Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?Grocery shopping – it’s either a mundane chore or an obsessive activity depending on who shares your shack. If you only cook for one or two, restocking the fridge may be an afterthought or even an annoyance. But for those with HUNGRY munchkins nipping at their heels, getting groceries is serious business.

While purchasing provisions in Germany vs. the US might not be as drastically different than, say, bartering for baloney in a rural Mongolian market, the discrepancies while abroad were enough to make me pine for the greener pastures of Publix, Kroger, and… Costco.

During my weekly German Aldi run, I longed for a bulk store like Costco or Sam’s. I was completely over the cashiers’ stares when I bought my standard ten liters of milk every Monday. Must I always insist that I am not feeding a herd of baby cows each week?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Rookie German grocery mistake: don’t buy more than your teeny fridge can hold.

In Germany, buying in bulk is just not a thing. Are you a big-box or warehouse shopper? Do you buy your milk by the liter or by the metric ton? I would’ve preferred the latter, but really, all I wanted was to shop at one store.

ONE.

Super Size It

America has done such a bang-up job of exporting BIG abroad – BIG brands like Oreo and BIG companies like Coke (to say nothing of BIG hair and BIG bodies plastered on the BIG silver screen). Unfortunately, my homeland failed me in neglecting to force the rest of the world to jump on the jumbo food packaging train.

Did I count down the days until we could join an American warehouse club store? You betcha.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and Recipes

Shop Around

Beyond the super-sized milk jugs and bloated boxes of cereal, the second major annoyance focused on the necessity of patronizing a minimum of two grocery stores every week to purchase ingredients I needed or wanted. More often than not, I visited three OR MORE… e v e r y    w e e k.

Give a little shout out if you that routine sounds major awesome!! No one? Really..?

One store. That doesn’t seem to much to ask, does it?

You might say, but hey, don’t you often sign the praises of Aldi? Yes, you’ve caught me. I do love Aldi, so much so that I pitted German Aldi vs American Aldi in a supermarket smackdown which you can read here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Weekly Aldi grocery run.

Unfortunately, as a discount store that aims to keep prices low, Aldi does not and cannot carry everything. Another German grocer, Rewe, is as expensive as it is amazing. Most Rewe stores are sparkling clean with two or three times as many products as Aldi or Lidl. But, that variety comes at a premium. Prices at Rewe were too high to shop there exclusively.

Despite their advantage over Aldi in terms of options, even Rewe doesn’t carry cilantro for my homemade salsa or black beans for this cheesy Warm Chipotle Dip. Want to know why?

I’ll let you in on a little secret… many Germans do not like dishes that feature a lot of spices (the exception being, of course, currywurst). Plain Jane is the name of the German flavor game. Grocers in Deutschland don’t carry a plethora of ethnic products because the majority of German customers won’t buy them.

So, what if you want to buck the well-established German flavor system and cook delicious dishes like curries and stir fry? Where are you going to find the essential ingredients?Thrifty Travel Mama | Global Eatery - Sri Lanka

The best place for global cuisine staples is an Asian or Middle Eastern specialty shop. Since I just can’t live indefinitely without my red lentils or soba noodles, I added yet another stop to my grocery groove – the Turkish market.

Exhausting and irritating yet unavoidable for the flavor seeker – patronizing multiple stores was my weekly routine. And every time I did the dance, I dreamed of being about to shop at one store per week.

Just ONE.

Coming to America

By now, you’re thinking that the neighborhood Walmart sounds like a fabulous place to shop in comparison – yeah, you and me both. Well, okay, maybe not Walmart. That place sends me into an absolute panic.

As you can imagine, one of the things I looked forward to the most when moving back to the States was one-stop grocery shopping. One store – done.

Bahahahahaha. Boy, was I wrong.

In Arizona, we became Costco members, and I gleefully loaded my colossal shopping cart with industrial-sized laundry detergent, a city block of toilet paper, and enough ketchup to last me until the apocalypse. Those first few weeks of buyers bliss were seriously something awesome.Thrifty Travel Mama | Reverse Culture Shock: First Thoughts on Reentry

But, I soon realized something.

