Coupons

What a joyful day when I discovered the wonders of coupon clipping at MOPS!  Spaghetti sauce for $0.75.  Hamburger meals for $0.80.  Granola bars for $1.  But I quickly realized that this was just a dirty little trap.   Betty and her cronies the Dough Boy and that Quaker dude give you $0.35 off of items you don’t like, don’t need, and won’t eat.  Just because it’s cheap does not mean you should buy it.

While we’re discussing traps, let me also mention this: items available at warehouse stores are not necessarily cheaper.  Unfortunately, we as shoppers have to use our fertile little minds to find the best price.  And when we’ve found it, buy it!

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way…

  • Grocery store prices go in cycles.  Items are on sale roughly every 6 weeks or 3 months.  When your family’s favorites go on sale, that’s when you stock up.  If you’re buying only your weekly meal plan, you’re spending too much.   I will elaborate on this principle further as I put together 30 days for $300.
  • There are supplemental books of coupons in your Sunday newspaper.  The two most common are SmartSource and Valassis.  And from time to time you’ll even find exclusively Proctor and Gamble (P&G) coupon books.
  • Printable coupons are available online.  You can find these coupons on manufacturer websites, grocery chain websites, and coupon websites.  Since none of them are paying me, I’m going to let you do your own research for good coupons.  Don’t go shopping without doing your due diligence.  It really adds up at the end of the month… how else do you think I justify my weekly double tall white mocha?
  • Save your cash register receipt coupons.  Sometimes they will target you at the grocery store and give you coupons to match or compete with items you just purchased.  Don’t throw these away.  Some of them are really worthwhile.
  •  Professional coupon clipping is good business.  You can order multiple coupons of items you know you use and would like to stock up on.  Though they are not paying me, I will tell you that I’ve had good experience with The Coupon Clippers.
  • Use multiple coupons when items are on sale.  For big savings, save all of your coupons for a particular item and wait until an item goes on sale and stock up.  Cereal is a good example of this.  When they’re five boxes for $10, use your “$1.50 off of 3” and two “$0.75 off of 1” coupons.   You’ll get 5 boxes of cereal for $7… just $1.40/box. 
  • There are sometimes limits or restrictions imposed by the store.  Be sure to follow those to avoid frustration.  This doesn’t mean you can’t send your husband later or make an additinal trip yourself.
  • Watch out for coupon nuances.  They’ll tell you in big letters “$2 off” but when you read the fine print, you realize you have to buy 8.  Those coupons aren’t necessarily going to save you any money.
  •  Don’t buy what you don’t like, don’t need, or won’t eat!!!

I soon found that my Sunday-only subscription to the floundering big city newspaper was more of an annoyance than a benefit.  They signed me up at a promotional rate and then my price went up.  Then they called me to insist I accept their daily free papers (my husband got that call once and we wound up with dozens of wet newspapers on our front lawn).  So now, I go to the aforementioned Coupon Clippers’ calendar page to find out what is coming out in Sunday’s paper.  If there’s not at least $1.50 worth of good coupons, I don’t bother.  If there are good coupons, I go get the paper at the convenience store up the street.  If they’re really good, I buy two or three papers or I order extras online.

True confessions:  I’ve also been known to raid the recycle basket at local coffee establishments on Sunday.  I made out like a bandit one time with 3 copies of each of the 3 supplemental coupon inserts… all for free.  That week there was a $10 off home improvement store coupon… SCORE!  But my husband gets embarrassed watching me light up as I go through other people’s trash so I don’t get to do that very often.

Where I have benefitted most from coupons is on personal care items.  The $4 off coupon for razor blade refills really helps.  And the Buy One Get One (BOGO) toothbrushes work really well.  Just today, I bought $0.99 deodorant.  Frequently, the sale price less your coupon makes these items significantly less expensive than warehouse store prices.  So before you buy a 20 pack of dental floss, check your coupons.

I also really like the “free” items where you buy the item then send off for your rebate. Hang on to your receipt and UPC.  And look out for purchase dates and post mark dates.  “Free” = envelope + stamp * time.

One more thing, with the coupons that are left over and/or expired, you can send them to our military serving overseas.  Organizations like the Overseas Coupon Program are worthy of our support.  They will likely receive my support as soon as I’m not pregnant and/or breastfeeding. 

