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Adventures in Couponing

This may be one of the most boring posts I’ve ever written but since my little rant last week about budgeting, I figured I’d post a little about my experience with couponing this weekend.

I had one goal this weekend. Make a meal plan for the week, get a Sunday paper, clip coupons, and buy only the things I need this week. Okay so that sounds like a lot of goals, but they all serve one main purpose: To cut back on food costs.

So how did I do?

First, I checked out StlMommy.com. She posts tons of great deals every day. I honestly don’t know how she does it, but she’s a fantastic resource for local deals. It was there that I learned that my closest grocery store was offering Triple Coupons this week, meaning they’ll triple any coupon you bring in that’s $.75 or less. I also spent WAY too much time looking at sites like Coupons.com and SmartSource.com only to have gotten too lazy to print anything out. Instead, the hubs ran out Sunday morning and picked up a paper for me. After looking at all the ads and clipping the coupons I needed, I adjusted my list a little and made a game plan to go to Target for the $10 giftcard offer on Pampers and their sale on Halloween candy, then to my local grocer for all of my grocery needs (a store called Schnucks for all you locals).

I usually buy my diapers online since I’m an Amazon Prime member and I get free shipping. But with the $10 giftcard offer on two packs of diapers at $25 each, I probably saved an additional $8 than if I would have ordered them online. I also bought some Halloween candy that was on sale and came with a free Tombstone pizza offer, which was valued at about $2.84 + tax. So I saved roughly $11 at Target on things I needed anyway. I was in and out in less than 30 minutes.

Then I went to Schnucks and this is where things got complicated. I don’t use coupons often, but I’ve compared prices enough to know that coupons are only useful when that’s A) a brand you insist on buying or B) it’s the cheapest option, after coupons. And the latter doesn’t happen very often. For example, I had a coupon for Gillette razors but even with a tripled coupon, the BIC ones were cheaper so I didn’t use it. So I took a lot of time looking at my list, checking to see which items I had coupons for, and then price checking everything to make sure I was getting the best deal. This doubled the amount of time I spent at the grocery store and was one of the few times where I didn’t have D or the hubs with me. The result? I saved about $13 in coupons, and another $25 in sales, so a total of $37 savings on a $107 grocery bill. But since I spent the most time on the couponing portion (since I would’ve bought the items on sale anyway) I only count the $13 as added savings. Add that to the $11 I saved at Target, minus the $2.50 I spent on the paper, and I saved $21.50 that I wouldn’t have normally saved.

Was that $21.50 worth the 3-4 hours of extra time? I’m not sure. I don’t exactly enjoy couponing or deal hunting as I’d rather be taking my little boy to the park or being lazy on the couch, but I’m guessing that’s the case with most people and it’s not like we budget because we want to. We budget because we have to. I’m hoping I get a bit faster at this whole meal planning/list making/coupon clipping thing so that it feels more worth it and becomes less of a hassle or chore.

One rookie mistake I made was making my list before making my meal plan. And making my meal plan before checking out the deals/coupons. I ended up changing my meal plan and therefore my list about 3 times in the middle of the store because I found things on sale (like bacon for BLTS) that would be cheaper than my original plan of pot roast and potatoes. Ideally, my goal is to get our meals down to around $80 a week while still incorporating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.  I don’t even know if this is possible, but I’m going to keep trying!

 

 

 

 

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Breaking the Budget

Being an adult is HARD. But you know what’s harder? Being a parent. There’s just so much responsibility, which, DUH. Of course there is.

And then there’s the financial impact. And here’s where I’m struggling.

It’s taken awhile for me to realize this but damn, kids are expensive. (Shocker, right?) Sure, there’s all the initial preparation – the nursery furniture, the diapers, the books, the decorations, the blankets, the bouncer, the swing, the stroller, the car seat, the high chair, etc. And if you’re lucky enough to have most of that stuff given to you at showers, then you’re lucky enough. We were pretty fortunate to have my mom gift us our nursery furniture for Christmas before D was born and my in laws to pay for our stroller and infant carrier. And my SIL gave us more boy’s baby clothes than we knew what to do with. But now that D is nearing a year and a half, there’s a whole new slew of expenses creeping up on us. He needs different foods – and more of it, he needs clothes and shoes, he needs more age-appropriate toys and books, he needs baby gates and cabinet locks for safety, and we had to buy a bigger car seat and a better stroller. He also needs things like shampoo and bubble bath, lotion and laundry detergent, diapers, wipes, diaper cream, and basically everything we were given before he was born has now run out and we need more, More, MORE!