Costco really is fabulous, but it doesn’t carry all the produce we usually eat. Kroger has low prices, but they don’t have all the natural and organic foods I buy. Sprouts is a decent health food store, but even they don’t carry all the ethnic food ingredients needed for more exotic dishes.

Oh my… here we go again.

I still find myself frequenting at least two stores every week here in America, often three if I add Trader Joe’s in the mix.

The main difference is I zip around in my car instead of my bike, burning gas instead of calories, while stressing out about traffic instead of whether the heavens will open up and drench both me and my bike trailer full of groceries. Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Win, Lose, or Draw?

If neither Germany nor America can give me that one and done experience – will ANYONE win?

On the plus side for America, it really is nice to save money in the land of grocery competition where stores often sell items at a loss just to get you in the door. I am once again using coupons (though nowhere NEAR the level I did once upon a time) and shopping the sales.

But, other than that aspect – significant as it may be, I can’t say that the American market experience is much better in terms of value added. America just stocks more products, offers more choice, and advertises more options… all of which isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially for an expat in reverse culture shock recovery.Thrifty Travel Mama | Global Eatery - Sri Lanka

I do like that I can get any ingredient I need at nearly any time of day or night. And, yeah, the free samples at Costco and free cookies at Publix are a godsend when shopping with little boys. It’s also a big bonus to have my groceries bagged for me instead of having my meat and potatoes flung at me by an overzealous Aldi clerk because I’m not sacking them fast enough for her…

I don’t like that every time I go to the grocery store here, I am loaded up with a zillion and one plastic grocery bags. Where is the petition to ban these convenient nuisances from stores? Please, put my name at the tippy top.

Environmental concerns aside, those piles of plastic are a mushrooming monster, multiplying at an alarming rate and silently conquering every available nook and cranny in my house. At least German stores charge for plastic bags which passes the cost to the customer and makes one rethink how many bags are actually necessary.

Even if I can’t shop at one store, maybe I could make it out of each one with only ONE reusable bag instead of ONE thing in each plastic sea-creature-suffocating bag… A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green Tea

Wrapping Up

Contrary to my domestic daydreams, the grocery shopping grind in the US isn’t all I had hoped it would be. Despite living in the land of infinite possibility and choice, grabbing groceries every week at ONE store is simply not possible unless you possess (a) loads of cash that allow you to always pay full price or (b) a personal shopper who goes to all the various stores for you.

My one-and-done goal turns out to be downright unattainable under current circumstances. But, who knows? Maybe ONE day, that dream will come true.

What do you like and loathe about your weekly grocery trip? If you have grocery delivery, I would love to know your experience and if you think it simplifies things for your family.Signature Thrifty Travel MamaLead photo credit

 

German Grocery Games: Coupons & Sales

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - GroceriesIn just a few weeks, I’ll be in the US for a visit.  Yay!  In preparing for the trip, I’ve started checking my old coupon and deal websites in hopes of saving a few bucks on food and other items while we are there.  It’s kind of ridiculous the thrill couponing gives me..

I’ve written before about the lack of sales and coupons in the grocery stores here in Germany.  Unfortunately, not much has changed except food prices have gone up.  A LOT.

Sugar and flour are DOUBLE what they cost when we moved here in the fall of 2010.  You can bet the Christmas cookies felt the pinch last winter.

In an effort to draw in customers, stores like Aldi are trying to show how they have reduced prices on some things.  And by reduced, I mean about ten cents off the original price.  Whoopdedoo.

Here are a few examples from their website: aldicheap1aldicheap2But, I have noticed that coupons are starting to catch on, albeit ever so slowly.  The grocery chain Rewe recently opened a new store nearby and offered customers 10 euros off the purchase of a 50 euro Rewe gift card.  That’s 20% off anything, anytime.  We only bought two because Rewe tends to be more expensive than other stores in the area.  Still, it was something.

Even more surprising, Doc Sci brought home a coupon book from the discounter Penny.  I was totally excited that he showed up with coupons and rather impressed with what I found inside.  Here’s a look:DSC_0261 copyDSC_0266 copyDSC_0267-001 copyDSC_0269 copyDSC_0271 copyDSC_0270 copyDSC_0272 copyWhile I don’t see BOGO going mainstream in Germany, I hope that the grocery stores will decide to offer more incentives to customers in an effort to help combat the inflated price of commodities.

