July 27, 2009

Challenge: Dinner for Four

I'm going to be skipping around in my updates from "The Week No Technology Survived," so please just try to hang with me and maybe we can get a Keynote presentation with some flow charts soon. Actually, I wish someone would create some flow charts or a Keynote presentation for me and have it ready each morning so that I could know what the heck is going on most times. I can't blame my disorganization solely on the coupon project, but it certainly doesn't help that I have added fifty trillion extra pieces of mostly tiny paper to my already frazzled, swiss cheesed, mommy brained life. But that's a different post! On with the dinner show!

So one of the challenges I've accepted from a dear reader was to create dinner for four, and she specified that I had to use a meat in that dinner as well as having an appetizer and dessert. Well, I was going to just do the dinner here and invite a couple over to dine with us, but since dear husband is always out of town and I couldn't find any available takers, I kept having to put off completing the challenge. This was distressful to me for two reasons - 1) I wanted to complete the challenge within the 30 days and 2) I wanted to be able to use the ground beef I bought with my coupon from week one! (It's in the freezer, btw. I am not totally nuts :D) Anyway, when I finally realized that waiting on my husband to be home AND find company that was available to dine with us on our schedule would mean that our daughter might possibly be in Kindergarten before I could complete the challenge, I decided to just attempt to do the challenge on my family when I went home to visit last week. The challenge was dinner for four, and with my mom, dad, brother and me as willing and hungry participants, we fit the bill.

The only problem was that I didn't want to schlep frozen ground beef across two states.

So I didn't.

I thought that SURELY when I got there and opened the Sunday paper, I would find some great coupon for SOMETHING meaty so that I could complete the challenge, but of course, there were no coupons to be had. My mom, ever helpful, suggested several of her frozen meat options to me, but I declined, explaining again how one of the things that actually makes this a "challenge" and not just an inconvenience is FINDING a coupon for the meat. So she finally backed off to leave me to do whatever it was I was going to do and didn't make (m)any more suggestions. Finally, I had to head to the internet on my parents' PC - which I am convinced has a hamster running on a wheel to make it work - to try and find something that I could work with.

The first place I turned was SmartSource.com. Even though you get the circular in your Sunday papers, there are often times different coupons posted online, coupons for slightly higher end items. I had it set for my current zip code and didn't find anything good for meat, but when I plugged in my parents' zip code, I was rewarded by the coupon gods for my persistence with a $1.00 off Butterball ground turkey coupon! What I had experiences was one of the interesting phenomena of online coupons - regionality. What you get offered in your zip code may not be offered elsewhere and vice versa. That's why I always sort of try a few big city zip codes when I'm searching, just to see if I can find anything good. Of course, my parents' town is hardly a big city, but they were clearly targeted by Butterball for some reason. And since you can print two of each coupon without it constituting fraud, you'd better believe I got my two turkey coupons so I could reap the benefits of some delicious ground turkey for some chili or burgers at my house later on!

When I found the turkey coupon, that became the cornerstone for building my menu. I did a quick google search for "Ground Turkey Recipes" and finally landed on one that sounded tasty: Mediterranean Turkey Burgers from my recipes.com. I made note of all the ingredients, figured out what would be considered staples for the experiment's sake (aka things in my mom's pantry that were fair game) and then began to search out coupons for the other things. Then I needed to decide on a side dish. I searched "mediterranean side dishes" and noticed that many of them were rice dishes. Perfect, since rice seemed like a simple enough item to find a coupon for! I finally landed on Mediterranean Rice Pilaf from cooks.com. Once again I decided what I could use and what I needed and added it to my list. I also needed an appetizer and a dessert. The appetizer was easy, because I already knew I had a coupon: Hummous! But I had to find something to dip it with! And if I thought that the dinner hard to plan, the dessert was even harder when I searched within the "mediterranean theme," but I quickly gave up on having it match the rest of the dinner and settled on some yummy Snickers Brownies that I found at thatsmyhome.com.

I searched for all of my coupons through SmartSource, RedPlum, and Google. It took me approximately 2 hours to find the coupons, plus I used coupons I had brought with me that were set to expire by the 27th of July.