And mommy needs more too. My changing waistline, bra and shoe sizes means I practically need an entire new wardrobe every season. Most of my old clothes no longer fit the way they used to, so I’ve had to buy new items here and there every few weeks, slowly accumulating pieces of clothing only to now be pregnant again and start all over. Fortunately I still have lots of maternity items, but for anyone that’s ever bought maternity clothes, you know that most of those things are only meant to be worn a few times because to look at them now, they’re stretched and faded and just one more wash away from ending up in the donation pile.

But none of these things are a big deal, if you have the money. And we used to. As two dual-income twenty-somethings, money was never something we worried about too much. We could pay our bills and go out with friends without ever thinking twice. That’s not say we were eating filet mignon every night while drinking Cristal. Debt would pile up during the more “spendy” months – like when we first bought our house and had to buy all new furniture, appliances and lawn equipment. Or around Christmas, our annual week-long beach vacation, or the month we both had to buy all new tires for both of our cars. Then we’d spend a couple of months paying off whatever we owed and be credit-card-debt-free again.

And then we went down to one income. I say “one income” because even though my husband works from home, he’s an entrepreneur and typically whatever he makes profit-wise is usually invested right back into his business. Such is the case with most entrepreneurs their first couple of years.  So for argument’s sake, we’re a one-income family at the moment. Only we haven’t been living like it. We do what we want and buy what we want whenever we want. And the result is not good, folks. Seeing a balance on a credit card is giving me anxiety. Actually, the upcoming holidays, the idea of adding a monthly preschool charge and an eventual car payment (the hubs’ car is on its last leg) is what’s really giving me anxiety.  Oh and this new baby, who will need a crib and other necessities (although clothing isn’t one of them, hallelujah!!). We may not be in the red zone yet, but our expenses are only going to increase so we need to get this under control NOW.

Our little family needs to make some changes. For starters, I’m tackling our Christmas budget. We typically spend somewhere around $2,000 for close to 35 people. Our budgets for our parents and each other were always a bit higher than for everyone else, but that’s still a ridiculous amount of money and people to buy for. This year, my goal is to get our Xmas budget down to around $200 for about 15 people. The hubs and I have decided not to exchange gifts, as well as my parents, so that will help considerably. And since D doesn’t really get the concept of Christmas yet, we’ll probably only get him a couple of toys and books.

Next up, we need to get organized when it comes to grocery shopping. I confess that I rarely use coupons. I just haven’t had the time or patience to find them and clip them. But I’m going to find the time and make this a priority. But before I can do that, I need to make actual, detailed, meal plans for each of us. This is not as easy as it sounds since we eat different things. The hubs is a grab and go person. His breakfast, if he eats breakfast at all, is a banana or a granola bar and a cup of coffee. I’m a cereal and milk girl. And D is a fruit and granola bar baby. Lunch has been my downfall lately and I’m guilty of dropping about $8-10 a day on a sandwich at the local eateries near the office. And then there’s diner which consists of about 50% eating out and 50% tossing something together at the house.  We’re just not consistent. You may recall that I was doing Time For Dinner every month, and while it helped ease the pain of meal planning, it’s definitely not the cheapest route and I still couldn’t get my act together to even make a decent side dish most of the time. But the real reason I stopped going as of last month is because ever since I got pregnant, I’ve had major, unpredictable food aversions. So I couldn’t bring myself to spend that much money on meals that I wasn’t even eating most of the time. More than half of it would end up in the trash because I’d just be suddenly repulsed by it. So back to basics.

