You Told Us: How Real People Save Big and Stay Healthy

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Thanks for sharing all of your tips with us, dailySpark readers. These days, we can all benefit from advice on saving money at the grocery store. I've collected some of the best tips from readers and compiled them here. This is the first in a series of how you save money and stay healthy! (Some tips have been edited for space and clarity.)

My fiancť and I are kind of impulsive when it comes to what we eat, so we purchase staple items like whole wheat breads and tortillas, bulk packages of meat, and a few of our favorite fruits and veggies. Then we add in a few extras like some fancy cheese or a spaghetti sauce to give individual meals some flair. It allows us the flexibility we like, but we also save a bundle and know we're eating well.

I order groceries online. I just go to the store and pick them up. I never have to be tempted to buy extras, and I also don't have to spend 45-60 minutes in a grocery store with a screaming 4-year-old begging for something. It is worth the $5 I spend for the convenience. They will even take coupons and adjust the bill.
When I don't do this I spend $30 more at the grocery store and have less food. All you need is a master list with the basics.

I fix only as much as we need for two portions. There is just enough to fix our plates and none left over to tempt us to go back for second helpings. I buy meat in volume when it is on sale and repackage it into one-meal portions. I then take my Food Saver Bags and vacuum seal each of those portions.

Shop at dollar stores. They have great bargains and even some of the expensive health foods at a low price, like fiber bars. For breakfast, a fiber bar is always good to start your day if you are in a hurry.

Keep bottled water in the car, and a healthy snack or two, (e.g., all natural granola bars, fruit, etc.) to stave off hunger and the urge to stop and buy a 99 cent fat burger on a bun! By doing that, I don't eat so much while warming up or preparing dinner.

Try eating off a smaller plate. This will satisfy your psychological need for having a full plate of food, cut down on your food bills and waste, and ultimately help you lose weight.

Why pay 99 cents and up for a pound of bagged carrots? And even more for those pre-washed, pre-cut or baby carrots? Loose carrots are about 50 cents a pound. You save money and get to pick each one yourself. Then you peel, cut and store them in reusable containers! You just saved a bunch of pennies! Pennies add up over time.

When cooking, I always prepare more than needed, I divide in individual portions and I freeze for quick meals.
When I clean my vegetables I keep "not-so-nice-looking" leaves or ends of vegetables to make a blended vegetable soup that I store in my fridge (I reuse tomato juice glass bottles) and I can drink all day if I get hungry. It is filling, warm and it only adds a few calories per cup.

I have made a weekly menu for over a year now. I started doing it because my kids kept asking me (one at a time) what was for dinner. Finally, I got tired of answering multiple children and wrote a menu then I posted it inside a cupboard door so the kids can look ahead and see what we're having. It also helps me prepare a shopping list. I have also started making soups. My favorite is variations of cabbage soup. My kids hate cabbage but I cut it so small that it cooks down to nothing. Add a little lean stew meat and some black beans and you have a hearty, healthy soup that the kids like. And, it's pretty darn cheap.

I use to work in packaging. Most brands are packaged at the same processors, back to back. You are getting the same veggies no matter what store or private label brand you are buying. Generics may be packed at the end of the run using the less optimal veggies but the same processing plant packs them all.

I just found some recipes using TVP (texturized vegetable protein), a soy product and meat substitute. It's very easy to use and inexpensive. I made a chili recipe in the crock pot with TVP and canned beans. Healthy, hearty and cheap!

I make a menu when I make my grocery list but I go to the store with an open mind. If I get to the store with pork chops on my menu and find that chicken is on sale instead, I'll change my menu accordingly. There are so many good SP recipes that I can always find something to make with whatever is on sale.

My #1 piece of frugal advice? If you smoke...QUIT!!! I quit smoking COLD TURKEY in August after 15 years and my quit meter tells me I've saved about $600.00 already!

Green peppers and onions freeze well when chopped up for use in recipes like soup, casseroles and meatloaf, so I buy extra to freeze when they are cheapest.

My next request from you: Share your beauty bargains with us!
What affordable products do you use to keep your skin and body healthy and glowing! I'll start: I use witch hazel instead of pricy, harsh astringents. It's gentle enough for all skin types, and it works. A large bottle costs less than $2, and it lasts for months!

