almost every month. ¬†I have a little coupon file that I put them in and throw in my purse before I go grocery shopping. ¬†They usually send a couple of coupons for free things each time. ¬†We generally get free eggs or frozen vegetables, but this last time we got a free bag of whole wheat bagels (The Boy loves¬†bagels and it saved us 4 bucks). ¬†I also make sure to log on to our King Soopers online account and load any e-coupons that are available that I might buy. ¬†They will usually have something from the produce, dairy, and meat departments available. There are so many times when I’ll forget I loaded a coupon and it will magically save me money at checkout.
  • Shop generics and sales–always look at the price per unit!¬†¬†I do a lot of comparing costs while I’m shopping. ¬†For example, if I’m buying beans or oats or coconut milk,¬†there is usually a generic brand and a name brand and a lot of times they will be in different sizes. ¬†If you look at the cost per ounce, you’ll figure out how to get them most bang for your buck. ¬†Most of the times the cheapest per ounce is the generic, but not always, especially if the name brand is on sale. ¬†This is usually in tiny type on the shelf price tag. ¬†Sometimes the units are different so you may need to do math. ¬†Luckily for us, we all have calculators on our phones so it’s not so bad.
  • Bulk bins. ¬†There are some things I almost never buy at our King Soopers because the one closest to our house doesn’t have bulk bins. ¬†I will go to Sprouts for things like old fashioned oats, nuts, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, and spices because I can almost guarantee that the bulk price will be less than what I would pay for that item in a package. ¬†Curry powder in a small shaker can cost up to $8, but I can buy a sandwich bag full from a bulk bin for less than $2.
  • Rewards cards.¬† This means two things: membership card and rewards credit card. ¬†I use our King Soopers membership card to get sales and coupons and gas points (10 cents off per gallon for every $100 you spend on groceries…not a lot, but it helps). ¬†I also have an American Express Blue Cash Rewards card because it pays 6% cash back on up to $6000 of grocery purchases a year. ¬†That’s up to $360 back on things I’m already buying to live. ¬†It pays 1% on all other purchases and 3% on gas. ¬†There’s a $75 annual fee, but I typically earn that back in the first three months.
  • Get a CSA share. ¬†We purchase a CSA share every spring. ¬†It’s an investment up front, but will save you in the long run and support local agriculture. ¬†It’s also really nice to not have to pay for produce during the summer–it feels free, but we already paid for it. ¬†I’ve shared this before, but we have a market share through Native Hill and it is the greatest.
  • Freeze things.¬† We can get bulk boxes through our share for things like green beans and roma tomatoes. ¬†Last year I prepped green beans and tomatoes and froze them for use over the winter. ¬†An afternoon of effort means no shopping later on and you’re essentially locking in the best price. ¬†If I find something at a store for a really good price, like BOGO Red Bird chicken, I’ll buy as much as I can fit in my freezer. ¬†Last summer I purchased a 30¬†lb box of ¬†Hatch green chiles from Whole Foods when they were on sale for $14.99 a box and then Whole Foods roasted them for me for free. ¬†My mom helped me package them in individual freezer bags and¬†I am still making green chili with them. ¬†It definitely beats $3-5 a baggie at the farmer’s market or buying canned green chiles.
  • Stock up on pantry items when you find an unbeatable price. ¬†I buy Kroger whole grain pasta. ¬†It’s healthier than regular pasta, it tastes better to me than regular pasta,¬†and the only ingredient is whole wheat (some brands’ whole grain pastas are only 51% whole grain). ¬†It typically is priced at $1.00-$1.20 a box. ¬†Last month I found “closeout” prices for $.75-$.88 a box so I bought all the spaghetti and rotini they had. ¬†We’re going to buy it anyway so might as well stock up while I know the price is unbeatable. ¬†And I swear, Kroger, if you actually stop carrying whole wheat pasta, I will never forgive you.
  • Use it all up. ¬†When I chop vegetables, I save the odds and ends in a bag in our freezer for making stock. ¬†If I cook a whole chicken, I save the skin and bones for stock as well. ¬†It all goes into the crock pot together and I know that I REALLY got my money’s worth and I don’t have to spend $8 on the equivalent amounts of aseptic box broth later.
  • Eat your pantry/freezer.¬† I am often tempted to just pop over the the store to pick up new items for dinner. ¬†This adds up. ¬†My solution is to try to come up with meals entirely from what we have on hand. ¬†It’s fun, in a frugal weirdo sort of way, to try to go as many days as possible without buying something new. ¬†If you have a stocked up pantry and freezer, it’s easy. ¬†But when you’re getting down to the odds and ends you have to get a little creative. ¬†I have a can of salmon that I’m terrified to eat because the last one I opened had an entire spinal cord in it. ¬†I also have a bag of frozen figs that I really want to use and I don’t know what to do with. ¬†We’re probably eating fish spinal cord fig salad or something at some point.

