Shop Small 2013

A 365 day challenge

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Day 31: Did we stay on budget shopping small businesses?

As we’ve reached the end of the first month, the $25,000 question is, am I staying on budget while shopping small.

Before we get to the answer, let me preface with the fact that January is always an expensive month for us (why does it seem like January is the LONGEST of 31 day months?): the kids are on holiday break, then back to school grocery shopping, restocking household items, etc.

The five categories mainly affected in this challenge are groceries, dining out, general shopping (dog food, vitamins, & non-essentials), “non-target” (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, household essentials), and gas.

I read in the Tribune that the average family of 4 (with two school-age kids) spends $235/week in groceries. Even shopping organically, that seems a little high to me. My weekly budget is closer to $125 (family of 4, kids are 11 & 10). Which would be about $625 for the month of January.

So…did I do it?

Yes and no.

Since there wasn’t truly 5 weeks in January, my grocery budget was $560. I spent…
$566.

Still under $625 and only $6 over my budget. I’d say that’s pretty good. And, if you go with the Tribune’s average of $235/week, we did really good!

Adding in dining out, general shopping, “non-target”, and gas- I was about $200 over. But, I really don’t attribute that to shopping small. The dog food & vitamins I restocked last 6-8 weeks; and, with my grandma in the hospital, the extra driving equaled one extra tank of gas.

I have a feeling, though, it will all average out next month.

I don’t miss Starbucks, but I am still searching for a local indie coffee shop (I miss you Koobies!). Suggestions?

Which Small Businesses did you try for the first time this month?

Day 30: I Swear I Do More Than Eat!

Honestly. Before this challenge I grocery shopped maybe once every 10 days.

Maybe shopping small is giving me a glipse of living in Europe where people actually shop for fresh food every few days!

Good for us, though, because it’s leading us to some cool spots. Then again, my family recalls past vacations based on where we ate; and plans other vacations based on restaurants we want to try.

I loved today’s spot. And, since my son’s indoor baseball practice isn’t too far from there, I’ll be in the area a few more times.

I bring you…
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Granted it feels a little “hipster,” but it gave this suburban mom a few minutes of imagining to be trendy, living in the cool condos above Lemon Tree Grocer.

While they pretty much carry everything you would need for day-to-day groceries, the focus is their deli, artisanal cheeses, and butcher. I was incredibly impressed with their prices for Boars Head deli meats and responsibly raised (no growth hormones, grass-fed, you know the drill) chicken and beef.

Don’t feel like cooking? They have a nice selection of prepared meals with FRESH and REAL ingredients.

Need to pick up dessert? Though I didn’t get any today, they looked delicious. Gluten-free or vegan? They have amazing options for you too.
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Kids with the sitter? Pick up a bottle of wine (or beer if you’re hanging out with me) and some cheese.

Need a gift basket? You could go to town here with any theme.

The staff is extremely friendly and helpful- they’ll even walk you to the product which you know I love so much.

Lemon Tree Grocer also has a cafe, Zest Cafe. Don’t worry, the cafe is set off to the side so it doesn’t have the creepy feel of people shopping next to your table. The menu lunch/dinner specials change daily, and it was still fairly packed when I was there after lunchtime. There’s a Saturday/Sunday brunch with a Bloody Mary bar & champagne cocktails, anyone game?!

Day 29: A Small Step Outside My Comfort Zone

UPDATE (8/27/13) I am terribly sad to say, Freedom’s Market has closed. Sam continues to be one of the nicest people I have ever met, and I wish he and his family the best of luck in their next adventure.

The other day my friend asked if I had been to the market that recently opened.

I hadn’t, and said that I didn’t know what I would get at a Middle Eastern market.

The more I thought about it, I realized that this is exactly what my challenge is all about: finding new stores that I may not have ventured into before.

A smart decision, I might add.

Before I went, though, I googled “Lebanese foods” to see what ingredients I might find. It’s always fantastic to discover your own ignorance over food origination. I love falafel and hummus!

Whether you’re already a fan, or falafel & hummus are completely foreign to you, Freedom’s Market is a must-try. For several reasons.

When I arrived, there were a few people sitting and eating lunch, I thought it was only a market and had no idea they made food on-site. Foods are made daily by owner Sam and his wife, both are incredibly nice. Sam is the epitome of a small-business owner, he treats you like family after just walking through the door. I think he was just as excited about my enthusiasm (and lack of knowledge!) introducing me to new items.

They have a nice selection of spices; a 7oz bag of turmeric is only 99 cents (pick one up for this cold/flu season!). Huge bags of jasmine rice too!

