Thursday, October 24, 2013

Five Favorites: Shopping Edition

My dad says that he read that self-made millionaires got that way because they never spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine, and though my mom will sometimes sulkily say, "Sometimes I wish you would," I'm convinced that the price usually has fairly little to do with the quality. I actually don't really like spending money, plus getting out and about with very small kids isn't exactly an easy feat; when I have to do it, it's more of a chore than anything. Sometimes, the stores I go to make it very, very worth it. The following places generally help me keep within our budget (me being a SAHM with two kids while we live on a single teacher's salary in an area with one of the highest COLAs in the country) and maybe even make it feel like we're living large. So, here are my 5 favorite brick and mortar places to spend money!

Quick disclaimer: I don't think any of these places even know I have a blog, so I'm not getting paid (though if any of these stores find out about the free advertising, I like gift cards, please and thank you).

If you've never been to an international grocery store and you live in the DC area (or any other kind of urban sprawl with a fairly large immigrant population), stop what you're doing and go explore. Seriously. I'll wait.

I used to go to a place called Q Mart, but I no longer worked nearby and it went out of business anyway, so I was store-less for a while and didn't feel like trying to find a new one when I had Wegmans and Costco. Then, my best friend got engaged and I figured I should probably price out things for her shower, especially since it was a Cinco de Mayo theme. And guys. IT IS RIDICULOUS HOW MUCH MONEY YOU CAN SAVE BY GOING INTERNATIONAL. Ground beef for between $1.40-.75/lb. Huge bunches of herbs (cilantro, parsleys, basil, etc), 2 or 3 for $1.00. 5 lb bags of onions for $1.50.

And when it comes to selection, goodness do they have it. Aisles and aisles of different kinds of rice, noodles, sauces, spices, canned goods, and frozen "ethnic" foods, not to mention the exotic (to Euro-Americans) or hard to find produce, meats, and seafood: whole coconuts, papayas, cactus, durians, actual sugar cane stalks, squid, shark, swordfish, store-made sausages, duck, quail, and all sorts of body parts normally discarded - feet, gizzards, hearts, kidneys, livers, tripe, tongue, blood - available each and every day, plus tanks and bins of live lobsters, crabs, tilapia, and eels. Bonus: no one bats an eye at the small kids close in age or if they're a little loud.

However, if you need things like milk or deli meats or organic gluten-free cereal...

...then you need to go to Wegmans. I am so very sorry if you do not live near one, for it is amazing. The store brand is inexpensive and just as good or even better than the name brands. Seriously, grab a tub of their French vanilla ice cream on your way back from the international store and tell me that doesn't taste way more expensive than it actually is. Milk for around $3 a gallon when the average for the area is $4? Jars of tasty tomato sauce for $1? And when it comes to selection, it's really tough to beat them. Their beer and wine selection is monstrous for a grocery store. They have more cheeses than almost anywhere I've been (I went to a cheese shop in Philly's Italian market that had 250 varieties. I told my dad, who replied, "If that had been an Irish shop, there would have been two, and one of them would have been cheddar."). THEY HAVE REAL TRUFFLES UNDER LOCK AND KEY. Their florist is an actual florist - they regularly do weddings - and their bakery and ready-to-eat areas, while pricey for my budget, are very tasty. If organic gluten-free vegan homeopathy hippieland is your thing, they have the largest area I've seen in a store that isn't specifically for that kind of thing. And if that wasn't enough, you can actually search for items online to price them out and get their physical location in your store! Seriously, the fabulousness of Wegmans will prevent people from moving away from one.

3. TJ Maxx/Marshall's/HomeGoods/Ross

I found a fancy schmancy nursing-friendly dress at Marshalls HomeGoods to wear after the ceremony of a wedding where I was matron of honor. I found a cute nursing-(and pregnancy-)friendly red with white polka dot dress at Ross. I found maybe the best Halloween costume for Rosie ever at TJ Maxx (I wasn't going to buy it, but my sister made the mistake of giving her the costume to look at and Rosie refused to let it go. Luckily, it was pretty inexpensive. She looks like she's been eaten by a stuffed animal). I found a Polish pottery butter dish for my mom's birthday at Marshalls for easily half as much as I would have paid otherwise, and I found a set of bath toys that Rosie plays with ALL THE TIME. I actually have to avoid going to these stores because I pretty much always find something I want, but usually they're so reasonable that the purchases pretty much pay for themselves (with the exception of furniture and decor. It's a little harder to say, "But I/we/they needed it anyway!" when it's a distressed sign that says "Laundry: Do It or Go Naked," even if it IS speaking the truth). And while I generally need another set of hands, especially if I need to try something on, I have a hard time counting that as a mark against it because it forces me to have adult company (!).

Nate and I were military brats, and World Market is one of the only places you can find Kinder Chocolate (no Kinder Eggs, because those are still apparently illegal, but they make small chocolate bars and that's a taste of our childhood). They also have some really low prices on spices. I once paid over $5 for a little tiny thing of dill that my MIL needed for a recipe, but I could have paid only $4 for twice as much at World Market. The international stores and sections of stores are also good for spices - much more reasonable that McCormick or Spice Island - but I don't think I've seen Herbs de Provence, Pink Himalayan Salt, or Hungarian Paprika in those.

They also have some really wonderful deals. I bought a tiny nonstick skillet that I use pretty much every day when making a single scrambled egg for Rosie's breakfast. I got these adorable little prep bowls for even cheaper than the site lists. And if it's not in the cards to buy some of the things, they give me some ideas for decorating.

I hate pulling out an article of clothing and try to stuff my child into it only to find that they've outgrown it. But it means I get to go to one of the best secondhand stores I've ever seen, and I only know about it thanks to a different Rosie. They have things like seasonal or super dressy or new (with tag) items pulled out and put on racks separately so that you can find them more quickly. Otherwise, clothes are organized by gender, then size, then clothing article type, then color. BY COLOR. And I have gotten some aaaaaamazing deals there, especially in the clearance section. I think I paid $2.25 for Freddy's baptism gown (the same one that I found before he was born and decided against paying $10 for). They also have shoes, books, toys, furniture, strollers, and a boutique section, plus a quite large play section for the kids. I'm sure that will come more in handy when Freddy is more mobile and my Rosie is less clingy.

Some honorable mentions:

Costco. I love the bulk buys (especially the 25 lb bag of flour or the 3 dozen eggs, both of which we go though fairly quickly for a family of only 3 solids eaters) and who doesn't like the samples, but the experience is not exactly one I look forward to. It's always busy and usually takes time to check out, plus it's, well, a warehouse.
Sur la Table. We registered here for our wedding and it was surprisingly less expensive than, say, Williams Sonoma, and you can still get some awesome deals (I'm lookin' at you, butter crock, food scale, mini food processor, and maybe immersion blender!), but it's a bit of a hassle to get to from our house and definitely not kid-friendly what with all the breakable and sharp items. Also, Nate's kind of told me that I can't get more kitchen stuff for a while...
Petsmart. Today, for instance, I had to hit Petsmart for more food and poo bags for Freya, so I loaded up the van with both the kids and the dog and headed out. Freya freaked out the parakeets on the lower cage and made pretty much all the cats in the adoption display area super wary, but Rosie really loved seeing the different animals. especially the cats. Freddy loved puking all down my freshly cleaned shirt and jeans. 

Thanks to MoxieWife for hosting again!

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