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I save money by using coupon codes. I like to recommend / . It is a new coupon site. Report
I buy name brand shampoo, conditioner and body lotion at the dollar store instead of paying $5 to $15 at the drugstore for the same brands. It saves alot of money. Also on the food savers, I save the water from boiling or steaming vegetables to make soup instead of buying vegetable stock. Report
I used to use the Biolage (sp?) shampoo and conditioner, but it's like $15/bottle. I have really long hair that gets damaged very easily, and it was the only thing I could find that worked to keep it soft. Now, I use Herbal Essences (buy when it's on sale, and it's only ~$3/bottle), and shampoo only the roots (nothing below the neck!) and condition the ends (neck down) TWICE--even though I'm conditioning twice, it's still cheaper, and my hair is just as soft as with the expensive stuff! Report
Thanks everyone lots of great tips and links to more savings :O) Report
Here is a life saver in these tough times: . This is a program run by churches around the nation. Mom uses it in Kansas and I use it in Ohio. We figure we save 30-50% on our food purchases. There is no income cap and they take credit cards, cash and food stamps. The food is sold in "boxes" so you don't get to pick each item, you pick a group. I find I can use most of it in healthy lifestyle eating and donate the really objectionable(to me) things cause the cost was so little. Report
Hair Clarifying shampoo--two tablespoons of shampoo mixed with one tablespoon of baking soda. Mix in your hand, shampoo as usual, giving yourself a good fingertip scalp massage too, rinse well, condition as usual. Will take the product buildup out of your hair without buying special shampoos. Easy and super cheap. Report
I use the witch hazel as astringent also. Then I put on Banana Boat for Faces. Beats buying those expensive moisturizers. It's not greasy and it has SFP! Report
If you buy food at the dollar store just watch your expiration dates things may be past date. Also people who are celiac can not have TVP. Report
Instead of buying those Betty Crocker Warm Delights (150 cals) I make my own with cake mix. Just 3 tablespoons of cake mix (i use store brand chocolate, but im sure you can use any kind) and just enough water to make a thick batter. Cook in little microwave safe bowl for 30 secs to 1 minute (depending on your microwave). Add a topping and voila! MUCH cheaper paying $2.20 for a pack of 2. Report
Love all these tips!! Report
I love mixing kitchen ingredients and creating effective, organic beauty products. I was this close to buying an exfoliating scrub the other day when I remembered my own recipe: sea salt, olive oil and an essential oil(s) of your choice (I heart clove and rosemary, or frankincense and myrrh. Just stir then all together until desired thickness&use in bath or shower- your skin will be like silk! Report
My two tricks are: for baths, oatmeal and dehydrated milk powder makes a very soothing and gentle-on-the-skin bath. I have problems with coming out itchy, but its not an issue if I make that bath. Also, adding lavender buds makes it smell wonderful.

Secondly, I have skin that is bizarrely sensitive and have found that products from The Body Shop work well. I like the company because they emphasize Fair Traid and supporting women, but their products can be very expensive. Twice a year however, they have huge sales and I can pick up fancy body butters for $4/tub or shower gel for $3, which is even cheaper than the price of many grocery store lotions. Report
I took a tip from Queen Latifah. She said her grandmother taught her to wash her face with baking soda. I use baking soda often and I do not get the drying like some may. I use Oil of Olay beauty lotion (great price at Wal-Mart) on my face for moisture or Soft Nivea if I run out. Baking soda is great in the bath and it really softens your skin in the water. Report
Tips I remember from a 20/20 episode: Don't wash hair a SECOND time as the bottle says, because if you allow the shampoo to set for about 2 minutes, it removes the dirt and you rinse your hair. It is NOW clean, and it isn't necessary to wash it a second time, but the shampoo company wants to sell more of the product.
I buy shampoo in a large jug at the Beauty Supply Store, and put some in a smaller bottle for regular use.
From OPRAH show: Check the ACTIVE ingredients in any item like mouth wash and compare it to the Generic Brand listing. IF it is the same, then buy the cheaper, because the name brand will just be charging more for the added color, fragrance, etc. If you are a shamed of having generic brands in your bathroom that guest might see, keep them in another place, and FILL a "name brand bottle" to leave in your bathroom where GUESTS will see it.
I always keep a big bottle of baby oil in the shower: when I'm done and still wet, i put it on all over, pat dry, and my skin is super soft. I have really dry skin, especially in the winter, and i used to get eczema behind my knees and around my waist, but I don't anymore. I also don't need to use any kind of body lotion. For my hands, especially my cuticles, I rub in a little bit of olive oil and it seems to work really well.

