Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Easy savings

Once my kids became teenagers, my grocery and household goods expenses skyrocketed. I started looking for a way to save money without compromising quality and without the hassle and time involved with coupons or going to a bunch of different stores each week.

Here's what's been working for me:

  1. Buy store brands unless there's a noticeable difference in taste, quality, or convenience. For example, I regularly buy fat-free refried beans. The name brand was costing me $1.89 per can. The store brand has the same ingrediants and costs on only 85 cents for the same size can. That's more than 50% off. I also buy store brand pain killers (like ibuprofen), toilet paper, allergy medicine, etc. Consumer Reports just published a great article about store brands that's worth reading.
  2. Buying in bulk - but carefully. When a staple like peanut butter or chicken broth is on sale, I buy several containers (sometimes even a case) at a time. However, I don't buy big containers of anything that goes bad. It's no savings if I throw half of it away, and I don't want to eat stale crackers. I sometimes buy in bulk at Costco, but I check prices at regular stores first, to be sure the big package is really a good deal. I've been burned on this before.
  3. Choosing when and where to shop. I do read the Target weekly ad, and I shop there for some items that always seem to be cheaper there and regularly go on sale, like Diet Coke and cereal.

Overall, the most important aspect for me in terms of saving money has been knowing what things cost, so if I see a "deal" I know if it's really a deal or not, especially for the items I buy regularly.

What are your best tips for saving money on everyday purchases?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Public schooling in Silicon Valley

I am torn by the public vs. private school debate. In general, I believe in supporting public schools. However, I won't sacrifice my children's safety or future opportunities to make a political point.

The elementary and middle schools in my San Jose neighborhood are safe and provide a good level of education. For the most part, the teachers are engaged and provide challenging and interesting instruction. My daughter is in 7th grade and is still attending public school. (There have been some instances of teachers showing movies in class and using instructional time for fund-raising events like walk-a-thons, but it's been more the exception than the rule.)

By comparison, the high schools in my neighborhood (Eastside Union Highschool District) are abysmal. Out of the 22 high schools in the district, 19 of them scored in the 60 or lower percentile when compared to other California high schools. (Particularly horrible considering that California schools rank 34th in the nation to begin with.) I find it amazing that in what must be one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, the public high schools are so bad.

After significant angst and weighing of options, we enrolled my 15-year-old son at a private high school this year. It's turned out to be a great decision and a worthwhile, though costly, investment.

To see what the situation is with your neighborhood schools, go to GreatSchools.net. If your nieghborhood schools are decent, I urge you to support your public school system. If not, it may be time to start investigating other options...