I'll call this Hounding 101:

Hounding: to purchase something using little to no money. I think of it as hunting up the deals like a hound dog......

Each week, I start by checking in at my favorite locations: MSN message board Grocery Game followed by, then over to I start with the Grocery Game first because the information is the freshest, the scenarios have already been tested, and the ladies can always catch something that I miss. I next ventured over to - she's a local coupon queen that sets up deals, as do her followers, and she even links you to printable coupons to get the best deal. I love how thorough she is. Over at hotcouponworld, I get to view what deals have been done in stores across the country. They have a very comprehensive coupon database: this helps when planning what to focus on. I know we all have our basics like eggs that seldom have coupons, but to round out your pantry - hounding is the way to go.
Since June, I have paid less than $15 dollars in condiments (from salad dressing, to ketchup, to marinades, relish, mayo, etc.) in 6 months. I entertain 1-2 times a month, for as few as 6 or as many as 25. I haven't paid a dime out of pocket (OOP)for salad dressing, marinade, relish, mustard, and mayo since I got "serious" about couponing. Though there are coupons in the paper - I tend to find ones with higher values online. Though some smaller chain-grocery stores don't allow internet printables (IP's), I can still make it work for me. Manufacturer websites are a great place, along with,, and to find internet printable coupons.
Like some of the pro's advise, I have a price book, I know the rock bottom price (the lowest price the item will see in a 3-6 month period) for many items I use, and whenever possible I wait for that price, and stock up when an item hits that price. If you have a separate freezer - this will benefit you the most. If you don't have a separate freezer, ask yourself this, would one work for your lifestyle? If so, save some of your coupon savings for said freezer. Remember, you can freeze bread, meat, chocolate, cheese, yogurt, premade meals, fruit, pie filling, etc.
Meat: if your local grocery store marks down their meat, clearanced meat can be a great deal. I tend to use it within 48 hours or freeze it until I need it. Mark downs can also include cheese (if you're lucky) and you can use coupons with marked down meat and cheese - works like a charm. Last summer, I stocked my freezer with loads of free or nearly free chicken (drummies and thights) from Meijer. They went on sale for $.59/ lb. got marked 40% off, and I had a $1 any Meijer chicken. As it didn't say whole chicken, boneless skinless chicken, etc., I used it on the cheapest possible item - smallest package (for highest savings), and even made a profit off of some of it. Most stores won't give you cash back, but you can use overage (if you have a coupon for $1 off an item that is selling for $.75, $.25 would be your overage) to help pay for other items, even tax!
I love when eggnog is in season. I've created some great dessert recipes that use it, and with that distinct flavor, nothing else will do. Here's a favorite of recipe of mine that I've been waiting all year to make.

Raisin the Bar!
1 pkg. spice cake mix
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/4 C. each unsweetened applesauce and eggnog
1/2 tsp. each rum and almond extract
2 eggs, minus one yolk
1/2 C. each raisin (golden or regular) and roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375. Grease 1 13x9" baking pan.
Mix well all ingredients, spread evenly into pan. (Mixture will be thick.)
Bake 24-27 minutes. Cool and cut. Dust with spiced powdered sugar if desired.

Spiced Powdered Sugar:
1 C. powdered sugar
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 pinch ginger

Sift well all ingredients. Dust on bars once they have cooled.
Growing up, I always made my dad brickle brownies for a Christmas gift. Times were always a bit tight, homemade gifts made up the bulk of what was under our tree. Even though Dad is no longer in the picture (having returned to Family #2, us being Family #3), I still crave making those at the holidays. The recipe wasn't fancy, or even out of a cookbook - it came off the bag of Heath Toffee Bits. Just my luck, the first year I try to make them since Dad exited - the recipe is no longer on the bag. After searching online, I finally hit pay dirt....or toffee crumbs in my case. I just can't wait to make these....

Blonde Brickle Brownies

1 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. butter or margarine
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 C. toffee bits

Sift to gether flour, salt, and baking powder. Cream together margarine/butter and sugars. Add eggs and extracts - mix well. Blend in dry ingredients. Spread evenly into 13x9" baking dish. Top with additional toffee, if desired. Bake at 350 for 27-30 minutes. Cool and cut.
Yield 24 large bars or 36 small bars.
I am done with all my holiday shopping, Christmas dinner is made, the presents are wrapped....almost all of them anyway. I got surprised by my co-workers today: for Christmas they gave me a big box of Fannie Mae chocolates. As we are mostly women here, the box is nearly half empty. That was a very sweet surprise.
I am lagging behind on my Christmas baking - leaving lemon snowbars, eggnog crunch cookies (need to make a double batch this time), and fudge til the last minute. The good news is the weather has cooperated, sort of. It's snowing so hard that the last thing I want to do is go shopping, go out to eat, or to go anywhere that requires driving period. Might send DH out to grab some mozzarella, fresh mushrooms, and garlic bread so we'll have all the fixin's for a great pizza night in. And he's the one that makes the pizza.

