Coupons and $$ Savers

I'm not naturally good at financial planning or saving money. I value saving money; I think it's important, and my husband and parents are gifted at this and have helped me stick to a budget (see previous post Saving Money & Other Things I Learned From My Parents), but by nature, if I have a dollar, I want to spend it. "Burning a whole in my pocket", as my Grandma would say.  What my mom, sister, and others who know me well would say about me is I am a money-STRETCHER. I learned quickly that if I found ways to pay less for things, then I could BUY MORE within my budget. :)
I have clipped coupons on and off for years, but last year my friend Kim helped me focus my efforts with a few money saving tips (click on her name and it'll take you to her blog). Last week I saved $68 off my grocery bill by combining coupons from the Sunday paper, web coupons, and store specials.  I learned quickly that the "total saved" doesn't mean much if you end up spending more than you would have before the coupons. With a little discipline and boundaries, I started seeing a tremendous surplus in my grocery budget. I'm not trying to convince you to follow my principles, but recently I have had several friends ask me for details of how I coupon, so here it is:
  • When shopping, I mentally categorize: "necessity or luxury." Milk, diapers, medicine, "meat and potatoes" stuff = necessity. Bakery cookies, a frozen prepared meal, dips and chips, lip gloss = luxury.  I limit the "luxury" items to 1 or 2 per trip. Sacrificing luxury items saves me in the short-run and in the long-run by allowing me to build a surplus from which to stock up when there's a deal.
  • I am willing to say "No" and I'm willing to wait. I have a personal money-saving boundary to not buy a box of cereal if it's more than $2, not buy a bag of chips if it's more than $2.50, not buy a frozen family meal for more than $5.  At first I thought this wouldn't always work, but with coupons or store sales, I can stick to this 90% of the time, but I have to be willing to follow the next principle:
  • I forgo brand loyalty.  Frozen pizza, canned soup, cleaning products, toothpaste--I buy whatever is the least expensive that week. There are a few things that I am brand loyal to--my family has sensitive skin--we require Pampers, Charmin, Eucerin, etc., so I buy these things in bulk when I can get the best deal. Also we each get to choose something that we like the best. This started when Karl appealed to me one day, "I appreciate all that you do to save money, and I don't care what brand you get except for cereal. I would like Honey Nut Cheerios, not Honey Oat Rings. Can you always buy that kind please?" :)  I make this happen and stick to my $2 boundary by the next principle:
  • I stack coupons. I buy something on sale with a manufacter coupon and stack it with a store coupon (meaning I can use both at the same time). I do this at Target and at CVS. Last month, Target had Charmin on sale.  I had a coupon from the Sunday paper (2 actually as my mom and mother-in-law give me their Sunday coupons :),  I printed a coupon from Target's website, and if I bought 2 bulk packages of Proctor & Gamble paper products, I got a $5 Target gift card. I ended up getting $50 worth of paper products for $30.
  • Lastly, I try to balance bargains with sanity. I subscribe to a money-saving-mommy blog. It sends me an email with literally 50 bargains a day around town. At first, I was so overwhelmed--as a mommy of 3 at home, I couldn't possibly get every bargain. I couldn't drive to Tom Thumb TODAY just to get granola bars for 50 cents. I experimented with a few stores and few coupon websites. I found out which ones I liked and which were a hassle. The store Aldi has super cheap produce, but it is out of my way and always had a 30 minute line. Bye-bye, Aldi. The conclusions for my enjoyment (I suggest you discover your own) are:
  • I shop at Target & CVS and I ignore the rest. I love Target. It is my favorite store to shop at. I hate Walmart--DESPISE it--I get stressed every time I go.  6 years ago when we lived in Baton Rouge, they opened a SuperTarget. Everyone told me that it was more expensive than Walmart. Set out to justify my shopping at Target, I spent 4 months comparing prices of every kind of grocery, toiletry, and paper item. I put it in a spread sheet and also compared Albertsons and Winn Dixie. The grocery stores proved to be significantly more expensive--about $25 per trip. But Walmart and Target equaled out--some items were a little more expensive at Target, and then some items were cheaper. It averaged about $2 more a month to shop at Target. My enjoyment of the shopping chore was well worth it to me! Since then, I have been a loyal SuperTarget shopper--they had one close by in FL and now in Frisco.
    All of this does take some time and energy, but I have refined my system to make it more enjoyable. I clip coupons on Sunday afternoon while Karl is watching football and my kids are resting. I enjoy browsing through the flyers, and it keeps me in the room with my hubby while NFL is on. :) If I miss a Sunday b/c we have other activities, I don't stress about it. I usually save the flyers for the next week.  I threw out my old accordian-style coupon file. Instead, I put the coupons in a small photo album, that way I can group together coupons, and at a glance, I can flip to find what I need.  I hated pulling out a stack of coupons and sifting through them in the store--when I had the kids with me, I would rarely bother going through them all.
    The rewards have been worth the effort, to me. We make a modest living--our salary is based on need, and we have everything we need.  The discipline of bargain-shopping pads my budget for other "luxuries." This fall, with our grocery savings, we paid for: One ballet class, one baby shower for a friend, one family trip to the carnival, 2 family dinners out at a restaurant, picture printing for my son's first year baby book, and one new purse for myself :).  All the while, my pantry is stocked with: 2 extra tubes of toothpaste, 2 extra shave gels, extra shampoos, jumbo baby wipes, chocolate chips of every kind, and enough toilet paper to last until the New Year. :)

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