I ended up with a bag of fresh pitas (10/$1) and really good tea biscuits (79 cents!). I also ordered dinner to pick up a little later: falafel (12/$4.99), chicken shawarma dinner ($6.99- came with amazing rice I could have eaten an entire bowlful), spinach pockets, and dessert.
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I have to mention the dessert. I had no idea what halawet jibn was (I still don’t really know), but they had freshly made it and I wanted to try. In all honesty, I still can’t even explain it. The top was almost like a cannoli center with crushed pistachios on top. The bottom was…I don’t have a clue. It was a unique texture and flavor- it definitely had rose water, which led to mixed reviews. My daughter and I liked it, my son was indifferent, and my husband and a friend of mine thought it tasted like potpourri.

Even though we all didn’t care for everything we tried, we will definitely return to Freedom’s Market. It was a great experience in trying new foods, with Sam as a very welcoming “host.” Although their location is convenient, there isn’t much else around it. So, Freedom’s Market is definitely going to need support to keep this small-business open.

Here’s an opportunity to get a taste of a different culture, for little money. Sam and his family are generous with suggestions and share a genuine passion for their business.

Let me know what you think of the halawet jibn!

Day 28: For our Four-Legged Friends!

I don’t remember how I first stumbled upon Pet Supply Outlet, but it’s been almost 7 years now and I love it just as much now as I did day one.

It’s family-owned, so chances are you’ll run into Rick or his sister, Jolene, both are fabulous.

When I first started going here my dog was just over a year old and had terrible allergies. Her incessant scratching left bald splotches all over her skin. Rick helped me find a food that would reduce her allergies and improve her coat. Her scratching stopped almost immediately, and her baldspots were soon replaced with healthy fur. We were also able to stop her prescription Benedryl.

Although every product isn’t organic, they do focus primarily on holistic foods, supplements, and treats. Don’t worry, it is an outlet, so you won’t pay a month’s grocery budget for your pet’s food!

Rick is a wealth of knowledge, though. You can even bring your dog in and he’ll help you decide which food would be best for your favorite furry friend.

Don’t have a dog? Pet Supply Outlet often has rescue days with local organizations so you can find a one that needs a loving home.

Cat lover instead? They have plenty there for you too: food, treats, and toys.

Because this is a large warehouse space, there are three other complimentary businesses within the same building: a vet, full-service grooming (or self-wash), and dog daycare/boarding. When you go to pick up your pet’s food, allow a few extra minutes so you can watch the daycare dogs play!

I love that I’m greeted by name shopping here (that’s one of my favorite parts of shopping small!), but with Pet Supply Outlet I love how much they’ve helped our family pet most of all.
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Have a picture of your favorite pet?

Day 27: How does this look?!

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This week’s delivery!

Although I had sporadically used Door to Door Organics last year, I couldn’t resist the buy one get one free offer they sent me at the beginning of the year.

One disadvantage to shopping organically, and locally, is that coupons are few and far between. So, I’m happy using them whenever I can!

In this case, all of the produce was FREE!

Yep, all I paid for were the chicken breasts, peanut butter packets (great for
“emergency snacks!”), the Boulder Canyon chips, and the brick of cheese!

So, this week we tried
Zeppe’s Italian Market: a small deli & to-go meals with a few shelves of Italian staples.
Fruitful Yield: discounted vitamins and healthy foods- very knowledgeable employees- a must for those with food allergies or sensitivities.
Trader Joe’s: yes, I couldn’t resist. Not truly small, but it is one of my favorites!
Dentist, Dr. Mark Curcio: Nervous about having your choppers checked? He’s your guy.
Posh Boutique: A great women’s consignment shop with both resale and new clothing, purses, and jewelry. All in a welcoming boutique setting.
Fat Ricky’s: A good choice on those occasions you want to over-indulge with super-cheesy sandwiches. Not healthy, but fresh ingredients.

Tomorrow is my favorite small business for my four-legged friend! Afraid you’ll miss it? Click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or follow us on Twitter: @shopsmall2013

Day 26: Not healthy, but oh so yummy!

9 times out of 10 we eat really healthy. My kids are good about vegetables, sushi, and will pretty much eat anything I make.

But, every so often I really want something messy, super-cheesy, and just plain unhealthy. And not pizza.

This kind of craving seemed like the perfect excuse to try Fat Ricky’s. They do have a couple other locations, but recently opened one down the street from my house.

Believe me, even though we’re a pretty healthy & organic home, and I occasionally enjoy an unhealthy meal, I still don’t want chemical-laden, fake garbage ingredients. Let’s be clear- you aren’t going to a place called Fat Ricky’s for salmon & rice or low-cal dinner. But, if you want a killer chicken parm sandwich oozing with cheese & sauce running down your hands, this is the place.

