Produce Pro: Tips for Summer Fruits and Veggies

My father's family has been in the produce and grocery business since the 1930's and have owned stores in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Saratoga, California. He started working in the stores when he was 12. Growing up, I would always watch him diligently shop for fresh produce, and over the years, I have learned many tips and tricks . Here are some of my favorites, since summer is right around the corner. 1. Washing produce - Did you know you can wash your wax-coated fresh produce with a mix of white vinegar and water? Put equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spritz on any produce that has a wax coating (ex. apples, cucumbers, bell peppers, etc.), wipe with a towel and then rinse with water. No need to buy the expensive washes at the store.

2. Produce that is seasonal in May and June - May: cherries, apricots and stone fruits (i.e. anything with a pit). June: melons, grapes, squash and beans. Being located in southern California, you see these in the store all-year-round, but technically these are the months they are in season (meaning they should all be California grown).

3. How to pick the best melon - When you pick up a melon, how do you know its ripe? Cantaloupe: you want the outside netting (skin) with some orange/amber color to it (instead of green) and a slight fragrance. Honeydew: the non-stem end should have "give" to it and the outer shell (skin) should have a tacky feel (slightly sticky). Watermelon: should sound hollow when you tap/pat it.

4. Always check the ads in the mail for good prices - When the stores get in a large shipment they will put it on sale. By shopping these sales, and creating your menu around the peak-season produce, you will save money.

5. Bulk is not always best - The "Costco effect" isn't always true when buying packaged produce. Check the price per unit when buying in bulk. Sometimes it isn't cheaper, and most of the time it isn't the freshest.

6. Ever have questions while shopping? - Ask the people working in the produce section. They can tell you what items are in peak season and help you pick out ripe fruits and veggies.

Happy eating from Jim (Dad) and Alicia

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017 

 Check out these money-saving apps that will save you time and money, with little effort.

Ebates.com

Ebates.com gives you a percentage (%) of cash back for online purchases (and a few in-store purchases as well). Create an account on their website, choose where you are online shopping, and they will automatically calculate your savings once you make the purchase.  In fact, they send you a $10 gift card just for signing up. 

Cons: You can’t use the app with every store. Also, they are tracking your purchases (and probably selling the data).

Meal delivery services

I tried 2 meal services, Gobble and Blue Apron, and loved both. It was fun to change up the typical meal prep routine with different recipes and ingredients.  Most of the services offer a free first meal valued at $60-70.

Cons: You need to cancel after the free trial if you decide you don't want to continue the service, or they will send you meals the following week with a bill. From my experience, both services were easy to cancel. 

Cartwheel for Target

Cartwheel is an app you download to your phone from Target. When I first started using it, I thought it was too much work. I was scrolling through hundreds of deals and the number of items listed was overwhelming. Over time, I learned that a better approach was to simply scan the items in my shopping cart using their scan feature. The feature will tell you if an item has a coupon.  Even if I don't do that, I still scan my phone at the register because you  receive 10 points for every dollar spent. Once you get 5,000 points ($500 spent), you choose a free gift from a list of items. During my last trip, I accumulated 5,000 points and received a new cooking pan with a retail price of $20.

Cons: If you mostly shop at Target Online, you are out of luck.  It doesn’t work for online purchases...but you can use Ebates! 

AMC stubs card

The AMC stubs program is a loyalty program for AMC theaters.   You scan or swipe it for every purchase and earn points. I decided to join the AMC stubs "premier" membership, which costs $15 for a one year membership. They have a free option as well, but the benefits aren’t as good.  I earn 100 points for every dollar spent. Once you get to 5,000 ($50 spent) points you get an automatic $5 added to your card to spend on anything at AMC.  The other perks are free size upgrades on popcorn and soda, cheaper ticket prices on Tuesdays, and waived convenience fees when buying tickets online.

Cons: There is no downfall to getting the free card - it’s free! For the premier benefits, you have to use it enough to justify the membership cost. 

In summary, there are a lot of apps that help you save money and require minimal effort. Give these a try to decide which ones are worth your time, but don’t forget to cancel any free subscriptions you don’t want to continue. 

Did I forget to include your favorite money saving app?  Email me and I will be sure to include them next time.  

Disclaimer: I do not get paid in any way from the apps or links mentioned above

Saving Money on Groceries

Groceries and eating out are a huge part of most people’s budgets.  It can also be one of the easiest places to cut.  Here are some suggestions I compiled from clients who have had great success saving money on groceries.

  1. Cook from scratch as much as possible.  It is healthier for us and better for the environment to reduce the amount of prepared food we buy in elaborate packaging.  Our family makes things like pizza sauce and soup in bulk.  We freeze it in small containers until needed.
  2. Grow as much as possible in your own garden.  Some things are incredibly easy to grow and need very little space.  Zucchini is a great example - one or two plants can be more than enough for a family of four.  Figs are another example.  We planted a fig tree in our front yard and two years later we get enough figs to make fig jam for the entire year.
  3. Find a local CSA.  If having a garden is not an option or you can’t grow all the fruits and veggies you need, look at a local farm that has an organic CSA option.  In many cases, the fruits and vegetables are harvested more recently than the food in the supermarkets so they tend to last longer.
  4. Plan Ahead.  This takes some practice.  I hear from families about how they are trying to reduce their dining out costs but without fail, they both come home at 6PM starving.  Eating out seems like the only option.  I find I can avoid this by planning meals out on the weekend.

What else?  Email me with your tips on reducing your grocery budget so I can share it with others.  linda@planningwithinreach.com