So I left for the store with my list which looked like this:

* Butterball ground turkey
* Stacy's Pita Chips
* Treasure Cave Feta
* Betty Crocker Brownies
* Uncle Ben's Rice
* Muir Glen Chicken Broth
* Snickers Bar

I quickly learned while shopping that you must rely on a little improvisation when cooking under challenging conditions. For example: The rice pilaf recipe calls for regular long grain rice, chicken stock and golden raisins among the ingredients. I couldn't find a coupon for raisins or any other kind of dried fruit, so I considered regular rasins that my mom had in the pantry as stock and went with those. When I got to the store, they didn't carry the brand of chicken broth I had hoped to use a coupon for. I had NO idea how I was going to sub anything for chicken broth, and then I found that Uncle Ben's rice had a "Chicken and Herb" flavored slow simmering pilaf dish, so I grabbed it! I had no idea if the "Herbs" would go with the other flavors I was incorporating, but I didn't see any other options at this point and was just ready to try anything.

I also was able to use the coupons as an excuse to make less work for me! The brownie recipe includes a recipe for a frosting they wanted you to use on top. I am not a big fan of frosting, really, so I didn't want to waste my energy making something that I didn't really want in the first place. Instead, I purchased the brownie mix that came with frosting in a packet, so those who wanted frosting could add it onto their own brownies!

I left the store after spending $17.78 (or $19.56 incl. tax) pre coupon and $14.28 after coupons ($16.06 incl. tax). This made my meal - if you don't count in the price of the "staple" items - $4.02 per person.

That isn't exactly super, especially if you consider the staples AND the fact that time = money. For just $2.00 more per person, I could have picked up value meals at any fast food restaurant and saved myself at LEAST 5 hours of prep and real time cooking work. I don't know about most of you out there, but I think I'd gladly spend $8.00 on something that would save me five hours.

But the challenge was to make the dinner, not to complain about the time and costs, so I set off, and the improvisation game continued!

I forgot to get a photo of the turkey package before I opened it and threw it away, but I must say I really like Butterball's new packaging designs. It looks really clean and fresh and is definitely a lot more enticing a package than their former packaging!

Improv #1: Turkey burger recipe called for panko, red onion, and commercial pesto. I had NONE of these. So instead of the panko, I simply used my mom's food processor to demolish some pita chips to sub and then did not add the extra salt called for in the recipe. I thought this was quite brilliant, really, and made more sense than Japanese panko in a mediterranean meat dish! Sadly, subbing out the onion and pesto were bigger problems. I simply had no choice but to use onion powder in place of the red onion, which I know affected the end flavor (not detrimentally, but obviously). For the pesto, since I couldn't buy a jar or make my own, I decided to break it down into the sum of its parts and try to add as many as I could find. The plan was to use dried basil and add some olive oil to the mix, but I found that my mother has the most poorly stocked spice cabinet in the WORLD and had NO basil. Who doesn't keep basil?!?! So I did the only thing I could think of and just put in some oregano. *sigh* Again, I knew this was not going to make the mixture taste horrible, but it's not exactly "mediterranean" anymore!

Then I decided that instead of burgers, which requires buns (or pita in this case) I was going to make meatballs. I guess I could have served Turkery Burger "steaks," but I like a meatball, and I was positive I could get it thrououghly cooked in this incarnation much more than if I had a giant chunk of meat to cook.

The finished product. Don't they look yummy?

I felt like they could use a little sauce, but I wasn't able to find a container of plain yogurt (with a coupon) that was smaller than 32oz. The plan was to make a little yogurt dill sauce to drizzle over the meatballs to help them regain their mediterranean-ness. But once again, my mom failed me in the spice department (seriously? no dill? COME ON!) So with no yogurt and no dill, I just made something up on the spot and created this feta buttermilk curry sauce to accompany the meatballs. Sounds gross, but it was actually quite tasty! The curry gave just a little sweetness to the sauce and gave the meatballs an extra layer of flavor that they were surely lacking due to my lack of proper ingredients.

And no meal is complete without dessert, right?