What great grocery deals and coupons have you found lately?Signature-Marigold

Send Some Photo Love in the Mail

photo source

photo source

One of the challenges of living life abroad is staying in touch with those you love back home.  I must admit, it’s much easier today than it was ten years ago.  Most people have Skype and Facebook.  I can even use Gmail chat to “text” friends who are also signed in to chat.

And, while digital communication is marvelous, sometimes it’s nice to send (and receive!) something tangible.  Sure, it’s possible to pick out a birthday card, scrawl a greeting, print out a photo or two, enclose it in the envelope, walk to the post office, stand in line, and mail the card.

But why would you want to?

As a furiously busy mama of three, I’d rather not freely give away my precious time to any of the above activities if at all possible.  Luckily, I’ve found three companies that make my life easier – and my friends and family back home arguably happier. 

Shutterfly1

Shutterfly

Best for: photo cards and their free photo sharing site.

My first favorite is Shutterfly.  Maybe you already love Shutterfly.  If you don’t, here’s why you should: their photo cards rock. 

Before moving to Germany, I only knew Shutterfly because of their kinda-pricey-but-decent-quality photo books.  While these are great if you can get a coupon code or amazing Black Friday sale, chances are you won’t be sending photo books more than once or twice per year (and other companies have better deals when you factor in international shipping.. see below!).

But greeting cards?  Those are a monthly staple.  I don’t know about you, but I loathe picking out greeting cards.  They are either too schmoopy, too cheesy, to childish, or too serious.  I can’t stand it.  I’d rather just see some photos of my favorite people, thank you very much.

Shutterfly3

Shutterfly’s cards are good quality, and a good price.  Most cards are $2.99 or less, and you can jam as many photos as your heart desires on all surfaces of the card.  I like the designs available, and I find them suitable for anyone on my list, old or young, male or female.

Shipping is reasonable for the cards, and Shutterfly will even mail the card to your recipient for you!  The fees are fair, even for international.

Bonus – Shutterfly often gives out a code for a free card (CARD4U).  This code resets every once in a while, so I always attempt to use it before purchasing my card.

Shutterfly2

And, just before I step off my I-heart-Shutterfly soapbox, may I also mention that with Shutterfly you can create a free photo sharing site?  You simply upload your photos, password protect them, and then send an email to your friends and family with the details.  Love it!

Artscow1

Artscow

Best for: sending photo books anywhere in the world.  Photo canvases if on sale.

Artscow is a company out of Hong Kong.  I know, you’re thinking, what the junk yo?!  Why would I want to order something from there?

Because they have tons of sales, and their shipping is the same price to anywhere in the world!

That being said, I only order their products on sale.  The best deals are those that include free shipping or give you the product for free and you pay the shipping.  Artscow always has a link to deals from their homepage.  You can also find other sales and codes if you know where to look.  Or if you ask me.  Nicely.

Personally, my best luck with Artscow has been with their photo books.  Their quality is satisfactory, or even better than that though if you consider that often I’m getting the books for nothing or next to it.  Many a family member has received a photo book for Christmas from Artscow!

Artscow2

Tip: If you do decide to try Artscow for a gift, allow several weeks of lead time especially if ordering for Christmas.  After all, the photo book will be coming from Hong Kong.

Full disclosure: I once ordered two sets of photo coasters.  The colors were super saturated, and the glue adhering the photo-printed fabric to the non-stick pad had leaked in between coasters and mangled the image.  But even without the damage, the quality was sub par.  Personally, I’ll be sticking with the photo books.

Side note: Other folks have had a good experience with Artscow’s canvases when on super sale.

P.s.: I’m done now!

amazingmail

Amazing Mail

Best for: knocking out your holiday card list in one fell swoop.

I love sending Christmas cards.  I really do enjoy designing the photo, and snapping together a little sentiment.  But this year, with a baby, and an overloaded advent season, I knew I was not going to have any shred of time left to address envelopes – or put up with the post office for that matter.