Something else i really have come to love are epsom salts. A nice long soak in an epsom salt bath with a few drops of essential oils, and i feel very refreshed and detoxified. Report
I have very oily, blemish-prone skin. The pursuit of clear skin has been costly, with expensive product after expensive product that falsely promises perfection. It turns out, there's been an inexpensive solution all the time!

This is a combination of information from dermatologists, beauty magazines, and trial and I can't take the credit...but hope this helps you!

First, throw out those cute little nylon scrubby poufs. They make tiny scratches in your skin that are more likely to become infected and result in breakouts. Also, that nylon material holds onto bacteria. Use a clean washcloth to wash your face, and another to wash your body.

If you shave parts of your body, use an inexpensive moisturizing shaving gel - I like Wal-Mart's Equate brand - and a fresh blade on your razor - the gel helps get a cleaner, closer shave and moisturizes your skin to help prevent the oil glands from feeling the need to over-produce. The fresh blade ensures fewer nicks and scapes, and helps cut down on infection. Also, bacteria just loves a used razor blade!

Lather up your washcloth with the Dove Beauty Bar (the original one is best, but there's a "sensitive" version that works too). Wash your body from top to bottom, starting with your neck and behind your ears, and finishing with your toes. SKIP the areas you've shaved. The process of shaving has cleaned and exfoliated for you, and the washcloth and soap can be overly drying and irritate the sensitive new skin.

Don't forget to use a different washcloth on your face. If you have sensitive skin on your face, try using the sensitive Dove and your hands - rub gently, particularly around the eyes and mouth where the skin is thinnest. Use the washcloth only once or twice a week on your face to gently wipe away dead cells. Always follow up with a mild toner, moisturizer and sun protection. Look for double duty products. Neutrogena has a great day-time moisturizer with sunscreen that doesn't leave me feeling greasy.

Rinse, pat dry and moisturize your entire body with your favorite moisturizer.

To get rid of dandruff in a quick hurry...massage 1/4 -1/2 cup of the old gold Listerine into your scalp (again, Wal-Mart's Equate brand works just fine, but it's got to be the gold, yucky one that tastes horrible). Wait 5 minutes and rinse. Follow up with your usual shampoo/conditioner. This treatment on Friday night after dancing once a week, or once every two weeks is a great way to keep persistent dandruff at bay. And it smells better than those icky tar-based products.