This recipe actually called for you to bake the brownies in a 9x13 pan after including 3 chopped up Snickers bars in the mix. Well, I had ONE Snickers bar, thanks to "Free Chocolate Fridays," and I decided instead of making them in a pan, I'd make individual brownie cups with a piece of snickers bar in each one. Classy!

This, of course, is the final meal. We had pita chips with hummous as the appetizer, meatballs (garnished with tomatoes from my own garden!) and rice pilaf and Snickers kissed brownies for dessert. And by the end of the meal not a single meatball was left and the next morning my brother took the remaining brownies to work to share.

Despite my difficulties in following the recipes to the letter, I'd have to call this a success!

I think the thing I learned most is that - if you are willing to experiment a little and make some changes - that having a coupon can be a good thing when you are planning a meal. It can force you to try new things or to reinvent old things. I know I often get into a cooking rut where I feel like I only cook 2 or three things, but I now have a new recipe to toss into the mix. I also know that I don't necessarily have to run to the store for specific items called for in a recipe if I'm willing to play around with it and make some substitutions.

But I don't get to declare my success...I leave that up to you, gentle readers! So, what do you think?

July 26, 2009

Only my fingers got a vacation

Well, unbelievably, I have hardly posted in a week. It was mostly my fault; forgetting one's laptop power cord and relying on parents' ancient slow PC for blog updates does not lend to frequent posts, nor does coming home and immediately planning for a party to satisfy a challenge for said blog, but the whirlwind week - though it seemed like it was an "off" week - definitely posed lots of new questions and challenges for this couponing girl!

One of the main events of my trip home was going to visit friends and family. I was excited to meet up with one of my good college friends and have her meet my daughter for the first time. She was an excellent sport and agreed that we could meet at a restaurant where I could use a coupon. We settled on a restaurant in a popular shopping center so we could meander and window shop after eating. The restaurant was called "Sweet Bones Alabama," and sadly, it was marginal at best. Not only was the food marginal, but the service wasn't exactly stellar. While our service was ok - not really super attentive - the woman seated next to us was actually ignored until she was walking out the door when the waiter called her back. She needed to get back to work and was seated a full 15 minutes without so much as having her drink order taken. Following the experience, I decided to send an email with some questions and suggestions to the comment email. The following is the email I sent:

Hi there!

A friend and I met at your restaurant on July 22 during lunch, and specifically I chose your restaurant because of a coupon you offered in the online version of Clipper magazine. I have never eaten at your restaurant before, so I thought it would be a nice way to try something new and get a little bit of a discount! Also, I am currently researching the culture of coupons and am only buying things for which I have a coupon! So I do have a couple of questions for you, if you're willing to answer them, and a couple of comments for you about our experience, if you think that will be helpful to you in the future.

First of all, I am wondering what prompted you to offer a coupon in the clipper? Is it because you are still a relatively new business? We used a buy one entree with two drinks, get 50% off lunch entree coupon; was the coupon meant to entice the surrounding business people in for lunch? You are located in a really upscale shopping center, and coupons are generally associated with cost-consciousness and penny-pinching. Did you worry that offering a coupon discounts the image you hope to sell by being in such an upscale area? Or has the state of the economy found you noticing that even in an upscale area people are looking for a bargain?

First of all, I'd like to tell you that - at least for someone like me, who has moved out of the area (I'm now in South Carolina), your coupon in the clipper sealed the deal for me to try your restaurant. However, even though I have family and friends near your business, I would most likely not come back for another meal. I had the brisket plate with fries and macaroni. The cornbread cake was very tasty and the brisket had good flavor, but your sides were just awful. The fries were cold and limp and the macaroni and cheese tasted like wet cardboard. I wish I had something positive to say about it! I realize that you are a bbq restaurant and not a sides restaurant, but I think you know that if you want to get people back for another meal, it's going to take more than a great corn cake and some ok bbq! My friend had the chicken fingers and said they were ok, but she really didn't eat many of them, so I got the feeling from her that they were probably not the best.