Enter Amazing Mail On a tip from another expat friend, I gave this new-t0-me company a shot.  My first impression from their website was that they must be some kind of direct mail company.  I thought, oh no, they make the stuff that most people directly recycle.  I don’t want my holiday cards instantly tossed!

amazingmail2

But the price just couldn’t be beat.  It costs about the same amount to send a photo post card through Amazing Mail as it does to print, stuff, address, and mail a photo from Germany (adjusting dollars and euros to be equal).  However, the time savings is huge.  I could sit and design a photo and a message at my convenience, upload my addresses in an excel file, get an instant proof, and be done.

amazingmail3

Feedback from friends and family was positive – the cards stood out and were of good quality.  One drawback is that it isn’t possible to put an international address in the return address field.  I know this is because the USPS won’t actually “return” the mail internationally.  But, it’s still annoying.  I got around this by placing the address in the message area.

Amazing Mail sends domestically and internationally, with acceptable rates for both.

What about you?  Have you tried using Shutterfly, Artscow, or Amazing Mail for any of the services I mentioned?  What other websites do you like for sending some love through the mail?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are solely my own.  I have not been paid or compensated in any way, and I do not currently use affiliate links.  I only recommend products I have personally used.  Happy sending!

Free Baby Stuff for Mamas in Germany

Two of the things I miss the most about living in the US are free samples and coupons.  It’s not that they’re nonexistent in Germany; it’s just that they’re so rare they might as well be.

So you can imagine that I was quite excited to stumble across this post which contains links to all sorts of freebies for pregnant ladies and new mamas.  I wasn’t able to sign up for all of them, but I have been really pleased with what I have received.

All the baby coupons I have received thus far!

Here’s a rundown…

Hands down, the best goodies have come from dm’s babybonus program.  If you don’t know dm, it’s the German version of CVS or Walgreens.  This store offers your normal drugstore fare plus a great selection of baby items including clothing.  Each location has a changing table in it with complimentary wipes and diapers.  I haven’t seen parent-oriented service like that anywhere else in Germany save IKEA.

I love that dm has two different welcome packets – one for when you’re pregnant and the other for after the baby has arrived.

Items received from the dm pregnancy welcome packet (Willkommens-Paket zur Schwangerschaft):

  • 10% off your purchase, no minimum
  • A full size tube (150ml) of massage cream for prego bellies
  • A coupon book with savings on diapers, wipes, and other baby products as well as toiletries and pregnancy items (valid for more than 6 months)

dm babybonus welcome packet.

Items received from the dm babybonus welcome packet:

  • Soft rattle toy
  • Orthodontic pacifier
  • Samples of moisturizer and body lotion for mama
  • Sample of dm’s diaper rash cream for baby
  • Another (thicker) coupon book with similar savings to the pregnancy one (also valid for more than 6 months)

The next best box came from real,-.  You can read about how I love real,- here.  I first received a letter confirming my enrollment in their familymanager program that included only two coupons, one for baby gear and one for baby clothing.  I was a bit disappointed until I found a surprise from real,- in my mailbox right after Big Foot was born.

Box from real,-.

Items received from the familymanager Hallo Baby welcome packet:

  • Samples of Pampers wipes and one diaper
  • Purple Pampers baby socks
  • An iron-on logo to decorate a baby onesie and provide free advertising for real,- (ha!)
  • A lotion sample for mama
  • A coupon book with in-store savings on baby and household items (valid for more than 3 months)

Though I tend to frequent dm more, Müller is another great drugstore that also sells office supplies, department store perfume, toys, and entertainment media (CDs, DVDs, electronic games, etc).  I can attest that their Mein Baby program is well worth the five minutes it takes to sign up.  Though I wasn’t given any free samples, one could argue the contents were quite a bit more valuable.

Super thick coupon book from Müller.

Items received from Müller’s Mein Baby mailing:

  • Coupon for €5 off €20 (not limited to baby items and no expiration date)
  • The biggest coupon book I’ve ever seen in Germany with savings on pregnancy, baby, household, and family items as well as toys (valid for more than 6 months)

Honorable mention: Pampers Village The website states that if you sign up, you will receive coupons, newsletters, and a free box with items in it from the maternity ward where you give birth.  I never did receive the box, but perhaps the fact that I didn’t actually end up on the maternity ward after Big Foot was born had a little something to do with that.  However, I did receive coupons, and I successfully stacked a manufacturer’s coupon and a dm coupon when purchasing Pampers diapers.  Score!