I used to get lots of pimples on my face, and have been trying different brands & medications, but the cheapest and best product I've tried so far is Milk of Magnesia! I put a dab on my pimple before I go to bed & it dries it out & shrinks it overnight! Report
I picked up the tidbit that has helped my lips! Using a soft bristled toothbrush, rub a small amount of Vaseline on your lips, and scrub very gently. This exfoliates the dead skin on your lips while being a very effective moisturizer! Report
I make my own protein bars. It will cost somewhere between $1.50 and $3.00 to buy one at the store. But it cost me less than $3 to make a batch that will last for weeks. There's absolutely no preservatives in my cost effective, high quality, protein bars. Plus, I get to put what I like in it. Report
I make my own protein bars. It will cost somewhere between $1.50 and $3.00 to buy one at the store. But it cost me less than $3 to make a batch that will last for weeks. There's absolutely no preservatives in my cost effective, high quality, protein bars. Plus, I get to put what I like in it. Report
Wpw~I'm getting some really great tips folks! (I especially like the idea of "soap curing" and peroxide teeth whitening). Rock on folks, rock on. Report
Good comments. Try saving with coupons. Check out and! Walgreens has great coupons and register rewards. CVS does, also. Report
I've had expensive Dental Whitening treatments, and used over the counter whitening strips, but for (literally) pennies... the best whitening treatment I've found is
Hydrogen Peroxide (topical solution) used in First Aid (an antiseptic) as a mouth wash treatment for a week!! It's not 'minty' freshness- it's a FABULOUS disinfectant. Just hold it in your mouth for a minute- swish and repeat. You can 'do' this up to 4X's a day for 7 days. I do it once (before bed) using it straight (without equal parts water) and do not rinse. Later in the night, if I wake up and I'm thirsty, I'll 'do' a rinse before my drink of water. You can buy a 32 oz (1 QT) bottle for less than a dollar. Report
great tips thanks Report
I use honey as a facial cleanser - cheaper than cleansers and works really well, it really cleared up my skin. Report
i use aquaphor foudnin the baby aisle and adult it is much like vaseline but is absorbed by the skin rather than sitting right there on the top and you still have to wear the socks on your feet but they are so soft and as a diabetic you need to take care of that skin for sure not very expensive either as things go and it lasts a long tiime sometimes used as diaper rash onitment on babies mary Report
I use ground oatmeal mixed into a paste for a facial cleanser and follow it up with a toner of white vinegar and water. Really balances the PH in the skin. Report
I agree about Vaseline. I use it as a lip balm, to smooth rough elbows, as an eye makeup remover, and to smooth eyebrows. :) I've used Caress body bar soaps my entire life and my skin is usually very soft. Report
I found that if you purchase soap at the dollar store and refill your Bath & Bodyworks foam pump containers with 50-50 solution (approx) of soap and water, it will pump out foamy. May not smell as good as B&BW, but much less expensive. Report
Beauty Tip: For dry hands and feet, use vegetable shortening. Apply the shortening to your dry skin. Put on clean, white socks or gloves until it has soaked in completely so you dont have to worry about everything getting covered in shortening. It works better than most of the expensive lotions and creams!

Thanks for sharing all of the tips! Report
so many great tips. thanks for sharing! Report
I use 100% Vitamin E oil as a moisturizer, anti-aging treatment and to alleviate psoriasis patches. My last supply came from Walmart - so it was even more of a bargain! Report
Vaseline is the best beauty product ever. I lather it on my face at night; use it under makeup and any rashes or rough skin get a good dose. Both my aunt and mother used it as a night cream and when they died past 100 both had skin as soft as a baby's bum.
XENIAR, I enjoyed reading your blog. You have some good tips and especially enjoyed
your stone soup story. Report
Winter is so harsh on feet. To save money and get a more thorough pedicure, I do my own. Try it! Youíll need the following:

1. foot file
2. soap (preferably one with moisturizer in it)
3. warm water
4. pumice stone (preferably rounded)
5. foot soak (optional)
6. a loofa
7. Vaseline
8. towel
9. cellophane wrap
10. white socks

I usually do this just before bed so that I can sleep the night away while my feet are transforming to more soft, subtly beauties. For those who have never done this before this is how it works:

1. Soak your feet in very warm water and the foot soak
2. With one foot still in the water take one foot out and lather it with soap
3. Using the foot file, rub the rough areas on the bottom of your foot with the file, making sure to get your heals and the pressure points of your foot
4. Lather the loofa up and gently rub the top of your foot and ankles (your whole foot should get attention Ė itís your spa day)
5. You can use the pumice stone for sensitive areas around your toes and arch
6. Soak the foot that you just worked on and do the same to the other foot
7. You may repeat this if the bottom of your feet still feel rough
8. Once done, dry both feet with the towel, making sure to dry between your toes
9. While your feet are still damp, lather your feet in Vaseline (yes it will be greasy, but your feet will fell like a babyís bottom when itís all said and done)
10. Cover snuggly with cellophane wrap
11. Cover cellophaned wrapped feet with white socks
12. Enjoy a restful nightís sleep. When you wake up the next morning take the socks and cellophane off and feel how soft your feet are. If you try it, I would love to know what your thoughts.