And while we had ok service from our waiter, Collin, a woman who was seated in the booth next to our table had to literally get up and start walking out before she was even given the opportunity to give her drink order. Collin was able to convince her to return, but you could tell her opinion of the restaurant had dropped like a rock.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my email, and I hope you will feel comfortable answering my questions. I also hope that my criticisms are seen for their pure intentions, which for you to take our experiences and use them to help yourself!

Thank you so much, and I hope you do remain successful in the future!

I have yet to recieve any kind of response, but maybe they are just thinking really hard about my questions and how to answer them :-)

The experience did raise some questions for me, though, about restaurants and the reasons they put out coupons. One misconception I definitely have had about the project was that we would not get to eat out at any "real" restaurants during the mandatory couponing period. But with some searching online, and our handy dandy fundraising coupon booklet that I rediscovered during a mad cleaning dash, I'd say we've eaten at as much or more than when we don't HAVE to have a coupon. I'm not sure if there are more coupons out now because the economy has driven people to eat at home more and restaurants are dying for the business, or if there have always been plenty out there if you are willing to search for them. Also, I'm surprised by the caliber of restuarants that are now putting out coupons. You expect coupons from Sonic, Hardees, McDonald's, Arby's, etc., but what does this mean for the "sit downs" - Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, Ruby Tuesday, TGIFriday's - who are now offering them and at a surprisingly regular rate? Does the coupon saddle them with a "discount" persona? Are they hoping to draw in a new crowd or retain their old one?

For example: The husband and I took advantage of a coupon promotion at TGIFriday's for dinner on Friday night. The coupon for buy one entree, get one free is good for as many meals as you choose to use it. That is unheard of! And so I couldn't help but wonder what on earth the goal is with this promotion. Is this a reward for loyal customers or a gimmick to get new ones? And if you are trying to draw in new customers, then wouldn't you try to make your food better? We left there feeling displeased; the menu was too long and difficult to navigate. Their entrees come with only one side, while most other comprable restaurants offer two. I ordered a sirloin - hardly a fine cut of beef, but normally palatable for a good price - that was impossible to eat without slicing into paper thin pieces. My one side - cheddar mashed potatotes, which sounded good on paper - was really just 3 pounds of mashed potatoes with 5 pounds of shredded cheddar melted on top. So my question was simply: What is the point of offering me as many free meals as I could care to eat at your restaurant if you serve me some crap food? And that is the question I will be posing to Fridays in an email before I go to bed tonight!

Posting soon (within 24 hours, promise!) - Challenges accepted at completed: Dinner for 4 and a Party!

July 21, 2009

On the Bandwagon

Looks like Lea Ann, from one of my valuable resources - Mommy's Wishlist - has gotten on the bandwagon with me and my quest to thank those who do me right and let people know if they are (I hope) unintentionally doing me wrong! She even takes a step further and suggests writing a hand-written note! Kudos!

Household Shoppers: Making the world better, one thank you note and suggestion at a time.

Mystery Presents: The Coupon Caper!

After my post this morning, I could not stop wondering what reason there could be for not having coupons in the paper.

At first I thought perhaps it was just stollen. It happens; you buy a paper and some Meanie Meanerson has gone through the pile and helped themselves to the coupons from your paper.

Then I wondered if maybe coupon placement had something to do with the readership/circulation numbers, and the Star's numbers had fallen to below this minimum requirement.

I also wondered if, because we are so close to Birmingham, it had gotten some sort of monopoly on the coupons so that people would buy their paper on Sundays.

So instead of spending the day speculating, I went ahead and called the paper, even though I had no idea what department to ask for. I just told the lady who answered that I was researching coupons and she passed me along without any further inquiry. I'd like to think she was just that good that she knew exactly who I needed to talk to, but I suspect she just didn't care.

The next person on the line was also unable to answer any of my questions beyond saying that they just didn't get any coupons that week to insert. Well, at least that ruled out theievery. She was very kind, though, and when I asked if there was anyone I could talk to who might be able to answer some questions, she passed me along to Mr. Dimitrius Hardy. Mr. Hardy was very nice, and had a good chuckle when I explained to him the project and why I was asking so many questions about coupons. But best of all, he was able to answer my questions.