Our Christmas dinner tradition is making pasta (during lean years) or lasagne (during the rather decadent years). Thanks to my fellow grocery hounds, it's a lasagne kind of year! I hounded some beautiful yellow bell peppers ($.59/lb.), cremini mushrooms ($2.29/lb.), and some parmesan cheese (imported from Italy $2.69 a lb.) I hounded the noodles over the summer from Meijer's - got them for nearly nothing. I went meatless this year as the price of ground turkey (my favorite staple) has doubled over this time last year. I even hounded the mozzarella cheese: our local Butera marks down their deli cheese (Yep, the nice big ol' blocks of it) and got it for $2.98 a lb. - what a steal!!!
My DH, DMom, and I made 4 medium sized pans and 5 small pans (that serve 2-3). For the small pans I usually grab disposable loaf pans, but I found a great deal at a dollar store on a 3-pack with lids! Yum-O! No Stouffers lasagne for us....
With so much of the work out of the way, all I have left to do is grab salad mix and garlic bread tomorrow. I managed to cut the cost of our Christmas dinner (as compared to last year) by 39%! I can't tell you how happy I am to live with that. Now, I'm off to see if the office is closing early, and make sure I have all the ingredients for my last round of baking.
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This is a recent addition in my recipe library. All the recipes I've posted on here are my own creations, and tis is certainly no exception. This one, I will admit, my husband co-authored.....and he hates egg nog. Let me explain: last year I was having a bit of a mental block on what to introduce as my new recipe of the year - I do this every Christmas. I did my usual, pacing, muttering, griping.....while my DH merely watches with a raised eyebrow. He then says, "Why not do something with egg nog?" I stare at him likes he's grown a third head. Ever sarcastic, I immediately thought, I do something with eggnog - I drink it!
"Why not make eggnog cookies?" Cuts through the thousands of sarcastic comments flying around in my head. And finally.....light begins to dawn on me. I jump up, kiss DH - briefly exclaim that he's brilliant (which naturally he knows), then I'm off to create this newest cookie in my arsenal of Christmas creations. So, without further ado:

EggNog Crunch Cookies

1 pkg. yellow cake mix
1/3 C. eggnog
1 egg
1/4 tsp. rum extract
1/4 C. margarine, softened
1/2 C. white chocolate chips
1 C. walnuts, chopped
Nutmeg (to dust the tops of the cookies)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease cookie sheet(s).
Mix well all ingredients except chips and nuts. Stir in the chips and nuts til just blended. Dough will be soft. Drop by spoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Dust with nutmeg.
Bake 10-12 minutes, til lightly golden. Cool on cookie sheet, remove once cooled. Store in airtight container.
Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies.
For years, oatmeal raisin cookie have been a favorite of mine, but my father used to tell me they were good, but that they were missing something. While digging through the spice cabinet on Christmas season, about 10 years ago, I noticed something called rum extract. Instantly intrigued, I had to smell it. The dark, buttery, rich scent had me hooked - so it went in the cookies....and the missing ingredient had finally been found. If you like a rich, full-flavored cookie, I think I have one for you to try:

1 stick margarine
1/2 C. unsweetened applesauce
1 heaping C. brown sugar
1/2 C. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. each vanilla and rum extracts
1 3/4 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3 1/2 C. oats
1 C. raisins

Heat oven to 350. In large mixing bow, beat margarine, applesauce, and sugars til creamy. Add eggs and extracts - mix til well blended. In separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, spices. Slowly add dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl - stirring til well blended. Stir in oats (I do this by cup-full), stir in raisins.
Drop cookies by spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9-10 minutes for soft cookie 13-14 minutes for crunchy cookie.