If you’re actually signing up for all these freebies, I’d recommend skipping the registration for HiPP’s Mein Baby Club I only received a sticker to hang in the window of a car I don’t own and a coupon for 20 euros toward an account for the baby.  I thought that was rather generous… until I read the fine print.  In order to claim the money, I had to appear in person at the bank to verify all my information as well as the baby’s.  I understand that the company would like to know to whom they are giving their money (and that nothing is ever really free), but what new mama has time for an extra trip to the bank of all places??

Anyhow, it’s been great fun to sorta kinda coupon again.  I’ll take all the savings I can get!  If you’d like additional links to baby freebies in Germany, check out this blogger’s list.   Meanwhile, I’ll keep checking my mailbox for more money-saving goodies!

Searching for Deals in Deutschland

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - Finding DealsI’ve lived in Germany for almost two years now, and I still miss coupons.  And Slickdeals.  Oh my, do I miss Slickdeals.

And, while Germans in my corner of the country are obsessed with saving the planet, it seems like they aren’t really interested in saving money.  And, that’s a shame, because the truth remains: stuff in Germany is expensive.

So, what’s a thrifty mama to do?

Shop around, and shop online.

Here are the best ways I’ve found to save money on items we need for every day life.

Food.  Every weekend, I check the Aldi Süd and Lidl websites.  Special offers and sales are listed for the upcoming week.  Food discounts on regularly-stocked items are actually quite rare.  If a sale exists on food, it’s almost always for a name brand (and often the store brand is still cheaper) or it’s a measly 10 to 50 cents off the normal price.

Aldi Süd ad. This one just happens to be for “American” week.

When I do spot a sale on something we eat regularly, I buy as much as my fridge/freezer/pantry can hold.  Unfortunately, sales on food items are not on a rotating schedule like in the US, so I have no idea when (or even, if) that same item will be on sale again.

Lidl. de website – ads for the two sales every week are listed across the top.

More often, food sales offered by Aldi and Lidl are for “ethnic” food (and I use that term very loosely).  For instance, during Asian week, I buy sesame oil, chow mein noodles, stir fry kits, etc.  These special items are usually offered 2-3 times per year.  I’m sure there’s a yearly schedule online somewhere for when certain items will be available, but I have yet to find it.

Household Goods.  Aldi and Lidl also regularly offer an array of household goods at very good (for Germany) prices.  The quality varies, but it is usually much better than 1 euro stores and cheap import stores.  I’ve found great prices in both stores on toys, cheap house shoes, kids costumes, office supplies, kitchen gadgets, linens, etc.  Again, all of these items make an appearance 1-3 times per year, and once the inventory is gone, it’s gone.

The other great place to find deals on household goods is Amazon.de.  I often will compare the prices I find on Aldi and Lidl with Amazon.  That way, I know if 9,99 is a good price or not for a king-sized fitted sheet.  Amazon sometimes has sales, but I have not found any to fit my needs yet.

Amazon.de carries a wide variety of items from Big Bang Theory t-shirts to English books to cooking utensils to vacuums and (almost) anything else you can think up.

As in the US, Amazon.de offers a prime option.  It’s cheaper (29 euros per year, I believe), but not particularly necessary.  Germany is a much smaller country, so shipping time is not as long here as it is in America.  Almost everything I order from Amazon.de (with or without prime – I’ve had two prime trials) arrives at my home within 1-3 days.  Plus, orders over 20 euros come with free shipping anyway.

Clothing and Shoes.  Semi-annual sales (January and July) seem to be the best times to buy new clothing for cheap.  Department stores (even the expensive ones) have decent markdowns as do the discounters like H&M, C&A, etc.

I buy almost all my kids clothing, toys, and gear at flohmarkts.  Most people sell items that are in good condition (sometimes like new or brand new), and bargaining is acceptable.  I also find it easier to let boys be boys in second-hand clothing.  If their jeans rip because they had an epic time learning to ride a bike or playing soccer, I don’t care because I only paid 2 euros for the pair instead of 20.