According to Mr. Hardy, despite the fact that there is a coupon insertion list out there which tells what weeks you should find a supplement in the paper, there are simply some weeks that the Star does not get zoned for a supplement. Advertisers decide when they want to run those, and this happened to be one of those weeks that they chose not to. He said they had coupons for the first two Sundays in July and also for the last, but not this week, for whatever reason. I'd really love to know if this has to do with the circulation numbers as I originally wondered, but he said he simply did not know the specific whys. I also wish I had gotten a Birmingham paper so I would know if there was a SmartSource supplement in there!

He was able to say that the several weekly papers they own rarely if ever have supplements. He said they happen into those papers maybe once or twice a year, but that is it. That makes sense to me, but I also now wonder if weekly papers wouldn't sell better if there was a promise of getting a little coupon supplement in there of some sort!

When I inquired as to the whereabouts of the grocery store circulars, he said that in this area, grocery sales run Wednesday to Tuesday, so the grocery store circulars come out in the Wednesday papers. That definitely answers my question, but I guess I am spoiled because though our grocery sales also run Wednesday to Tuesday, we get both a Sunday circular AND a separate circular via mail or "yard post" which has the new sales on Tuesday nights/Wednesday. I'd like to know the advantage of doubling up on those of us who recieve the circulars twice. Honestly - it helps out those of us who don't normally take a paper because the Tuesday "yard post" and Wednesday mailed versions are absolutely free and delivered, so if I weren't looking for coupons, I'd still be getting information on the grocery sales!

So...mystery sort of solved, unless you count the questions I now have the stem from all my new information. And you can be guaranteed that I am going to delve deeper into the business end of the coupons! Like, how are the availability of coupons online affecting Sunday newspaper sales?

Aren't you all so glad I have a ridculous fascination?

Also, since I am stuck here without the ability to complete my contest as intended by the deadline I had originally imposed, I think I am going to take the suggestion of a reader and feature the pantries as I get them. This way I still get to satisfy my voyeuristic intentions, and at the end of the 30 days, I can still randomly pick a winner from the number order in which they were received! So keep sending me your pantries...and any information you want to share about them. If you think you have the best organizational system, let me know it so I can share it! If you just need to be shamed into cleaning it up, let us help you by showing it for all the Internet to see! Whatever your intention, you can't lose: Helping yourself or others, you'll still be eligible for the prize!

For now I'm off to get out my coupon stash from home and scour the internet in preparation for tomorrow's hometown grocery sales!

Blame it on the baby brain

So I get to my parents' house yesterday and once we are settled in, I check out the Sunday paper my mom bought for me. It seemed a bit thin, but I could see the circulars sticking out and dove right in searching for the coupons.

Only, there weren't any.

Not even in the weekly Hobby Lobby ad, which generally boasts a 40% off coupon for a single item.

I was shocked. As far as I could remember, this area's newspaper has always had the coupon supplement.

But maybe that's the problem; I'm relying on my memory, which failed me multiple times yesterday, the worst failure being not remembering to grab the power cords for both my phone and laptop. Luckily I have a charger for my phone in the car. But it is not helpful in the least for helping me to upload all your pantry photos or blog faster than my thumbs can type.

And just when I have a mystery to solve!

I'm calling the paper today to find out what's up and will hopefully get the chance to blog from the parents' pc later today.

But for now, I'm going to enjoy a rare childless moment with my iced latte and free cinnamon roll from Starbucks, who doesn't even know it's playing into the research for a future post.

Sent from my iPhone

July 19, 2009

The Cost of Couponing

My husband, though he is going to be gone through most of this experiment, has really embraced what I'm attempting to learn here and plays very closely by the rules when he is home, even helping me to muddle through my own strange sense of "coupon experiment morality" as it were, when I get a little lost. He understands that I would be hard on myself if I were removed from the situation, so he does his best to help me out.

That said, there are definitely parts to this experiment that are more difficult for him to deal with and I think that we should both thank our lucky stars that I didn't set out to do this for more than 30 days. He'd fall into a pit of despair and I might end up getting divorced!