Thanks for the great tips, and please keep them coming! Report
The most important money saving beauty tip ofc is completely free. We hear it all the time, but a lot of us almost rarely follow itÖ and Iím no exception. ďGet plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water, eat right and exercise.Ē

After that, the tip that would probably have the biggest impact for a lot of us would be to just try and cut back on product wherever possible. A lot of us over-buy product, things that just arenít necessary, and duplicates that we just end up throwing away. Challenge yourself to cut your beauty regime down to the basics especially if you have a complex routine, and especially donít duplicate. A lot of women waste time and effort on steeps they just donít need to get the very same effect. Youíll not only save loads of money, youíll probably save loads of time as well.

Donít get sucked into gimmicks, either snake oil, or the latest in fresh advertising trends. Whatís important is what works, and using up what youíve already bought until itís time to replace it. Beauty products are advertised and presented in very pleasing ways. Itís easy to be enchanted by the glamour and give in to the temptation.

Just as with groceries, donít be afraid to try less expensive brands wherever reasonable. Only buy in bulk if you can use the product within its shelf-life. If thereís a good two-for on a product that you can only use one of find a friend or relative who will split it with you. Stay away from specialty boutiques and check for on-line sources.

Cure your bar soaps. A lot of bar soaps should be cured before use, but manufactures rarely take the time for this step. To cure soap all you do is expose it to air for awhile, preferably a few weeks. When the water left in the soap evaporates it lasts much, much longer. When you bring them home open the ends of the soap package to expose each bar to some air while itís stored in the cupboard. By the time you are ready to use it; hopefully it will have cured and will last a lot longer. And make sure itís not Ďrained oní when people take a shower. It should only get wet when you are using it.

Hereís a tip great for anyone with arthritis or who otherwise has difficulty opening bottles. Buy the economy containers of shampoos when it saves money and repackage them in soft sided squeeze bottles. I like the clearish ones rather than the opaque red, yellow and white ones. That way I can see which bottle is shampoo and which is conditioner. I started doing this for my Grandmother who has trouble opening things but I love it too because it speeds things up a little. Some of those bottles are difficult even for me to open. At first I was concerned about them tipping over and spilling but Iíve found that even a full bottle left lying on its side doesnít leak. Sometimes the bottles come with little red tips though if spillage is a concern.
For those reading, remember there are a lot of hurting people who have lost their jobs. Please donate things to your local food pantry. I have to use a food pantry myself and I will tell you that not enough people donate canned vegetables. (Canned is needed as it is nonparishable.) I get 1 can a month if I am lucky to get any.

I also love baking soda (diluted 2 tsp to 16 oz water) to wash my hair some of the time but it is too drying all the time for me. And white vinegar is now my daily rinse (but I still need conditioner too. I use the vinegar as a detangling rinse). 1 oz of vinegar to 16 oz water is what I use. Vinegar makes my hair so shiney and manageable. After it is rinsed out, you honestly can't smell the vinegar at all.

I make "stone soup" with left overs. Whenever I have some left over vegetables, rice, pasta and pieces of meat or poultry, etc, I put them into a freezer container or bag and keep frozen. Then when it gets full(ish), I put a pot on the stove, add some broth and the frozen mixture and cook up some soup.

(For those who don't know, "stone soup" is the name of a fable. There are a few version on the internet but this one is the one I was told as a child:

Tell your kids you are having stone soup and then read them the story. It is a great way to teach them about charity to others.

I make meatloaf whenever ground meat is on sale and cook it in muffin tins. Then I freeze them and use them to make sandwiches (just cut then and layer on bread), to crumble into spaghetti or to eat as it is. I also brown up hamburg on sale and freeze to use to make chili fast and easy.

Beans are becoming a very important part of my diet. They are high in fiber, nonfat, a source of protein and cheap cheap cheap. I buy the dry beans and soak them over night. But Lentils do not need to be soaked and I love to make things that normally call for ground meat with lentils either instead, or in place of part of the meat. Bean soup or split pea soup have been made a lot this winter. I always add a pealed chopped baked potato to my bean or pea soup. It makes it creamier (as it cooks until dissolved) but also takes some of the acidness of the beans down.