They’ve been using their family recipes since 1963; apparently they’re known for their pizza and steak sandwiches.

And, though most people dining in (and picking up orders) had pizza, we opted to try two sandwiches: meatball sub and the chicken parm.
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Splitting the two was easily enough for the 4 of us, they’re big and filling. While I wasn’t a fan of the meatball sub, the chicken parm was great. Lightly breaded, tons of cheese, and plenty of sauce.

The young girl working the counter was very nice & I have to give her the credit for suggesting her favorite sandwich- the chicken parmesan.

I obviously don’t recommend Fat Ricky’s for every day, but when you’re in the mood for “good, unhealthy” food with great ingredients- Fat Ricky’s is it!

Any other favorites for a “junk food” fix?

Day 25: Women’s consignment done right!

We’ve already found that Back on the Rack is a great consignment spot for kids’ clothes. But, that doesn’t help with my clothes.

Just like the kids’ clothes, I donate a great deal of it, but there are a few that I’d prefer to consign. I tried Clothes Mentor and Plato’s Closet last year & wasn’t impressed with either place. So, following Jennifer’s (owner of Back on the Rack) advice, I tried Posh Style: Fashion & Decor Boutique.

I don’t know how I have lived here 10 years without ever knowing Posh existed. Owner Karen does consignment right!

Going to shop? It feels like you’re in an actual boutique: organized, clean, and a great chandelier too!

Want to sell? Just make an appointment, don’t worry, it doesn’t take long, they just want to be able to give you their full attention.

Hate the idea of resale? You still need to go- one half of the store is all new!

So, really, Posh is the both of best worlds. Love resale but your best friend hates it? Now you can both happily shop- though I’m betting she’ll find something amazing from the “new to you” side.

What brands can you expect? Obviously it changes frequently, but today there was no shortage of Seven for All Mankind, Joe’s Jeans, and Lucky (none of them over $35!). Dresses, coats, shirts, sweaters, even Prom dresses & Pink if your daughter is interested. Plenty of Ann Taylor, J Crew, and Anthropologie clothes; great purses & shoes too.

Though I didn’t find jeans, I did find a cute, casual short-sleeve sweater for $2.00!
(These Michael Kors just popped up on her site tonight!)
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Although she does have a website, I like her Facebook page better, so that’s the link.

Any other favorite consignment shops for women’s clothes?

Day 24: Open wide…

I wasn’t planning on writing about services, but I couldn’t resist this one…

It all started October 3rd, 2012.

My kids and I were flying out to NYC for my uncle’s memorial. While on the plane I made a note to myself to call the dentist when I got back home…my tooth was bothering me a bit.

Needless to say, by midnight the pain was excruciating and I didn’t sleep the entire night. Fortunately, the next morning my uncle’s dentist was willing to see me.

That’s how I ended up in Dr. Towbin’s office. An older gentleman who was incredibly kind, but informed me that I needed a root canal…Now. Only he doesn’t do them, so he called his friend a block away to see me in 15 minutes. **Thank you Uncle Barton for making such a difference in people’s lives that they were willing to adjust their entire schedules for me.

So, I ended up in Dr. Kamin’s office. Sobbing.

Let me backup a step…I’m terrified of the dentist.

Not to make a long story longer, Dr. Kamin was amazing. He did a partial root canal- enough to get me out of pain, not be a drooling mess at the memorial, and back home again. He said we wanted to speak to my dentist at home because the structure of my tooth was unusual (I figured that was just code for I’m crazy & he needed to warn the next dentist) & recommended I see a specialist.

Ok…I’m finally getting to the point. All of this led me to Dr. Mark Curcio DDS.. He is incredibly patient, pain-free, and genuinely compassionate. My old dentist’s office was barely 5 minutes from my house, I now willingly drive 45 minutes to see Dr. Curcio.

For those of you don’t understand the big deal about going to the dentist, go see him because he’s a good guy and a great dentist. For those of you who basically need laughing gas & valium just to get you through a cleaning- Dr. Curcio is for you. He is calming and patient with our kind of crazy.

By the way- the anatomy of my tooth is a little off- he wasn’t just talking about me!

Who is your favorite dentist?

Day 23: I caved…

After my visit to Zeppe’s Italian Market and Fruitful Yield, I still had staples on my list.

It’s one thing to pay $1-2 more on an item if it prevents me from having to run across town to multiple stores. I’d pay triple that in gas.

But, my cereal was $2 more (and I needed 3 boxes), flour was also $2 more (needed 3 bags), and I didn’t want a $15 ginormous bag of raw sugar. So, really I was going to save over $20 at my other store.