The main part of the experiment that is causing problems is that it is severely cutting into our weekend traditions. Saturday mornings, our family typically gets up and goes to the downtown market, where we get breakfast and then purchase some meats, veggies and pastas for our weekly meals. Since we can get a coupon for none of these businesses, we basically can go and walk around, but we can't buy anything. We ended up skipping it altogether on week one, but I thought it would be fun to go talk to our favorite farmers Chad and Amy and just see what was going on.
The baby loves Amy. Amy always has on pretty earrings that the baby likes to pull on. I try to explain to her that one day she might have earrings and would not care to have the same treatment, but Amy - who has an almost 2-year-old herself - is so good, she takes all the abuse and more. But I just love chatting with them and hearing about all the great things they are planning to do at the farm! We are really looking forward to some on-site burger dinners, brick oven pizza parties and the pumpkin patch this fall!

While we were out, we stopped at the booth for EarthFare, the healthy grocery store where I was able to get some veggies last week, and talked to their community liason, Elizabeth, with whom I had previously discussed the experiment via email. We discussed a little bit about how difficult it is to find coupons for healthy food, and then she took pity on me and slipped me an extra coupon for $5.00 off $25.00 purchase at the store. That is going to come in handy next week because I need diapers for the baby and they sell them for a dollar less per package than Babies R Us, which surprised the heck out of me! So I'll be able to get the diapers plus some fresh veg or a meat when I go in, so that will be awesome. I also hope that I'll have the opportunity while I'm there to talk to Elizabeth about how the store decided to start passing out total purchase coupons, and what kind of response they are receiving from them. It is interesting; it's like it's not enough to be a store with a mission to bring only good, healthy food to the customer, you have to beg them to go out of their way and pass the Publix or the Wal-Mart to come to you. It says a lot about people's priorities, that's for sure.

We ended up using a Hardee's coupon for breakfast on the way home from the market, and it was definitely not the same. My poor husband said that going to the market that day was like inviting everyone over for Christmas and then not opening any presents. I feel bad; with his demanding travel schedule, he only gets Saturdays, and what he loves to do on Saturdays is go with his wife and daughter to have breakfast and buy some local products at the market. And so, even though our breakfast at Hardee's cost $2.00 and our normal Saturday Market breakfast costs somewhere near $15.00, the cost of missing out on that experience is far higher than the savings in our pocket.

I figured on all the costs money-wise, but I really hadn't thought about the emotional ones.

Nobody wants to buy the cow...

I'm going to pretend like everyone out there who reads has been super busy and intends on taking their photos of their pantries tonight and emailing them to me at clippedblog@gmail.com sometime this evening. Because it is TOO CRAZY to think that no one wants a prize just for showing off their beautiful pantries and/or cabinets!

To those of you who have sent in a picture already, thanks! I promise that - even though your prize will be purchased with a coupon - it will good!

I just don't do things unless I think they're good!

clippedblog@gmail.com! Pictures, pictures!

And let me know if you actually are really busy and would like to see an extension put on the contest. I'm flexible!

Taking a trip, Clipped Blog style!

As I've mentioned before, my husband travels almost weekly for his business, so it's just me and the baby for most of the week days. And while I'm blessed to be able to stay at home with her, there are some weeks where having the husband gone for 5-6 straight days just leaves me a little too coo-coo for cocoa puffs. Such is this week. Hubby has already left for his week long business trip, and I made the executive decision that the bean and I would take the opportunity to spend the week with Gramma.

My parents live about a 3.5 hour drive from us, well - 3.5 hour drive sans baby. The first time I ever took her to my parents' house when she was 2 months old, it took us 4.5 hours to get there and 7 hours to get home. To say she hates riding in the car would be the understatement of the century. That's why it was nice to know that along the way, there were some places where I could stop, grab a bite to eat (or a giant diet cherry limeaid), change a diaper, get in a feeding, and head off again into the wild. But that was before I was on mandatory coupon restriction.