For other variations try:
Swap golden raisins for regular and add in 1/2 tsp. ginger(with the spices), 1 C. dried cranberries, 1/2 C. chopped walnuts = Christmas Oatmeal Cookies
Swap our raisins for 1 C. chocolate chips and 1/2 C. toffee bits = Chocolate Oatmeal Crunch Cookies
Add dried cherries (1/2 C.), 1/2 C. dried pineapple = Fruity Oatmeal Snackers
Add 1/2 C. dried apple or pear (rough chopped) and 1 tsp. ginger (with the spices) for Autumn Oatmeal Cookies
In the spirit of the season, I've been in the mood to shop lately, but with the economy - I've been reluctant to spend any actual money. So, to that end, I went to Target last night - having heard about a deal where you buy 5 packages of Keebler cookies or crackers and get a $5 gift card. To sweeten the deal, there are $1 any one of cookies (9.z oz. or larger) and $1 off Sandies (any) that you can print off twice per computer. The cookies were on sale for between $1.99-$2.54 a pkg. All I could hear was.....FREE cookies after gift card, and cool stocking stuffers to boot. Pardon the pun, but a good deal nonetheless. I also had the printed out $2 off any Archer Farms Ham from meat dept. Q's with me too so I grabbed 4 neatly packaged ham steaks - for around $.20 each. Since, you can never have too much ham, I'll be printing out some more of those coupons and be ready to stock up on those. The sizes aren't that generous - maybe one meal, two meals at the most per package, but I'll use them when I forget to make something to take for my lunch at work. I don't typically go out to lunch - it's a once a month treat.
I still have a pile of Wild Harvest Q's to use at Jewel - the deals are said to run through January 11th, so that'll be some great fill-in shopping - when I truly feel the need to shop and can't bring myself to spend much. I've been collecting donations for the food bank doing this - I've got my 3rd round of donations ready to drop off. It feels great to be able to give this season....when it's needed more than ever.
Nothing surprises me more than people that refuse to coupon. Especially people that aren't financially stable - what is this stigma that's attached to couponing? When I'm out hounding, the furthest thing from my mind is what someone else thinks of my shopping habits. It's not a popularity contest, it's my money and I'm determined to save as much as humanly possible. I get so excited to see what I can get on the cheap or for free, ever shopping trip is like a treasure hunt, except if I'm really good - the treasure I get to keep is the one I started out with, my own money. I really shouldn't complain too much about non-couponers because without them, the stores wouldn't be able to afford my shopping!
Alright, my deal for the week: Jewel-Osco has Wild Harvest Organic products on sale....but to sweeten the deal, there are $1 off any 1 item Q's that are available online.....with no print limit! So, the yummy organic blue corn tortilla chips that are B1G1F ($2.89 each originally) are $.45 a bag! And if you need baby food, at $.59 a jar, it's FREE. You'll get the overage on other stuff on your order, but they will not pay you. I've already discovered this. I have been breaking my order up into 5-8 coupons each and hitting as many Jewels as I can. So far, I've gathered:
8 bags tortilla chips at B1G1F - $2.89 = $.45 per bag
6 boxes whole wheat pasta B1G1F - $2.49 = $.25 per lb.
2 boxes white cheddar mac n cheese 2/$3 = $.50 a box
15 jars baby food $.59 a jar (FREE after Q)
1 bag baby carrots (1 lb.) $1.50 = $.50 after Q
13 jars pinto beans $1.00 = FREE after Q's!
I figured I'd mash up the pinto and have them as bean dip to go with all those tortilla chips! Nothing says Merry Christmas like bean dip and chips! If I could only find some Wild Harvest cheese to complete the ensemble, I'd have nachos on the cheap. At least I know what I'll be bringing for Christmas parties this year....uh, how about some chips 'n' dip? I say, while scratching my head and trying to look nonchalant.
Wow - I'm finally getting a chance to update my monthly totals - it has taken far too long to do this. For November, since I host Thanksgiving, my budget for the month is $250. With the great Jell-O deal, many, many trips were made to Meijer's. The total number of Meijer transactions = 44.
My totals:
Meijer: vs. Other stores:
OOP = $35.2 vs. $166.58
Saved: $312.59 vs. $261.96
Q's = $203.50 vs. $63.40
Qty. = 170 vs. 300
FREE = 197 vs. 37
This month, I'm hoping to just live off the stockpile, I'm allowing myself a list of 12 items to search for a rockbottom on, other than that - only items needed fresh (bread, milk, eggs, produce, yogurt, juice).

For October, here are the totals (my budget was $225 for the month).
OOP = $206.80
Saved = 254.76
Q's = 36.2
Qty = 251
FREE = 36
Not my best month, but I did stay under budget. There were a lot of in-stores sales on generic brands that just couldn't be beat. A favorite: Butera with grat deals like $.99/lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, 5/$1 tomato sauce (house brand), and (house brand) Italian styled diced tomatoes for $.39 can (14.5 oz.)

September's Totals:
It seems my summer/early fall totals are always much lower than the winter totals:
OOP = $179.77
Saved = $380.75
Q's = $129.95
Qty. = 273
FREE = 7
This was a really slow month for FREE, but my resolution is to do better next month. I'm still coming in under budget, but some costs of my basics are rising: the worst one is ground turkey, which I've seen double in price over this time last year. It's now bouncing between $1.19-$1.39 a lb. This is a staple of my diet, but I haven't thought of a way to hound down it's current price. If anyone has an idea, I'm eager for suggestions.

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