Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Grocery Savings Tool & A Casserole

What is this?

Saving money on groceries is one area that can really have a big impact on your monthly budget.  Not keeping an eye on grocery purchases can be one of the biggest ways money gets wasted in a home.  I cringe when I think back to the first few years of my husband's and my grocery shopping trips.  We would go to the store with only a basic list made, and pretty much toss whatever we fancied into the cart.  Both my husband and I are pretty expressive, so we would get excited about any new item we saw, and buy all sorts of ingredients with little or no thought as to how we would use up all the groceries before they went bad.  Yikes, to think of all the beautiful produce and fresh foods that we wasted, it was cringe worthy!

In our defense, we were young and just excited about stocking our home with good foods for ourselves and our two little ones.  It wasn't long before we realized that we needed to do something about the waste, and get a handle on our grocery budget.  I started making better lists, and planning out meals.  For awhile I tried coupons, and looking for sales.  Coupons are okay, but only if you are very organized with them, and only use them to buy things you would normally buy.

All of these things helped, but I would still find myself at the check out, surprised at the total.  I am not mathematically gifted in any way, and keeping track of the amount I was spending while shopping with little ones, was difficult.  I tried bringing my calculator, but the total would accidentally get cleared, and then I would try my best to re-add the cart to no avail.  I did my best and the calculator helped some, but not as much as I would have liked.

Then in 1999, we finally got the internet, and a used computer.  I was leery about the whole computer thing, what was this "world wide web" ? So funny to think about that now.  What a world of information it opened up, one of my favorite things to do was look up old things from my childhood on eBay.  I loved finding pictures of my long lost toys and reminders of old favorite cartoons.

Then one day, while thinking of my grocery shopping conundrum, I remembered a fun little item that we used to bring with us to the grocery store when I was a child in the 1970's and '80's, and that was always for sale right by the check out.  A little handheld price tabulator, that had four little clickers on the top, that you could press for the dollars and cents that you were adding to your cart.  We had a brown one, and I remember that I loved playing with it while we shopped.  Why did they ever stop selling such a useful tool?  I searched and searched for one on eBay, but not remembering what they were called, had a very difficult time finding one. One time I found a similar item, but it was not quite right, and was in pretty bad condition.

Then I remembered that when I was in college, and worked at a eye glass manufacturer, we had to keep track of items that we finished and sent through our individual stations on a little tally clicker.  I thought, well this would be even more helpful and easy to add things up at the grocery store, just round up to the nearest dollar, and click the tally.  Again, not knowing what this item was called, it took me awhile to find one.

Finally I did.  They are called Hand Tally Counters, and can be found on eBay for a very low cost.  Apparently in addition to keeping track of production at factories, they are used by golfers.  This little device has saved me so much money.  We have been using our Tally Counter for the last 7 years now, and it is by far, the easiest method for keeping track of your shopping total.  Whenever I am going on a shopping trip, I have a well thought out list, backed up by a meal plan, and my handy counter.  Every item we add to the cart gets clicked into our counter, sometimes we put the kids in charge of this, now that they are teenagers.  It is shocking sometimes, how quick the money adds up, when we see the total nearing our budgeted amount we can make adjustments.  If a product is more than we thought, we can make a conscious choice to either buy it and buy less of something else, or substitute it for another item.

I believe that keeping track is the very best way to save money on purchases.  We always love to see how close we calculated our purchases.

It is so easy to go over budget when you aren't keeping track of the total.  With grocery prices going up every month, it is more important now than ever.  I have been grocery shopping for our family for 17 years now, I am pretty familiar with what things should cost, and I have been continually shocked this year while buying regular every day items, at how much the prices have jumped.

Just to give an example of how much not keeping track can cost, we were shopping for Christmas items last month, and had stuck to our budget very well with our handy clicker.  We were in a rush towards the end to get back home in time for the kids to arrive home from school, and we just needed a few last things, hubby ran to get a couple items from the back of the store, while I finished shopping at the front.  I became enthralled by some silly Christmas themed food items, and carelessly tossed them into the cart without my clicker, thinking, how much could these little things possibly add on.  Well about $50 extra dollars is how much, I was shocked at myself, luckily I had been very frugal all the way through the store, but what a silly way to take away the savings I had worked so hard for.  Lesson learned, if it is not clicked off on the clicker, it doesn't belong in my cart.