I have NO idea how this trip tomorrow is going to play out. I've already started planning way ahead: I plan to make a run to the store after nap time to buy some bottled waters so that I can have a store of drinks both going and coming; although I have some fast food restaurant coupons in my little plastic baggie of goodness, I'm not sure if they are regional-specific, so I think to be on the safe side I will pack a sandwich and some snacks; I have half a tank left of the one allowed pre-experiment fill-up PLUS a $50.00 BP gas card that was purchased for $40 with the coupon from the Publix circular two weeks ago; and I've already informed my mother that I will not let her skirt around the rules by buying stuff for us outside of the usual dinner out that my dad likes to "take care of" (oh, how he loves to "take care of" a bill!).

I think I'm on target to do ok while out of town.

I've even thought ahead to Wednesday, where I'll be driving another 100 miles across the state to catch up with an old college friend for lunch. I've explained the experiment to her and she's gracious enough to go eat wherever I can find a coupon for us. And thanks to couponclipper.com, we've got several choices of restaurants within about 15 minutes of one another. I even found a butcher near one of the restaurants who offers a coupon, and I am seriously thinking of taking a cooler and getting all the meat that will fit in it!!!

But don't think that my changing physical locations will slow down these posts. With any luck, I'll get the opportunity to make some phone calls and set up some interviews while Grandpa holds the baby! And I'm sure I'll have some interesting occurences...one with a child never travels without experiencing interesting occurences!

So come along for the ride!

By the way - this picture is very funny to me. Most likely because I watched my husband attempt the same thing last night with our daughter. Poor, traveling, Daddy...

July 18, 2009

They say it's your birthday

Since my bursting at the seams cabinets and pantry didn't need any new additions this week, I decided to focus my couponing energy on purchasing other items that I found I needed (and some I didn't).

One of the things I realized we were going to have to have was cat food, and that was going to pose a bit of a challenge. For at least the last 6 months, I have never paid full price for cat treats. With two outdoor cats plus one inside, they go through those little bags of nuggets like kitties with a crack habit. Coupons for Goodlife Recipe, Feline Greenies, Friskies Party mix, Pounce, Temptations...I buy them all. But for cat food, we use Royal Canin, and I have never, ever seen a coupon for that in the Sunday paper. I knew that I could probably score a Purina coupon and grab something one day at Target, but the Royal Canin has helped some of the indoor cat's issues with weight and sensitive stomach so much that I was concerned about switching over to a less uppity brand for even the length of time it would take him to eat a small bag's worth.

So I put off buying cat food much longer than I normally would. And for once, my hesitancy paid off: Thanks to hubby's great find at couponclipper.com, I actually ended up with a coupon to PetSmart for $5.00 off a $25.00 purchase! This was exactly what I needed; Cat's giant bag of food costs $40.00, so by having this coupon, I was able to use just that and get exactly what I needed. The most difficult part of the entire thing was managing that 20lb bag of food on one hip and the 15 pound baby on the other!

I also had an unintentional challenge arise during this time: A birthday. Now, it's not like birthdays are surprises. They come every year - at the same time, even - so you've pretty much got 364 days of advance notice. But this was a special birthday: A first birthday. And I wanted a gift that was both fun for the birthday boy AND concurrent with his party's theme. And I had an idea of what I wanted, but I couldn't find it in-stock anywhere on-line. So I took my chances and waited to buy the gift.

And then I got trapped in mandatory coupon Hell.

I panicked. What can you get a one-year-old that he would actually like that you can find a coupon for?!?! Now, I know there are coupons sometimes in the Toys R Us circular, but remember, I was searching for an item to meet a theme, and anyway those coupons are usually for toys for much older kids. He wasn't going to be able to do much with a Nintendo DS game, you know? And by searching more local brick and mortar stores, I was SERIOUSLY limiting the chances that I'd find both what I was looking for AND have a coupon for it if it magically appeared.

After spending an entire afternoon with a baby on my hip at the mall, I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to find what I was looking for and I was not going to be able to get the birthday boy his gift on time. I was so disappointed. But after searching one last store, I caught a clue: A lot of these brick and mortar stores that I'm going in DO have websites and sometimes, if you're lucky, those websites have coupons!