(It’s also worth noting that we cancelled our cleaning service. The fact that I even had a cleaning service and I’m complaining about money right now makes me want to punch myself in the face, but I wanted to be completely honest and since I mentioned how much I LOVED having someone else come in and clean our floors and bathrooms twice a month to you guys before, I thought I’d also point out that we no longer have it because the financial stress was causing me more anxiety than a dirty bathroom so we had to make a decision. Fortunately, the hubs said he’d be willing to take on more of the chores and so far, he’s kept his promise. I’ve picked up my own slack too and as long as I can will myself to do just ONE thing every day, I can still spend quality time with D, enjoy my evenings and weekends, and not lose my mind.)

So lay it on me. What are your best budgeting tips, without getting too extreme? (We’re not quite desperate enough yet to cut our cable or ditch our smartphones.) Do you give yourself a cash allowance each week/month? Do you shop at certain stores for the best deals? Do you buy in bulk at club membership stores (and does it actually save you money)? Do you keep track of your spending in a handy spreadsheet? Do you DIY Xmas presents for people? Impose spending limits with friends/family? Forgo spouse gifts like we’re doing this year? Only buy for immediate family or draw names? I’m all ears!

 

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I was reading this post over on DesignMom which links to another article on a study that was done that basically says money doesn’t buy happiness, only temporary satisfaction and excitement, UNLESS you use that money to give to someone else. Then it technically buys happiness.

It’s an interesting thing to ponder really. I mean, how many of us dream about a new house, a new car, or a new fancy wardrobe? How often have you told yourself that you’d be so much happier if you just had that spacious ranch with the open floor plan and walk-in pantry?  (Ok, so maybe that’s just specific to me.)

The comments on the post I link to above were pretty interesting and I tend to agree with the (nicer) ones that argue that money can help relieve the stress of bills and living paycheck to paycheck so therefore, by eliminating that stress, you must be happier. I can agree with that. But I also think that what is just merely comfortable for one person is another person’s destitute and yet another person’s overwhelming wealth. For example, we own a house in the suburbs and two cars. That alone is enough for a couple that’s barely making ends meet in an apartment with a shared bus pass to think I’m living in the lap of luxury. While another couple might look at our neighborhood with a few foreclosures down the street and two eight-year-old Hyundais in the driveway and think, “Man, if we had to give up our 5,000 sq ft house and two Infinitis and downgrade to that, we’d be slumming it.”

So I guess what I’m saying here is it’s all about perspective and how much money (or lack of) already dictates your happiness.

But let’s talk about the the giving it away part.

One of my neighbors has brain cancer. She has a husband, a college-aged son, and two young daughters (youngest is 7, I believe). I wouldn’t say there’s no hope, but last I heard, doctors had told her husband that the type of cancer she had would come back. It always has in every case they’ve seen. Life expectancy: A year. Maybe 18 months. That’s pretty fucking devastating news. It hurts my heart every time I see them in the driveway, or see the girls riding their bikes up the street. Hell, just even looking at their house makes me feel awful for what they’re going through.

So a couple of weeks ago I told her I had some Cardinals tickets that we couldn’t use and since I know they’re big Cardinals fans, I asked if they would please take them off our hands. I also said,”The seats are decent so you won’t be in the nosebleeds, so please, enjoy a night out on us since we can’t use them.”

She was so excited. Neither of her girls had ever been to a Cardinals game. It was a very fast “YES!”

Then I went online and purchased the tickets. Decent ones. Not in the nosebleeds.

And even though it cost me more than what I pay for gas for a month, and even though we’ve got a credit card bill that will take a few more months to pay off, it made me so very happy to see her family’s smiling faces as their girls enjoyed their very first Cardinals game last night. It’s something I won’t forget, and neither will they.

 

jobsmoney

(Image Source. Click the link for more awesome money quotes.)

 

 

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One hour. That’s all I needed. Just one hour to wander aimlessly around Walmart to peruse the aisles, pick up some essentials, and finish my Christmas shopping. I left the baby and husband at home so I could take my time and actually enjoy this little shopping excursion. Plus, I had a lot of stuff to buy. Now that my grandpa is gone, I feel an even greater responsibility to do things to keep my family together. So next weekend, my cousin and I are hosting our first family Christmas gathering. The two of us will fix all the food and I’m making it my job to ensure there are games and prizes to keep everyone entertained. We’ve never been the game playing kind of family before, so this is new for us, and for me.  I also picked up a few extra items for my other cousins and their kids. Both of them are on government assistance so I know they won’t be giving or getting much this year.