Happy clipping!  And happy garage sale-ing this weekend!  Next up… CHICKEN!!!

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In or Out?

When we were first married and we both had good jobs, we ate out entirely too much. We brought home pizza several times a month and ate at restaurants two or three times a week. We hated our little kitchen in our little house so we just avoided it. If I knew then what I know now, I would have more money to spend at Garage Sales.

When our son was born, we still ate out once or twice a week so that I could get out. But when we had our second child and now our third, eating out became a bigger chore than joy.

After a long day with little people or at work, most of us still ask that question “in or out”? I think I have found something in between. I have 5 ideas that are less expensive than traditional eating out. You still have a small amount of prep and clean up, but it saves loads of cash. And maybe it’s alright to eat off of paper plates occasionally. With all of the money you save, you can go out to eat once a month at a really nice place… if you get a babysitter.

If you are just not going to eat in, here are a few things we do to save a few bucks when we’re out…

Drink water. Most restaurants around here charge $2+ for iced tea and soda. With the money you save, you can buy a 12 pack of soda when it’s on sale.

Happy Hour. A lot of restaurants have happy hour. Call ahead to see what some of those specials are and if children are allowed in that seating area. Often you have to order a beverage, but you still save a lot of money on those half price nachos and that $2 salmon burger.

Small Orders. We’ll sometimes get one entrée to share between adults and one kid meal to share between the kids. If we’re still hungry, we’ll order a cup of soup, a basket of fries, or dessert. Usually, we find we aren’t that hungry and restaurant portions are big enough to feed a few more people.

It is pretty easy to drop $50 or more at a restaurant especially if you order adult beverages. So here are a few easy meals you can do at home for around $10. They’re not fancy or award worthy, but they’re not too bad either…

1 – Roasted Chicken ($5.99), Deli Salad ($2.99), and bread from the bakery ($1.19). Total: $10.17

2 – Frozen Lasagna ($4.79), bagged Caesar Salad ($3.99), and bread from bakery ($1.19). Total: $9.97

3 – Microwave Baked Potato (2lbs @ 0.85/lb – $1.70), Canned Chili ($1.99), bag of Mexi-Salad ($3.99), and Shredded Cheese (8oz – $2.49). Total: $10.17

4 – Salad Greens ($2.99), Canned Beans (black or pinto) ($1.29), Canned Whole Kernal Corn or Sliced Black Olives ($1.35), Shredded Cheese ($2.49), Ranch Dressing (on hand), Corn Chips ($2.00). Total: $10.12

5 – Fresh Pasta (refrigerator section) ($4.69), Pasta Sauce ($3.69), and microwaved Frozen Peas ($2.29). Total: $10.67

 (*Note* Prices are NON-sale prices. If you buy generic and on sale, you can save even more.)

Now, I know that some of these meals require a little bit of preparation, but just think of what is involved in eating out. You strap everyone into their car seats, drive to the restaurant amidst screaming, order, prevent near disaster with the salt and pepper shaker, receive your food, stop your children from throwing said food at the table next to you, “enjoy” your meal, and then pay out the nose for mediocre food.

In that same time and for a lot less money, you could have gone to the store, picked up the necessary items, returned home to prepare the meal, opened a few cans, pushed a few buttons on the microwave, eaten hot food, and cleaned up. All while wearing sweats and without any embarrassing toddler stories tell (like mine with the projectile vomit at the burger joint)!

BonusCozi allows you to put together shopping lists and text message them to yourself OR text them to your husband on his way home from work.

What is this?

My name is Clara, and I started this Blog help others.  I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who would like to save money, but they just don’t know where to start.  I would like to help! 

In addition to being just downright cheap, I’d like to think I do so with a certain amount of charm.  My children are fashionably dressed and my house is decorated simply and intentionally.  When you visit, there’s almost always something yummy to eat and the house is reasonably clean… considering I have 3 under 3.  I’ll share some of those ideas with you as well.

What to look for:  In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting 30 days for $300.  I want to give you a realistic meal plan (3 meals/day plus snacks) and a shopping list to boot.  I have recipes to share and I think I can do it (if you can handle eating a lot of chicken and ground beef).

