In addition to Target and Walmart, we regularly shop at Costco for groceries. Costco is fun to browse since they carry such a range of items. But inevitability it happens – we end up buying several items not on our list. I know we shouldn’t be so impulsive, but sometimes it happens for good reason. Take our trip today to Costco, for instance. We stopped for gas and a couple grocery items. We planned to stick to our list but it didn’t quite end up that way.
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It’s that time of the year again where many companies offer bonuses when you purchase a gift card. We end up spending a lot of money at once to ultimately save money throughout the year on places we’d be visiting anyway. So without further ado, here’s this year’s list:

Classic Cinemas – Free movie ticket when you purchase a $50 gift card (this is available to Classic Reward members, so sign up now and you might get an email as you need to bring that in to get the deal).

Culvers – Free value basket for every $25 gift card. Value Basket certificates expire February 21, 2016. This deal can’t be beat since those value baskets are typically worth $8+! We end up buying several $25 cards since Culvers has delicious burgers.

Half Price Books – $5 bonus when you buy a $25 gift card. The $5 bonus card is only valid in-store 1/1/16-1/31/16.

Lou Malnatis – Free $10 certificate when you purchase a $50 gift card or a free $25 certificate when you purchase a $100 gift card. We always get the $100 gift card which pays for four deep dish pizzas throughout the year and the $25 certificate is the same as getting a fifth deep dish pizza for free. The certificate is good through June 30, 2016.

Noodles & Company – $5 bonus card for each $25 card purchased. $5 bonus card valid 1/1/15-1/31/15. Since the bonus card is only good for a month, and we don’t eat at Noodles & Company very often, we plan on purchasing just one card since we know we’ll be eating there in January for my birthday. Did you know if you sign up for their eclub you get a free bowl of noodles for your birthday? No additional purchase required!

Red Robin – $5 bonus buck reward with every $25-$45 gift card. The $5 bonus buck reward is good from 1/1/16-2/29/16. This is another one we might take advantage of since we’ll be visiting Red Robin in January to redeem my free birthday burger.

Speedway – Free Speedy Rewards points with a Food & Merchandise card purchase. I couldn’t find the details online, but if you belong to Speedy Rewards, you get extra bonus points (which can be used towards coffee and other items) for purchasing a gift card. Joe learned that the fuel only card doesn’t qualify for the extra points, so beware!

If you know of any other deals, please share them in the comments.

I’ve also added a link to a larger list posted by Deal News here.


Are you loyal to particular brands, most notably when it comes to groceries? We used to be, but haven’t been for many years.

Growing up, I recall there being a stigma attached to generic and/or store brand products. Perhaps there still is… but we no longer care. Why?

Because generic products are cheaper.

You don’t have to be living paycheck to paycheck to want to reduce your food costs so you can save money. Without the fancy packaging, generic products sell for much less and often taste the same, if not better, than their name brand counterparts. There are exceptions, of course, but the best way to find out is by trying them. Over the years we’ve always tried the generic equivalent of a product and then decided based on taste whether to continue buying generic, or switch back to the name brand.

We swear by certain Aldi products in particular because they are 10%-70% cheaper than their competitors yet aren’t lacking in taste. Our favorites:

Aldi Branded Items

    » Casa Mamita Mexican Syle Corn – $0.89 per can vs. $1.25+ for the Green Giant brand

    » Casa Mamita Diced Tomtatoes & Green Chilies – $0.57 per can vs. $1.00+ for Rotel

    » Baker’s Corner Fudge Brownie Mix – $1.19 per box vs. $1.50+ for Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, or Pillsbury. Plus they are the best brownies I’ve ever tasted. Add a teaspoon of powdered espresso to enhance the rich chocolate flavor and no one will ever know they aren’t homemade. Well, I guess my friends now know! I do make brownies from scratch occasionally, but when I’m in a hurry these are my go-to.

    » Reggano Pasta Sauce – $1.00 a jar. I believe there are some brands that might be just as inexpensive, but we haven’t found any we like more than this brand. We do not care for Prego or Ragu and the Classico brand is at least twice the cost and not that much better.