Truth be told, I was really missing it. I was craving its friendly atmosphere, its neat-organized rows, I missed my $2.99 organic cereal…

My name is Stefanie and I am a Trader Joe’s addict.

I know. I know.

Geographically, Trader Joe’s has come along way since 1967; the store itself has pretty much remained the same (I’ve actually read the book about its creation!).

I love that they only carry a specific number of products at a time, although that also means some of my favorites aren’t there year round.

Trader Joe’s isn’t in every state, so that still makes them sort of small, right?

Here’s the deal- I’ve known plenty of people who’ve gone there & hated it- moreso- they’ve said they just don’t get it.

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If you are brand loyal, it’s probably not for you. If you get an absurd thrill coming across items like Double Creme Brie, Sundried Tomato & Pesto torta, Pear Cinnamon Cider, Corn & Chili Tomato-less salsa- then Trader Joe’s is for you. If not, Casey’s Market is right next door (in Naperville, anyway).

I tried Casey’s Foods, I really did. It’s one of the last family owned grocery stores around. It’s been here since 1991 and has a very loyal following. Maybe it was just the night I visited (freezing-ass cold), but I thought it was dirty and the employees were not helpful. I had never been there and asked where to find the flour- I basically received an “over there” with a head nod. Ask a Trader Joe’s employee, and they’ll walk you to the item.

As far as Casey’s goes, it seems like just a mini-grocery store. It’s your same aisles of Kellogg’s, Heinz, and big-name products. I don’t want Oreos, I want Peppermint Jo-Jo’s with their crushed candy-cane filling. Why buy Rice Krispies, when I can get TJ Rice Cereal that’s essentially the same thing, minus high fructose corn syrup and it’s only $1.99.

Maybe that’s why I love Trader Joe’s- and my lure toward small businesses in general- I like seeing different products, I’m not particularly brand-loyal, and I’d really love to work there in one of their Hawaiian shirts!

Trader Joe’s just feels like a neighborhood grocer should. It’s not pretentious like Whole Paycheck, but you can still get most items organic and/or without high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated garbage, or artificial colors.

That said, this year is about shopping small- so I truly only bought a few staples: cereal, flour, sugar- I begrudgingly walked past the Mini ice cream cones and blueberry chèvre. Produce, dairy, deli, meats & seafood will be found elsewhere.

I think the bottom line is, small or not, if I don’t feel good about shopping there and the items I purchase, I don’t want to spend our hard-earned money with that business.
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So, come on, there has to be other Trader Joe’s junkies. What are some of your “must-haves?” Who’s heading out for their virgin TJ experience? We’ll help with product suggestions!

Day 22: Things are getting a little personal!

Three weeks into the year and I started running out of household staples: flour, toothpaste, cereal, and tampons. Great.

My 2012 answer for three of these items would have been Trader Joes. But, knowing they really aren’t a “small company” I wanted to try a different store first.

Fruitful Yield has been my go-to for vitamins for a few years. They’re kind of a cross between a co-op and an itty-bitty Whole Foods. They do have 11 locations (so they probably aren’t technically small either), but only in Illinois.

They have, by far the best prices on vitamins and supplements. The mango fish oil we buy (seriously, my son loves it!) is almost $7 cheaper than it is at Whole Paycheck. image
The other item I buy here is- sorry guys, told you it was going to get a little personal – organic cotton tampons.

Let me jump on my soapbox for one second ladies. Yes, organic tampons are more difficult to find, and yes they are more expensive. BUT, here’s why you should go to great lengths to find them and make the switch. Almost every other brand is made with a mix of cotton & synthetic fibers, petroleum-based materials, and bleaching agents. Cotton has the highest use of pesticides/insecticides of any crop. You certainly wouldn’t want to ingest pesticide-laden cotton, or have it absorbed into your bloodstream. Additionally, dioxin (produced during the bleaching process) is carcinogenic and some researchers suspect a link between dioxin and endometriosis. I don’t know why, but I swear my periods are at least two days shorter using them too.

Back to Fruitful Yield. If you have questions regarding vitamins, supplements, or dietary changes, the employees here are very knowledgeable. While they do have some grocery items (I swear Barbara’s Jalapeño & blue cheese Cheese Puffs are crack- and I don’t like blue cheese or Jalapeños),
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they are generally more expensive than you’ll find at most other locations.

That said, if you have dietary restrictions or need staples for food allergies, they will have it.

Helpful hint- ask at the counter for the current Mambo Sprouts booklet. They’re just like the Whole Foods store coupons, only you can use them anywhere. But, you have to ask for them.

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