I used to buy individually wrapped snacks to curve my sweet tooth a bit. Now I make up a batch of Rice Crispy Treats but to up the nutrients, I add raisins and sunflower seed kernels (bought in bulk) and generic chocolate chips for my chocolate fix. I cut up the batch in to 24 pieces (when set) and freeze. They thaw on the counter during the day and are available for an evening snack. (I buy the rice crispy cereal in the big bulk bags on the bottom shelf for a lot less then what is in boxes.)

I also eat oatmeal instead of cold cereal for breakfast. It is cheap but I like it better especially in the winter.

When I buy yogurt, I buy the big tub of vanilla (or plain) and add my own fruit. This is a lot cheaper then those individual containers and better for the environment.

This is my favorite website for low cost food recipes:

I flavor water myself instead of buying expensive water bottles in the store. I take a gallon pitcher, add 1 envelope of koolaide and some splenda (others might use sugar or nutrasweet). The water is mildly flavored because normally the envelop is for only 2 quarts, but instead the kool aid is diluted double. I save a ton of money on this because my water from my faucet is nasty tasting. I bought the kookaide and splenda in bulk over the internet to save as well.

I also have started drinking ice tea instead of some of the soda I used to drink. It gives me the caffeine, has no calories, has antioxidents and is very cheap especially because I buy 100 pack boxes for about a dollar. (I use 1 teabag for every 2 cups of water myself because I like my ice tea not too strong.) Report
I moisturize with Aloe Vera gel - one with out the green dye and then I use a good sunscreen. People are always surprised when I tell them I am in my mid-forties, since they have been assuming that I am in my mid-thirties. Don't forget to exfoliate regularly. Report
I have used Oil of Olay Complete lotion for over 25 years and the Oil of Olay bar soap since they started making it. No one ever believes I am as old as I really am. Carmex lip ballm or Cloverine Salve cures chapped lips on first application. Report
There is a great website for store coupons that I always check before going out. I needed new running shoes so I printed out a coupon for DSW and saved 10 bucks. I used this site a lot at Christmas. Report
I wash my hair with baking soda and rinse it with vinegar with a drop of lavender oil added to the bottle. My scalp is much healthier (no more dandruff) and my hair is more manageable and softer. Report
Super helpful stuff! When it comes to shampoo, I'll usually get the extreme-sized bottle (you know, the one that could be a part of your strength training routine?!?) and I'll usually take an empty regular-sized bottle and fill that for the shower and one for my gym bag. I haven't had to go out to buy shampoo in awhile! :) Report
Ooops ... sorry ... !!! Sorry about that! Report
I buy a lot of my makeup from a company called E.L.F ( ). Almost all of their products are $1.00 EACH! Check them out!! Report
We somehow always have left overs, so instead of trowing them out , we make one meal of the week from left overs that are kept in the fridge, it is quite fun. Report
I use cheap own brand shampoo's and conditioners as well as my more expensive ones - use one lot one week and the other the next. It saves a bit of money and your hair will thrive on a bit of change.

I use a good bath foam and simply add some sugar to it to make my own body scrub.

I used to have massages and facials at least once every couple of months - I now buy face/mud packs for about £1 each and use them to pamper myself once a week.

I have learnt to trim my own fringe so I don't need to get my hair cut as often.
I really cannot make substitutions when it comes to beauty products. I do buy in bulk (2 items when they are on sale) since most of them have a shelf life which starts from the moment you open the bottle. So I buy 2 shower gels when they are on sale (but generally Nivea or Dove anyway) or 2 shampoos. I also buy lip balms regularly (from pharmacy although they are more expensive than in supermarkets).
Great tips. Thanks! Report
I used to buy my body bar soaps at Bath & Body Works. And I used to get my face soap and astringent from Clinique at the counter at large department stores. Since our income dropped by 50%, i've had to get a lot more frugal! Now we buy big packs of Oil of Olay soaps at Walmart, which are super cheap. I find that if i use a fresh clean washcloth every time i wash my face, i get the same results as with the expensive products. I also never run the water directly on the soap. Just wet my hands and washcloth instead. This makes soap last a lot longer. Report
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