Like any new adventure, there were some pitfalls along the way. For instance, we’ve tried several different mayonnaise brands and Hellman’s reigns supreme in our household. The same goes for Heinz ketchup (although Target’s Market Pantry brand is a close second). Speaking of Market Pantry, have you tried their BBQ sauce? It is amazing and tastes better than our second favorite, Sweet Baby Ray’s.

If you’re feeling a little apprehensive about switching brands, take it slowly. You might just be surprised at how much money you’ll save!

What are some of your favorite generic products?
What are some name brand products you would never give up?


I realize that technically it’s still summer, but once Labor Day has come and gone, all I can think about my favorite season, autumn. I enjoy the cool weather and activities that the fall season brings. Plus I just love decorating my home with leaves and pumpkins and tend to hit all the craft stores to find new decorations. Not to mention my favorite holiday, Halloween, is just around the corner. Needless to say, I get very excited this time of year!

Below I’ve shared some fun things to do around the Chicagoland area this season.

Apple picking tends to rank up there for fun fall activities, so a visit to Jonamac Orchard is a must. It’s a bit further west than some other apple-picking farms in the area but it’s the least expensive as well. They also have a pumpkin patch with very reasonable prices, and you can take a hayride out to the patch and back so you don’t break your back carrying your pumpkin. Here’s a list of other orchards in Illinois as well.


If it’s not fall until you’ve picked up a pumpkin, and you don’t want to walk through a field to get one, then Sonny Acres Farm in West Chicago is for you. Come mid-September, this place has everything – two walk-through haunted barns, amusement rides, a petting zoo, and my favorite, a haunted hayride. And of course there’s food. This is where I experienced my first walking taco, and their freshly made apple cider donuts cannot be missed! And finally, you can pick up fall and Halloween decor in their barn shop.

Morton Arboretum is a great place to visit in the fall because they decorate the grounds with scarecrows and offer a different kind of pumpkin patch – pumpkins made of glass which are available for purchase.


Speaking of scarecrows, one of the best fall festivals in the western burbs is St. Charles’ Scarecrow Festival. There’s plenty of things to see and do at this festival. Here’s some photos I took at last years’ festival.

Scarecrow Fest

As Halloween nears, The St. Charles Park District hosts their Gallery of Ghoulish Homes Tour. We love to prepare some hot chocolate and apple cider, hop in the car, and take in the decorated homes. Some even offer their own haunted yard/garage/house you can walk through for free. Note: as of this writing the 2015 tour information is not available. Please keep checking the park district’s site for addresses of participating homes.

If you’re looking for something a bit scarier, you’ll probably want to check out a haunted house or two. While Halloween is my favorite holiday, I don’t like extreme scares, so I can’t recommend any particular haunted houses. Therefore I leave you with an extensive list of Illinois haunted events.

What fun things do you like to do in the fall?


I’ve always been the type of person to brown bag their lunch because I don’t want to waste my money eating out, plus I’d blow my entire lunch break just driving back and forth to get food (not to mention waste money on gas). Even in the past when I had a 60 minute lunch break, compared to the half hour I get now, I would rarely go out to eat. Besides the money, it was also due to pure laziness – I didn’t feel like walking down to my car, driving somewhere, and then trying to get back to work on time. I’d rather relax with a book while I eat my lunch.

My current employer has a microwave in the break room, but I’m not fond of using it since that process can easily eat up 10 minutes of my 30 minute break. The problem is finding self-stable or refrigerated foods that don’t require a microwave. I’m not a huge sandwich fan, so I can get burnt out on them very quickly. For awhile last summer I was bringing homemade strawberry chicken salads for lunch but now that strawberries aren’t in season I haven’t been making that. I do sometimes make a big batch of Hawaiian fried rice on a Monday so I can bring it to work Tue-Thu (yes, I love it that much that I don’t mind eating it three days in a row, plus I like eating it cold).

Lately I’ve grown bored with my limited lunch options. I’d love for some suggestions on inexpensive homemade lunches I can make the night before, so please share in the comments!