Money is tight though. Since my husband left his corporate job to work for himself and also watch the baby full-time, we’ve had to make some cutbacks. We refinanced our mortgage, we put off getting new cars (both of our cars are 7 and 8 years old, but totally paid off), we dropped our gym membership, movie rental membership, and other things that were a bit unnecessary. We’ve tried cutting back on our Christmas spending too, but that’s been difficult. When you buy for 42 people (Seriously. Forty. Two. And that doesn’t include gifts to each other or the baby. So 45. Or the money we donate to our favorite charities every year.) and spend anywhere from $20-$100 per person, it gets kind of crazy. And I can’t NOT give gifts to some of these people. Even though I receive less than half that number of gifts in return, that’s not the point. Instead, I’m just trying to find better gifts for my smaller budget. Hence my trip to Walmart. And for the most part, I feel like I did pretty well this year. $3 fleece blankets for my cousins? YES! $5 slippers for my aunt? You betcha. Time to check out!

If you have ever gone shopping at Walmart on a weekend in December, you know the checkout line is HELL. I don’t know why a store has 35 checkout lines but only has 6 of them open at any given time. It’s infuriating. Kind of like getting behind that person with a million coupons or the person that needs a price check because the tag is missing. And it’s always an item from the farthest end of the store. So the cashier flips her little flashing light and your head explodes while everyone else in line does a collective sigh because we all know, this is going to take awhile.

The odds I will be right behind someone like this is about 1 in 3. So when I pulled my cart up to lane 16 and noticed the woman in front of me unloading her SECOND cart full of stuff, I knew this might take some time. But I was in a good mood, mentally checking off the things from my list and hoping the baby would still be awake when I got home. That’s when the pink and purple slippers on the checkout belt caught my eye. And the mini-yoga pants with a hot-pink band around the waist. The woman was buying girls clothes. Possibly for Christmas.

I looked at the woman, and she was exactly the type of customer you would expect to see in a Walmart. Tattered jeans, grungy sweatshirt, no makeup, unkempt hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, and skin that looks like she’s spent her fair share of time in a smokey bar. I watched her ask the cashier if she could stop ringing her out and tell her the current total. With tax, please. The cashier looked up at her, slightly annoyed, and said, “$211 and 36 cents.”

“Is that with tax?”

Another worker came over to help figure the tax. Two more people got in line behind me.

A new total. $240-something.

The woman looked at the rest of her items on the belt, looked at the cash in her wallet, grabbed the giant tube of ground chuck (the cheapest kind you can buy) off the belt and asked her to add that to the total but then stop, because she didn’t have enough money to buy the rest of the items. In her hand, I could see the Missouri EBT logo. Welfare money. She swiped her card. It covered the majority, but she still owed around $40, not including the stuff that had to be put back. She counted her tiny bit of cash and started looking at what else she could take off the bill so she could afford everything. She apologized for the inconvenience and asked if she needed to go put those items back for them. I looked at the items already in her cart. Palettes of can goods. Kitty litter. A bag of onions. This wasn’t her weekly shopping trip. This was her MONTHLY shopping trip. I looked at the rest of the items on the belt. The items she couldn’t afford to buy. Eggs. Coffee. A piece of chocolate cake. A couple cans of soup. Apples. And of course, the slippers and yoga pants.

Another worker came over to put the items into an empty cart and haul them away. She apologized again for the inconvenience. I looked at my wallet. $20 was the only cash I had on me and I started to pull it out to hand it to her, but I wasn’t sure if it would cover the total. I didn’t want this lady to have to agonize over what to buy for another minute. The line was already getting pretty long behind me. Impatient sighs, toe-tapping, and weight shifting from leg to leg as people peered around to see why the hold up. So I did the next best thing.

