All posts by Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez shares money tips and reviews on My Financial Reviews.

Meal Plan to Save Money on Your Food and Groceries

meal planning grocery savings

Sometimes what’s convenient isn’t what’s cheap, so plan ahead. Unless you’re sticking to a dollar menu, it’s hard to spend less $10 on quality, filling meals when you’re looking for something quick and easy to quell your appetite. So don’t wait until your stomach is cramping to think about the next meal. Plan ahead!

Steals and Deals at Grocery Stores

Check out what sales are going on at the grocery stores in you area. Typically, grocery stores mail promotional newspapers to residences to highlight current sales, so scan over these to get an idea of which recipes may be bargains for the week.

When flipping through these papers, reading the rest of your mail and walking down the grocery store aisles, also be on the lookout for coupons because they are essentially free money.

Bulk Buying 

Buying mass quantities of products can save you a lot of money, but be careful. There’s an art to it and it will cost you if you don’t keep a few things in mind.

  • Is it perishable? Toilet paper and soap are no problem, but food can be a different story. If you can use it eventually then stock up, but be wary of anything that will expire.
  • Can you freeze it? Just because it’s perishable doesn’t mean you’ll lose money buying in bulk. Meat can be a great investment as long as you have the space in your freezer.
  • Will you use it? Some bulk deals sound so good that you can’t say no, but take a moment to consider whether or not you will ever finish eating that 4 pound bag of Cheezy Poofs or if you know enough recipes to spice up that 30 pound bag of potatoes.

Seasonal Savings

Seasonal savings go beyond deals on Halloween candies in November and Christmas wreaths in January. Fruits and vegetables go in and out of season and are priced accordingly.

So wait for spring to make that delicious artichoke dip and consider whipping up a sweet potato casserole in winter rather than summer. Cutting down on small costs like this will add up in a big way.

Thoughts on Saving Money on Your Groceries

Just remember that convenience costs, so plan ahead. If you follow these three rules, you’ll soon be counting all the money you’re saving. You may also find that planning ahead takes the stress out of feeding yourself and the family.

Melissa is a guest author from Food on the Table and expert on meal planning strategies that help save money.  

Photo Credits: jeffm211 and Celine.Q

Trying Out BJ’s Warehouse Club for Free

money refinance

I recently went through the mail and noticed a trial membership offer from BJ’s for 60 days. For people debating whether or not a warehouse club membership is a good deal, using a trial membership can be a great test run.

With the trial period open now, I wanted to share some highlights of a BJ’s Wholesale Club membership. Hopefully, it’ll help decide if it’s the right move for you.

Membership Costs and Benefits

Like other warehouse clubs, there are different tiers of membership, each with their own benefits.

Inner Circle ($45/year)

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Household and 1st Supplemental Card — No Additional Charge
  • Up to 3 Supplemental Cards ($20 each)

Business ($45/year)

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Household and 1st Supplemental Card — No Additional Charge
  • Up to 8 Supplemental Cards ($20 each)
  • Resale Privileges

BJ’s Rewards ($90/year)

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Household and 1st Supplemental Card — No Additional Charge
  • Up to 3 Supplemental Cards ($20 each)
  • 2% Payback (up to $500/12 mo.)
  • Dedicated Member Care Representatives
  • $20 off a complete pair of eyeglasses from BJ’s Optical

All memberships also include online shopping options and a 100% money back guarantee. BJ’s also lets you use manufacturer coupons for additional savings, something that I can’t do at Costco. I also notice that they take all major credit cards, which makes it more convenient for many shoppers.

Please check their site for details on all their benefits.

Additional Benefits

Besides the in-store savings, BJ’s has some deals on various services that many people use.

  • Auto & Home Insurance
  • Car Rentals
  • Cell Phone Deals with Verizon Wireless
  • Extended Warranties
  • Flights
  • Health Insurance
  • Optical
  • Tire Center

Depending on your needs, this can be a fantastic deal for a family.

Trial Membership Details

The membership gives you an Inner Circle membership privileges (with the exception of online shopping). you’ll need a photo ID to sign up. Check your receipts to see the expiration date of your trial. Only one membership per household is allowed.

Thoughts on BJ Wholesale Club

Don’t just assume that a warehouse club membership can save you money. Double check and use a trial to see for yourself if membership is a good idea for you.

I’d like to get some firsthand reviews of current and former members of BJ’s. How would you rate the saving you get on average? What’s the best feature of your membership? What’s the worst?

Photo Credit: MattHurst

Don’t Forget to Pay Your Quarterly Taxes!

estimated taxes 1040

If you haven’t already, it’s time to file your taxes before they are due this upcoming Tuesday, April 15, 2014.  For those who are self-employed, you also have to make sure cover your estimated taxes for the first quarter.

When are Estimated Taxes Due?

estimated taxes 1040
Don’t forget to pay your quarterly taxes!