And, speaking of bikes, every bike the boys have had has come from a flohmarkt.  I’ve also purchased a bike seat and other bike accessories at flohmarkts.  Unfortunately, these markets are like garage sales.  I never know if I am going to find what I am looking for – I just have to go and have a look around.

Zalando is the German version of Zappos.  I have not personally ordered any shoes from here, but friends have told me it works the same way as it does in the US – shipping is free both ways.  Order as many shoes as you like, and return what you don’t want.

Zalando – thousands and thousands of shoes.

Electronics and Appliances.  For both of these categories, I have found Amazon.de to have the best deals.  Sometimes local electronics stores will have sales, but the prices are still often not as good as Amazon.  And, even if they are the same, Amazon delivers for free whereas the stores do not.  So far, we have purchased a washer, dryer, and a TV from Amazon.  All were delivered gratis.

The only other place I’ve found online (and, actually, I didn’t find it – a friend sent me the link) that seems to be a good place for electronics and the like is dealdoktor.de.  This website regularly has deals for iPads, cell phones, TV’s, and the like – all of which are terribly expensive in Germany.  Occasionally, I’ve seen deals for shoes, clothing, toiletries, etc.  And, just a tip, I find Deal Doktor easier to read in Google Reader than on it’s actual website.

Deal Doktor website – a bit confusing and overwhelming visually. Subscribe via Google Reader for easier viewing (and to stay on top of trending deals).

The only other trick I have up my sleeve is to stock up on food, clothing, etc. while in America.  Even with the cost to check an extra bag on my flight, the cost of items in America still usually comes up cheaper than in Europe.

So, what about you? What deal websites or tips/tricks have you found to help save money while living in Europe?

Three Weeks in the US

As I mentioned in my last post, we’ve just returned from an insanely long, three-week vacation in the good ol’ US of A.  I’m learning that Germans are all about REALLY taking a break.  One week is peanuts, two weeks is getting closer, but three weeks is ideal.

p.s. – Doc Sci still has THIRTEEN vacation days left for the year.

Some days, I really do love the German way.

So, how did we spend that three weeks?  Here’s a recap of our time, in pictures.

We ate. A LOT. This waffle the size of T-Rex's head was no match for him. He devoured the entire thing, and still found more to enjoy at the buffet. And now you know I'm not just thrifty to be cool but because I'm going to be flat broke when I have three teenage boys if I don't watch my pennies now.

We introduced the boys to some of our favorite eats (tart soft-serve yogurt, mmmm), and frequented old favorites. Though we gave our money to Chipotle at least four times, I somehow never got a picture there. More than likely I was too busy stuffing my face.

We indulged.. a little. Before I left, my ob/gyn warned me to be careful of "all the donuts" in America. She was dead serious. Good thing she didn't say anything about cupcakes!

We went to the splash pad more than once, because those thrills don't exist in our little German city.

We found some stellar playgrounds, like this one that had a sand pit with at least a dozen diggers and big trucks.

We visited the Adventure Science Center with Grandpa and Grandma in Nashville, TN (in case you go - I thought it was rather overpriced for my thrifty ways since kids 2 and up were $12 each and adults were $14!).

T-Rex met... T-Rex.

We hung out with old friends, and the boys even made a few new ones. We made visits to two great-grandmas and met second cousins.

Screech set the record for the most bumps, bruises, and scrapes of any trip to date. He also got used to wearing a band-aid for the first time.

We caught up on oh-so-exciting grownup responsibilities like car maintenance.

Doc Sci and I went on TWO dates, one of which was to Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba (fantastic).

We did some chores.. emphasis on some... but only because we stayed with friends and we wanted to help out.

And, finally, we shopped and shopped and shopped some more (using coupons and sales of course). We raided our storage unit, and friends gave us much-needed, hand-me-down baby gear. As a result, we brought back about 200 POUNDS of stuff!

Thanks, America for a great vacation this year!

Where To Buy Maternity Clothes in Germany

Source: H&M

I could sum this post up in one sentence: Find a friend in the US to ship American-branded maternity clothes to you.

The clothing situation in Germany for expectant mamas is rather abysmal.  Our city only has two stores carrying maternity clothing.  We had another well-known chain store (Babywalz), but it went out of business.  What IS here is expensive, and selection remains slim pickin’s.