I grabbed the worker’s arm and quietly said to her, “You don’t have to put that stuff back. I’ll buy these items for her.”

“All of it?” She asked.

“All of it.”

The woman turned toward me before my words had registered. I watched her face turn from embarrassment to shock and then to thankfulness.

“You don’t have to do this,” she said. “Do you want my phone number or can I get your address to pay you back? My husband and I know how to do home repairs, so if you need some work done to your house, I’d be happy to do it?”

“No, that’s ok. I just noticed it looked like you were Christmas shopping,” I said, as I pointed to the slippers.

The cashier finished. “Your total is $42.65.” I swiped my card and was glad I didn’t just hand her the $20. It wouldn’t have covered it.

“Yes, for my little girl.” I could hear her words getting caught in her throat.

“Those slippers are very cute. I hope she has a nice Christmas.”

“She will now…”

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Our first yard sale

Friday night we found out that two of our neighbors were having yard sales on Saturday morning so we took advantage of the guaranteed traffic thanks to all of their Craigslist promotions and signage, and threw together our own yard sale. The weather was simply perfect for it too.

It’s amazing what stuff people will buy. Things that I thought would sell – like a full length mirror or kitchen chandelier – didn’t sell at all. But things like an extra large purple sweatshirt or a 2x long-sleeve jean shirt – things I thought I’d have to just donate to GoodWill – sold like hotcakes. Odd. Still, we ended up making about $90 and at the same time, got rid of some junk that was just cluttering our closets. Win-Win!

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In an attempt to be more frugal and financially responsible in these “tough economic times,” I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to live life on one income. This would simply mean that we pay all of our bills and take all of our spending money from one person’s paycheck each month and the money from the other  paycheck goes into a savings account as if it never existed. Now that we’ve paid off both of our cars and have no credit card debt or school loans, I think it’s possible for us to survive on just one income, though it would be tough.

The only issue we’re having with this scenario is, whose paycheck do we spend and whose do we save? I’m salaried and my husband is largely commissions-based. My paycheck is the same each month whereas his fluctuates, sometimes by hundreds maybe thousands of dollars. It would be easier to determine and follow a monthly budget if the income was consistent, so that would mean we try to live on my salary alone.

Now here’s where I admit that we don’t share a checking or savings account. GASP! Yes, it’s true. I get mixed feedback anytime I tell someone this. It usually starts with the questions. “Really? Why?” and “How do you split the bills?” Once I explain that we just both like having control over our own finances and that it keeps us from ever fighting about money, I usually get a response along the lines of, “Oh how unconventional of you!” Yeah, and we’re swingers too.

Having separate checking and savings accounts really has kept us from ever fighting about money. I don’t get pissed off when he drops $20 on lunch rather than opting for the $5 foot-long deal and he doesn’t flip out every time I walk into a Target and walk out $100 poorer, wondering where it all went. That alone is probably enough to credit our separate accounts as one of our secrets to a healthy marriage. Plus it makes birthdays, special anniversaries, Christmas gifts and little surprises easier to hide. (to those of you with joint checking accounts, how do you ever hide surprise gifts?) I’m truly a big advocate for maintaining separate checking accounts, but the thought of my account just barely keeping a positive balance month to month while his account keeps adding dollar signs, well it just makes me ill.

So is this where we cave and join our accounts? Do we open a third account that’s joint and just keep separate savings accounts? Or do I suck it up and just hope that my husband doesn’t meet a pre-baby Halle Berry and run away with her and all our money leaving me broke with all the bills?

After talking it over, I think we’ve decided to keep things the way they are – separate – but whatever money he puts toward our mortgage and/or the cable bill, I’ll match it by depositing the same amount of money into my savings. Everything else gets paid for out of my account already, so nothing will really change. We’re just pledging to be more conscientious about our finances and hope to save up enough money for a nice emergency fund, build some equity in our home, and set aside some money for a down payment on a new car. We don’t NEED a new car, seeing as how we just paid off both of our cars, but in a couple of years we will. Better to plan ahead now. And of course, we need to have enough money to indulge our travel addiction.

What are your best budgeting/money saving tips?

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