While I could be saving more money on groceries, I know a lot of people “playing the grocery game” end up buying a lot of processed garbage or things they’ll never use, simply because they are free or dirt cheap. ¬†These methods save us money on healthy items we will actually use and don’t take up all our time.

Condiments and packaged garbage for years…

How do you make your grocery budget work?  What tips do you have to save a little extra but maintain your life?

Fort Collins Passport

Frugal in FoCo Pro Tip: BUY A FORT COLLINS PASSPORT 

Enjoying a Jalapeno Cilantro Margarita at The Laboratory last summer

Enjoying a Jalapeno Cilantro Margarita at The Laboratory last summer

Reasons why you need to do this immediately:

A. You get 2-for-1 drinks at 30 different places around Fort Collins.

B. There are other goodies in the passport. ¬†For example, last year’s included a free wheel of MouCo Cheese¬†and a free burrito at Illegal Pete’s. ¬†The Passport folks also do periodic parties for passport holders.

C. It’s good from Memorial Day to Labor Day, aka the greatest time to be in Fort Collins because it’s beautiful and most of the students are gone.

D. It’s on sale for only $15 until May 22, and then only $20 after that. ¬†If you think about what you get for the investment, it’s a screaming deal, especially if you were planning on doing some patio drinking anyway. ¬†You basically get 30 drinks for the cost of 3.

E. It’s like being in a secret society. ¬†When you get your passport out at a brewery or restaurant, everyone else with a passport is like, “Hey! Me too!” and then you can have discussions about your best passport adventures. ¬†You can plan special passport outings with your passport-holding friends and then you can all Instagram your drinks and passports together (see above).

The Passport is also available for other cities, so if you’re¬†in Boulder, Brooklyn, Colorado Springs, Denver, LA, Santa Barbara, DC, or Columbia, MO, you can drink on the cheap in style too.

Let’s grab a beer (for cheap).

In FoCo, craft beer is a way of life, but it can also put a huge dent in your bank account if you aren’t careful. ¬†Those small purchases can add up big time. ¬†So what are my favorite ways to drink on the cheap in Fort Collins?

1. Go on a New Belgium Tour.

Our friendly tour guide telling us about the bottling process.

Our friendly tour guide telling us about the bottling process.

This is going to require some planning or extra lack of planning. ¬†NBB tours are insanely popular because you get a FREE 90 minute fun and informative tour of the brewery, there’s a slide at the end that will ruin your skin forever, and you get tons of samples! ¬†But if you want to go on a weekend, you’re going to need to plan at least a month and a half out, or two if it’s a weekend when lots of people are going to be in town. ¬†Tuesdays-Thursdays generally have more availability, but you may have to take time off if you are a M-F, 9-5er like myself (more like 8-5, let’s be real). ¬†If you’re horrible at planning ahead, find someone who booked a tour and has open spots, or show up at the tap room and get on the list for cancellations. ¬†You might have to wait a while, and there’s a chance you won’t make it on a tour at all if it’s a really busy day, but hey, you’re at the NBB tap room. ¬†Play some ring on a string or Rolle Bolle and enjoy it.

2. Go to the Bar.

There is a very real chance this is actually a PBR, but it was probably only $1.

There is a very real chance this is actually a PBR, but it was probably only $1.

Cheap draughts, a huge bomber selection, and most importantly, vintage arcade games, giant Jenga, ping pong, and skeeball.

It’s also not 100 Octane¬†the Rec Room, so that’s a win in itself.

3. $5 growler fills at Black Bottle Brewery.

We recently discovered that you can fill a growler at BBB for $5 on Wednesdays and Sundays!  The $5 fills are limited to their standard brews, but Black Bottle makes great beer.  If you need a growler to fill, ask anyone because they probably have 14 like we do.

4. Play Geeks Who Drink.  

We will destroy you.

We will destroy you.

We are addicted to the Geeks Who Drink bar quiz. ¬†It’s fun, you can win free beer and gift cards, and there is a quiz happening somewhere in Fort Collins on almost every night of the week. ¬†Not for the easily offended. ¬†There are also usually drink specials during the game.

5. Follow your favorite beer bars on Facebook or Instagram for updates on specials.  

Some probably tweet too, but my Twitter account is almost solely used for bitching about terrible service.

6. Go to Matador.  

First of all, it’s like Chipotle but locally owned and the food is as locally sourced as possible. ¬† Second of all, it’s CHEAP. ¬†Like “ARE THESE PRICES REAL?!?!?!?!111” cheap. ¬†Their bottled beer is $1.63 a bottle. ¬†They draught beer isn’t much more. ¬†They have an awesome selection of local beers. ¬†Their hot sauce will kill you if you’re not prepared.

It’s not hard to get a delicious beer for not a lot of money in Fort Collins. ¬†Where are your favorite craft beer bargains?