I took to the Toytown Germany forums to see what I could see.  As expected, larger cities such as Munich and Berlin have more than two stores.  And, some of the bigger H&M stores sport a maternity section.   Espirit also apparently also carries Umstandsmode.

By and large though, it’s better to take your chances on the internet.  Both H&M and TopShop (UK) have online shops stocking clothes for the aspiring-to-be-stylish-despite-the-bump mamas.  Shipping is free at TopShop for orders over 75 euro.  At H&M, it’s only 5 euros, and I’ve been told coupons can be found to cover that charge.

US retailers such as Old Navy and Gap now ship overseas.  However, keep in mind that purchases will be subject to customs duties which will be payable on delivery.

I just hate experimenting though.  There’s nothing like ordering 100 euro worth of clothes to find out most of it doesn’t even fit.

Since I know how Old Navy and Target maternity clothes fit me, I find it best to order online, ship to a friend, and have that friend mail them to me as a “gift.”  Technically, it’s a gift of their time to go through all the effort to get them to you, right?

Unfortunately, it really is quite a buzz kill to shop for your pregnant self in Germany.  I’m crossing my fingers that what I have in storage at home and what friends have sent me will get me through.  I think this may be the first time ever I’m desperately hoping NOT to shop.  We’ll see how it all shakes out.

In the meantime, if I come across any other finds, I’ll update this post.  If you know of any other tips, do leave a comment!

Favorite Finds

The holidays are here which means money is flying out of my bank account and into the voracious jaws of the grocery giants.  So much for a food budget, eh?

BUT, I’ve come across some finds and some deals lately which have me pretty stoked.  This is what I get excited about when I’m not traveling.  Sad, I know.

First, Kaufland!  I saw the storefront on one of my many training runs around town, but I thought it was a home improvement store.  A friend recently mentioned it, and I found out it was a big box store like Real.

(If you want to know all the ins and outs of your city streets, train for a marathon.  I know where everything is now!)

A few Saturdays ago, I hopped on my bike and cruised past the hospital, cemetery, and the warehouse district to Kaufland.  Pleasant route, right?

My Kaufland haul. Not pictured - tahini!! And the turkey lunch meat at the bottom, well, you can get that at Aldi or Lidl - oops!

It’s two levels (!) with one of those neat-o grocery cart escalators.  Boy was I shocked at what I found at Kaufland!  I could not believe my eyes at all the products I didn’t think existed in German grocery stores (at least not in my small-ish city).   I’ll definitely be adding a Kaufland trip into my grocery store rotation.

Second, the Lidl warehouse sale!  This is a CRAZY sporting event.  Basically, every once in a while the Lidl warehouse will post a sign on the front of the building announcing the next sale (about every 2-3 months or so).

The sales are Friday and Saturday starting at 8am, and the items are overstocks from all of Lidl’s “special” sales (dry goods and non-food items such as furniture, clothing, office supplies, kitchen supplies, electronics, etc.).  I never know what they will have, but I’m always bound to find something interesting (and cheap).

The best things sell out FAST, so I decided I would go this time at 8am on Friday.  I know these sales are nutty, but I was not expecting gobs of people trying to shove their way in the front door.  I was there at 8am, and by the time I got in the front door, all of the “best” things were gone (area rugs, laundry drying racks, Coca Cola, ha!).

Screech went with me, and trying to maneuver a pram was more than frustrating.  People pushed me with their carts, and I tripped up other shoppers more than I want to remember.  At least Mr. Screech was content to sit and shove cheerios in his face in the midst of the madness.

My Lidl warehouse sale (food) haul!

I ended up with a cart (pram) full of Mexican food!  I am not sure what the fajita and burrito seasoning will taste like, but I purchased the kits for less than the tortillas themselves cost.  I also scored five boxes of taco shells for half price, and ten bags of whole-grain spaghetti for 30 cents each.  I found a few other miscellaneous items like a canvas print for the wall, socks for Doc Sci, a luggage strap, and plastic party forks.

Even though I can’t coupon in Germany, I can take advantage of every-once-in-a-while deals and use that money to pay full price for other (rare) things I enjoy.