I’ll also share with you other ways I save my family thousands of dollars every year.   From thrift store shopping to making my own cleaning products I can help you save hundreds and thousands of dollars without sacrificing too much.

Believe me, I am no superwoman, but I have a goal… to save my family loads of cash.  I hope I can help you do the same if you are looking to do so. 

 

Requests?:  In the comments, please give me any requests on money saving ideas.  I’ll share with you what I do to make my house as thrifty… er, CHEAP as possible.

Subscribe:  I’m set up on Feedburner and you can put my blog on your RSS feed.  If this doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone so I’m working on a way to sign up for an email letting you know that I’ve got a new post up.  For now, just check back every few days.  I hope to post 3 times/week.

Thank you for your encouragment so far.  I hope you enjoy this little venture of mine.  And please pass it on.  These ideas are meant for sharing!

 

Charming and Cheap,

Clara

‘Tis the Season

Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving and Christmas.  But Garage Sale Season may be my favorite.   It starts as soon as the sun is out consistently and ends around Labor Day.

People are getting rid of unneeded items at incredible prices.  Right now, we’re in a recession,  so people may be getting rid of even more to generate a little extra cash for their families.  People are moving (and, unfortunately, some are getting foreclosed on) so they need to downsize.  You will be glad if you take the time and find these sales. 

Just last week I found a Sit N Stand LX stroller for $35.  New, those puppies are around $135.  And because I have it, I can hit even more garage sales with my 3 small children.

I do understand the frustration: used junk and smelly shoes.  Here are a few ideas to help you along the way.  Think of garage sale shopping as treasure hunting!

Make a List:  Make a list of items you are likely to find used.  My list right now has patio furniture, sandbox, and leaf rake.  That way you look for those items first and with any leftover cash, you can buy the fun stuff.

The Good Stuff:  Chances are, the nicer neighborhoods will have nicer items.  Get to know your area.  The neighborhood filled with beat up cars circa 1984 may not have the quality items that the neighborhood filled with new BMWs. 

Power Shopping:  One garage sale 10 miles from your home may not be worth the drive.   However, that development in the next town that is hosting a “community garage sale” is well worth your time.  On a really nice day, park and walk.  Dress comfortably and in season and take lots of snacks for your little co-shoppers.  The community garage sales are usually advertised on the community’s website or in their newsletter.   Ask around, your friends may know.

Demographics:  You’re not likely to find toys or stylish clothes in a retirement community (though I have – grandparents clearing out very gently used toys).  But that same retirement community may have a ton of old records, neat furniture, and canning supplies.  A “younger” neighborhood is where you’ll score bags of $0.25 clothing for your kids.

Where to find:  This is where you can eliminate a lot of frustration.  Look before you buy.  Your local paper and online classifieds (like craigslist) will have that weekend’s garage sales listed out.  Many people will tell you they’re selling plus size clothing or a crib.   Make a list of these addresses and what you’re looking for there.  That way, you can just pull up and roll down the window and ask “do you still have the sand table”?  If not and you don’t see the type of items you want, keep going.

Include Him:  Add the stops with tools.  Your husband will go too and then you can jump in and out of the car faster.  And, he won’t balk when you come home with the wrong brand of cordless drill (mine is a snob about these things). 

Night before: Use Google Maps and add as many destinations as you can find.  Rearrange the destinations into a circle leaving your house and returning to your house.  Include any other errand stops you may have so you’re not wasting time or gas.

Cash:  Carry the amount of cash you’ll need for the items you are looking for.  Carry small bills and coins.  I love my $0.10 mini muffin tin!  When your money is gone, go home.  Trust me.  You will regret knowing you could’ve gotten $3 Southern Living pieces if you had more money.  Stay within your budget.

The Worm:  The old adage is true.  The early bird scores some cool stuff at garage sales!  There are garage sale gurus (and I’m not one of them).  They are the ones who show up an hour before it starts and buy up all of the antiques and then resell them at a sweet profit.  There are also moms who are desperate for inexpensive baby bedding and clothes and they arrive early too.  But if you get there first, it’s yours.