When we got home, I searched the few stores I had checked in person to see if I could find what I was looking for online. While a few of them carried the item, it was out of stock at every. single. store. Curses! I had no choice but to move on to Plan B, but at least now I knew I could find something in my theme. During this search period, I also remembered that you could find coupon codes at Ebates.com - where you also get a rebate of a percentage of your total! I cruised on over and what do you know: One of the stores where I had found a suitable Plan B offered 7% cash back + a coupon code for 15% off my entire order! I was SO excited! Not only was I able to finally find this little man a great birthday gift, but I was able to purchase it within the limits of the experiment AND I got a little cash back to boot! I only hope his sweet mama understands how much thought and planning went into that gift and that it wasn't just a decision based on cost!

After finally securing that gift, my birthday mojo was working at full power. I had gotten a coupon in my email for a local store that sells little pretty things, and since it was near the PetSmart, I decided to go on in and meander around a bit. Lucky, lucky day: I was able to get a cute little something for a friend's birthday that is coming up in another month or so. And maybe - since it was a coupon for 10% off my entire purchase - I grabbed a little something for myself, too. I am working very hard at this experiment, you know. A girl needs pretties. That is why you need to go online right now and search for your favorite little local shops. Many of them have email newsletters and most of those will show up in your inbox with a coupon from time to time.

I have one more birthday challenge: The husband. His birthday falls two days after the end of the mandatory coupon period. But now that I've got my birthday present mojo working, finding him a gift should be a piece of cake.

July 17, 2009

I'll show you mine if you show me yours

One thing I didn't count on when starting this project was the amount of food stuff I would amass. When you consider that I have been playing the circular/coupon game for a couple of months before I even decided to start the blog, then it will come as no surprise to you that I have quite a few dry good items at the ready. So, just because one facet of the blog is about using my coupons to buy my groceries, don't expect there to be major grocery trips each week. After all, there are only two people in this household who eat real people food, and one of those is gone most weeks on business. Also, my pantry and cabinets already look like this:

Here is my juice army. It is ready to defend my immunity at a moment's notice. Every single bottle of juice you see (or don't) in this picture was purchased with a coupon; about 90% of those bottles cost me only $1.00 each. Why, yes, I do rock some juicy karma, thanks for noticing!

Here are some things that are just waiting to be eaten. A million and five boxes of cereal (or 7); crackers out the wazoo, syrups, frostings and cake mixes; chips and snacks. They're all there, just waiting to be called upon for usage in my kitchen. But they're not alone. Because there are also these guys:
I have sauces and salsas and peas and soups and coffees, teas and mixes out the yang. I don't want to be boring by not shopping one week, but raise your hand if you think I need to stuff one more thing in that pantry? I should have had "project empty kitchen" before I started Clipped Blog, I think. I know for sure that will be happening afterwards; maybe that can be project number 2 - every meal must be made at home and only the meats and veggies should be purchased! LOL What a flip from this month!

One of the things that causes this type of buildup in my pantry is the simple fact that the coupons you get each week and the items that go on sale at the grocery stores seem to be the same. exact. things. week after week after week. I'm planning to explore that in a future post, so make sure you stay tuned, because I'm going to try and talk to someone "on the inside" and see what kind of answers I can get.

In addition to explaining why I'm not shopping big for the week, I thought this post could be a little bit of a fun jump off to a contest. You like a prize, yes? Well, I've shown you my insane pantries, so show me yours! Email me a picture of your pantry at clippedblog@gmail.com and I'll make a big post to share so we can all get a little voyeurism out of our systems. I'll post them in the order they come in through the email and then randomly select a winner using random.org.

Think that your pantry is so horrible that you would never share it with the anonymous internet world? Well, mine is only so neat and stacked like that because I cleaned out for 8 hours one day that started like this:

People: That right there does not even include everything. That is only those two bottom shelving units worth of stuff. Yep.

So bring it on - your neat, your tidy, your dirty, your cramped and huddle canned goods - and the grand prize for all your trouble? Well, who knows what that will be...but what I do know is that it will be purchased with a coupon!

Now get to snapping...entries close at 11:59pm EST on Sunday, July 19!!!