Estimated taxes are due on an almost quarterly basis. Our tax system in the United States is basically pay as you go – when you work as an employee your taxes are deducted from your paycheck each time. If you’re self-employed you are responsible for making the deductions.

Here are the upcoming due dates for 2014.

  • April 15, 2014 (1st Quarter)
  • June 16, 2014
  • September 15, 2014
  • January 15, 2015

Payment Methods for Estimated Taxes

The goods news is that paying your quarterly taxes is pretty simple, with several options open to you.

I personally pay my federal and state taxes online. It’s quick and it’s easy. If you want to find out how to enroll for EFTPS, check out my post on TurboTax’s blog to find out. If you underpay your taxes, there are penalties. The IRS will send you the bill.

Thoughts on Quarterly Taxes

How many of you have already taken care of your estimated taxes for the first quarter? How’s business going this year?

Photo Credit: 401k

What Do I Need to Start Homebrewing?

Since we started last year, home brewing has become one of our favorite hobbies to do as a couple. Not only have we made some delicious brews, we’ve also connected with friends and found a way to save money and have a good time.

One question that I’ve been asked is whether home brewing can save money or if it’s an expensive hobby. As with everything, it depends on the person, but I wanted to go over some of the basics, so you can decided if this is a hobby, you’d like to try out.whisky pumpkin ale

What Do I Need to Brew Beer?

At its most basic, the ingredients you need to brew a beer (gluten free or otherwise) are:

  • Malted Grain/Adjuncts: With traditional beers, malted barley, wheat, and rye are commonly used, which are not options when brewing gluten-free.  For GF brewers options like sorghum syrup, pure maple syrup, buckwheat,  molasses, honey, and millet can be used when making a batch.
  • Hops: Hops add both flavor and stability to your brews, providing a measure of bitterness and aroma. There are dozens of varieties available, give plenty of room to craft a brew to your personal taste.
  • Water: You can use your tap water when home brewing, provided you like it. Beer takes on the characteristics of its ingredients, so if your local water has a nasty after taste, then I wouldn’t use it.
  • Yeast: The last main ingredient when it comes to brewing is yeast. You need it to take the wort that you have prepare and transform it into a delicious alcoholic beverage.  Yeast ‘eats’ the sugar in the mixture you prepared (called wort) and breaks it down into carbon dioxide and alcohol. You can purchase either dry yeast or liquid, but if you’re brewing gluten-free, then you’d want to go with dry yeast. Liquid yeasts are typically prepped with mixtures that contain some barely.

As you can see, making beer is essentially boiling  your malt, hops, and water to create a  wonderfully smelling wort. You then add yeast and let it do its thing for about two weeks (if you’re brewing ale). Once that is complete, you can bottle it up and let it carbonate for 7-10 days or you can keg it and serve it immediately.

What Equipment Do I Need to Brew Beer?

The short answer is comes down to how much you want to brew at a time and if you want to do all grain or extract. There are differences between the two, but a big difference for a new home brewer is that extract brewing 5 gallons is much easier and requires less equipment than going all grain. The extract saves you a step at the cost of not having as much control over brewing. If you’re new, though, that may not be a huge deal. You can still brew some wonderful beers and you don’t need to purchase as much equipment compared to all grain brewing.

Typically a 5 gallon homebrewing start kit will include:

  • 6.5 gallon heavy duty fermenter with drilled and gasketed lid.
  • Bottling spigot
  • 3 feet of bottling tubing
  • Three piece fermentation (air) lock
  • #2 drilled stopper
  • Deluxe double lever bottle capper
  • Bottle cleaning brush
  • Automatic bottle filler.
  • Triple scale hydrometer

Prices will vary, but you’re generally looking at $70-$80. If you get a recipe box with the kit, it’ll usually bring the price to about $90-$100. Brewing 5 gallons will give you around 50 bottles of beer.

Is Homebrewing Cost Effective?

That depends on what you’re brewing. When we started brewing, I tracked a few of the recipe kits that we used – both the 1 gallon batches and the 5 gallon batches and here is what we got:

Receipe Kit Cost Bottles Brewed (12oz) Cost Per Bottle/6pk
Honey IPA $15 9 $1.67/$10.02
Dry Stout $34.50 50 $0.69/$4.14
American Amber Ale $33.50 50 $0.67/$4.02
Chocolate Maple Porter $15 10 $1.50/$9.00

You can see how cost effective 5 gallon brewing is compared to 1 gallon. That’s because some ingredients like yeast and hops have to be bought as a whole packet. you can not go to a typical brew shop and ask for 1/3 oz of hops, you have to buy it by the oz. Now you can buy some hops and divide it among several small brews (provided they are stored properly) which can bring the 1 gallon costs down further. Still, if you’re into craft beers, home brewing some of your favorites can be a rewarding hobby and money saver.

Thoughts on Home Brewing

How many of you are home brewers? How many of you are thinking of trying it out soon?

Photo Credit: Ryan Hyde