Pricing:  Know what things are worth.  Big brands are worth more.  Garage sale prices should be 25% – 30% of their new price or much much less.  That doesn’t mean that you got robbed when you paid 50% of the new price for an item you really wanted.  If you liked it, then you’re glad you have it for less than you would’ve paid at the store.

Bartering:  People will probably take your reasonable offer.  And it’s fun!  Don’t offer someone $5 for their working lawn mower.  But don’t be surprised when you offer 25% less of a marked price and they take it.   On a $40 item, I asked,  “Will you take $30?”  She said, “I’ll take $35”.  “Done.”  And it was a win win for both parties (and how I got my Sit N Stand LX). 

Estate Sales:  Let me tell you, if you’ve never been to one of these, you’re in for a treat.  You can find unopened cleaning supplies for $0.25 or nice pots and pans for $1 or garden tools for $2.  The artwork and furniture is sometimes really nice too.  They are cleaning out an entire house and you could fill yours if you want to.

No Snobbery Allowed:  If the outdoor sandbox is faded, keep in mind it will fade at your house too.  Save the $20!  If the suit is in good shape, but it’s wrinkled.  Have it dry cleaned and save $200 for goodness sake!

SCORE!!!  Look for unopened or new items that you can give away later.  Baby clothes for a future baby shower.  Bath fizzes for a birthday gift.  Make sure the packaging still looks nice and be proud when you give your friend a $30 hostess gift that you only paid $3 for.  Tell her if you want or keep it as your dirty little secret.  With that $27 you saved, take someone out for a lunch or save it for a new pair of shoes.

 

Disclaimer –  Garage sale shopping can be addictive.  If you get the hang of it this season, you will be a giddy child next April … like me.

Update – My dear friend Madeleine just introduced me to the best thing since sliced bread… http://www.yardsaletreasuremap.com/  It works anywhere people use craigslist!   *happy dance*

Ground Beef

 

I am quite possibly the cheapest person I know.  I’m sure some people prefer the term “frugal” or “cost conscientious”.  Not I!  I’m just cheap.  It angers me to pay more than an hour’s worth of my husband’s time for a pair of shoes.  So I don’t do it.  It freaks me out to see mall prices (the last thing I bought at a mall was a free cup of water – I’m so serious).  So I only look.  In the postings following, I will tell you how I do what I do.  Take it or leave it.  My goal is to save more so I can give more away.

 

Today, I’m going to talk about ground beef.  Seriously though… it’s on sale this weekend at Safeway (man, they owe me) and we need to stock up.  I’m arming my kitchen with a food scale and plenty of plastic storage bags (bought at a warehouse store near you with a coupon) and I’m going shopping.  How much will I buy?  Probably 10 pounds.  At $1.49/lb, who can resist.  Sure it’s 20% fat content and it’s not organic, but we’re not going for the trifecta on our first day of blogging.

 

“But CnC, I don’t know what to cook with ground beef.”  Fear not, dear reader, that’s what I’m here for.  I will give you 5 tried and true recipes that my family loves.  Each meal feeds 4 adults and will sometimes leave you with leftovers.  The best part – each meal costs around $5.  Yes, the WHOLE MEAL …. total… for all 4 people.  Beat that, McDonald’s.

 

Buying the Beef:  When you go to the store, buy a large package and buy one that is close to a whole number or a half pound.  For example, you would choose the 8.03 lb package instead of the 7.77 lb package.  The reason for this is most recipes call for 8oz or a whole pound… not 0.27 lbs  If you’re off by an ounce or two, no biggie. 

 

At home: When you get home, separate the beef into 8 oz portions (hence the kitchen scale).  Cover and store in the refrigerator what you’re going to use tonight.  Put the remaining 8 oz portions in quart size baggies.  Before you seal the baggies, press the beef flat.  It’s easier to store that way.  Sometimes I mark the date with a permanent marker, but ground beef will last in the freezer a very long time so it’s not usually necessary. 

 

That’s it!  Now you have meat ready for several more meals and you’re not going to have to pay $4.99/lb when you have a hankering for meatloaf.

 

Now for my favorite part: 5 recipes…

 

Nacho Potatoes

Shepherd’s Pie

Sloppy Joe’s

Italian Meatloaf

Mostaccoli