You can find these clickers on eBay, a lot of them are international sellers, I purchased mine from an international seller.  Just search HAND TALLY COUNTER - For the most part they are between five and ten dollars and worth every penny and more. I intend to buy a few more of these to give my children when they are ready to start shopping for their own families.  One last look at one of my favorite household tools ever!

I also thought I would share a frugal recipe today.  One of my favorite frugal meals is the humble casserole.  The best ones are often made of leftovers from the fridge.  Sunday night we had Taco fixin's and I cooked up more taco seasoned meat than needed, for another meal the next day.  Along with left over corn (hubby likes sweet corn on his Tacos), the Taco seasoned hamburger was a wonderful addition to Monday's casserole.  Here is the recipe-

Mexican Casserole

3/4 - 1 pound of Taco seasoned browned hamburger (I have also made this with seasoned black beans as well if you want to make this a vegetarian casserole)
1 box of casserole noodles, I used Mini Penne, but any macaroni type noodle would work - Cooked and drained. ( I stock up when they are $1 a box )
left over corn, about half a can
1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes ( these cost the same as regular diced tomatoes at our grocery store and taste great, regular would work as well)
1 small can sliced black olives
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 cup Mexican  or cheddar jack blend shredded cheese
1/4 cup sour cream

Here is a look at the Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes

Using the pan the Pasta was cooked in, after the pasta has been drained, put it back in the pot, add the rest of the ingredients and stir until everything is combined.  Transfer to a casserole dish sprayed with non stick cooking spray, cover and bake at 350 F. for about 40 minutes or until heated through.  This filled my regular sized casserole dish as well as half of a small casserole dish.  The family gobbled it up for dinner, and it will make a perfect lunch for Gary and I.  Perfect served with a salad and some cornbread, or just by itself for a one dish quick school night dinner.

Thanks for reading this extra long post :)  Hope you have a great week!


  1. Hi April, such a great post today! I have never seen this little tabulator before, what a great idea. Your casserole sounds delicious! These tips are so helpful. Have a lovely afternoon! Delisa :)

  2. What great suggestions and a yummy looking recipe. I have never gone to the store without an exact list. I don't trust myself!!

  3. What a great idea April! I've tried using a calculator too, but just like you it always got messed up. Thank you for including vegetarian alternatives in your recipes! Looks really good!

  4. Good Afternoon from Wales, April. A good read in the current economic climate when some are having to choose "heat or eat". I am horrified that my week in week out basket has doubled in the. last 6 years, without the addition of occassional treats. I note now that you can scan your basket as you go in some supermarkets, so I hope they come with an 'unscan' feature once your limit is reached and things are put back on the shelves! Like the sound of that casserole, and beans do make a good vegetarian substitute; thank you for including! Some of my best recipes come from leftovers!

  5. I also cringe at how much we spent on groceries when we were first married, and we weren't making much money then either. Mostly we spent too much on convenience foods that I now make myself.

    The hand counter is a great idea! I usually keep track in my head but people probably think I'm crazy walking down the isle reminding myself how much I have so far... 27, 27, 27... :)

  6. Thanks everyone for all of your comments. I have seen on some television shows some sort of calculator or scanner on the shopping carts, that could be helpful, but as you said Celtic Heart, only if you can "unscan" items :), I will often put back items when I see my total going up. Kristen, I am exactly like that when I keep track in my head, re-counting over and over.

  7. I love love the idea of a tally counter!!!!! I need something to keep me accountable for everything I put into my cart! You're right about how quickly those impulse purchases can add up! Heading over to eBay now! Beautiful blog btw!

  8. That is a fantastic idea! Our grocery budget constantly spirals out of control -- at least I've curbed our waste problem! We typically eat up everything that we buy, or close enough to it, but we have expensive food tastes and not enough cash to back it up lol.

    PS - I hope you enjoy the Swedish meatballs!

  9. This is a great idea. I am going to get one right now. We have been struggling with groceries and cost. Thank you so much for this post.


I love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and ideas. Please feel free to leave a comment.