What deals have you found lately?  Have you ever been to a Lidl warehouse sale?

 

 

Free Toothpaste

Theoretically, if you live in the US and play your coupons right, you should never have to pay for toothpaste again, compliments of CVS, Walgreens, and sometimes even your neighborhood grocery store.  In fact, you probably will have more toothpaste than you know what to do with.  Seriously.

Kräuter.. makes me think of garlic. Good thing it's not!

I brought some of this free toothpaste with me to Germany and ended up a little irritated when it was all gone.  Now that I’m accustomed to not paying for it, I don’t want to make room in my budget for it.

(Okay, maybe I just really don’t want to have to figure out which brand is the best and figure out what “fluoride”, “cavity”, and “extra delicious bubblegum mint” are in German.)

If you don’t think God has a sense of humor, think again.  Just after the new year, I received some coupons in the mail from dm, the CVS of Germany.  How I got on this mailing list, I don’t know but hallelujah I am lovin’ it!

Well, wouldn’t ya know, the first coupon in this book was for none other than a free tube of toothpaste!  The others were for things like 5% off your purchase, 10 extra payback points (another reward system here – I’ll have to do a post on that later), and a whopping 40 cents off Nivea shampoo.

T-Rex always has to add his own touch to things.

I was least impressed with the latter.  That is, until I went to redeem the free toothpaste coupon and saw this…

dm.. you're so generous.

So the joke’s on me.

Or maybe it’s not.  I still got a free (decent tasting) tube.  Hooray for free stuff in Europe!

What did you get free this week??

Mishap: A Thief… in the night?

Just when I think my life might get boring, something wacky happens.  At times, it seems these incidents couldn’t be more random, and yet I don’t really believe in coincidence or happenstance.

Have you ever had your mail stolen?  It’s a rather freaky thing.  I like that the US thinks it big enough to classify as a federal offense.  I have no idea what Germany’s take on the subject is.  I would find out but that whole language barrier still exists.  And somehow I don’t think that, “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” (I don’t speak German – and I don’t spell it either for any smarties out there) is going to get me anywhere on this subject.

Almost ten years ago, I lived in an apartment complex that sorted it’s own mail.  That’s a nice way of saying the post office was fed up with trying to figure out college students’ mail and thus refused to do so.  Well, the particular person and this particular property that happened to be doing all the residents a favor was, in fact, doing herself a favor.  A big, fat illegal favor.

I don’t know who busted her or how it all went down.  I lived in Russia at the time, two years later.  But when the truth was unraveled, my first passport was found in this chick’s web and used as evidence against her.  Talk about identity theft paranoia!

But which is worse, I wonder… To not know that your mail is being pilfered, sifted, read or to be fully aware but totally flipping out because you have no idea what those dirty thieves have their hot little hands on?

Welcome home. You (had) mail.

Doc Sci came home the other day to find our mailbox door ripped open.  Four of the twenty or so mailboxes were like this. Well, even a non-PhD like me can figure out that means that the thieves stole mail from only these four unfortunate souls.

For starters, I never liked this box.  You can lift the flap and peep away, knowing instantly if you have goodies in there or not.  And, though less obvious, this particular metal door sporting our name could be opened with any key.

Consider my blood pressure when I realized I have been waiting many weeks for a new debit card from my US bank.  Sweating.  Profusely.

Several hours later on the same day but now in the pitch black cover of night, a mysterious foreign voice phones us from the lobby of our building asking us to come down and get our mail.  I’m thinking, what kind of sick game is this?  Steal someone’s mail and then kidnap them so you can hold them hostage for a PIN number?  Yes, I have quite the dramatic, worst case scenario imagination.  Comes in handy at times; mostly, it’s just annoying.

What was left of the gigant-o pile of opened, read, and ripped up mail.

Turns out, this was not your average kidnapper but a nice guy who found the pile of ripped up mail and tried to return it to the four losers who got robbed.  And you know what these weirdos took?

Coupons!!

What a sad day.. coupons I can actually use in Germany.. ripped up by some grubby thief's hands. Boo. Hiss.

Seriously.

I could not make this up if I tried.

So what’s weird in your week?  My heart’s racing (again) from the stress of it all so let’s hear some more pulse-quickening stories!