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!!!

July 16, 2009

Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 1

So yesterday was the end of my first week in the experiment, which seems to have gone by rather quickly! I was surprised at how much I learned and how many questions I have about coupons. Here's a quick run-down of things that I've learned and want to learn following week one:

  • I am far more of an impulse buyer than I ever imagined
  • If you know where to look, you can find a coupon for almost anything
  • Conversely, there are some things that you will wish you had coupons for but don't
  • Sometimes, if you wish hard enough for things like gasoline and vegetables, you'll get your wish in the form of a coupon
  • Advertising in coupon supplements is more about economy and casting a wide net than trying to cash in on people's saver mentalities
  • Coupons are the currency of customer service
  • Being in touch with a company about their goods and services can only help everyone who uses those goods or services in the end.

  • How does perceived value play into choosing items for coupons?
  • What is the hope of a manufacturer or business when they decide to create a coupon?
  • What is the life cycle of a coupon?
  • How can you convince a company to start giving coupons for your favorite item?
  • Why is there so much coupon repeating from week to week?
  • How closely tied are store sales and coupon placements?

I'm sure there will be many more of questions to come, even as I get answers to some of my questions above. I hope you'll stay tuned to find out what I find out...and if you have a lead on where I might find some of these answers or a hot coupon, remember you can email me or comment here!

July 15, 2009

All's Fare...

Today I stopped by to see our favorite farmers - Chad and Amy Bishop from Greenbrier Farms - at their weekly Wednesday stop at Scratch on Augusta Road and let them know the reason why we weren't going to be getting any of their delicious meat or vegetables for a couple of weeks. Amy was very sweet and tried to help me brainstorm some recipe ideas for my 9,999,999 tiny tomatoes and 9,999,998 cucumbers, but - as are most people when they find out what I'm doing - was a little concerned about the lack of veg in my diet for the next few weeks. While I am hoping to make up in frozen veg what I lack in fresh, I was once again handed a gift from the heavens when I checked Clipped Blog's Twitter Page and found this Tweet from a local healthy supermarket chain, Earth Fare:

#EarthFare Tweebie for Friday! 10% off your entire produce pu... on Twitpic

Ladies and gentlemen: We have a coupon for produce! It's really tiny, but on Friday, I can get 10% my entire produce purchase!! If you don't think I'm going to go in there on Friday and buy all the fresh produce that I can stuff myself with over the weekend, then you are out of your mind. I'm having salads for breakfast, that's how ready I am for something crisp and green and leafy!!

So I highly suggest that if you have an EarthFare near you, or another local healthy supermarket, that you seek them out on Twitter. You never know what kind of awesome tweets could show up in your nest!

Being Suggestive

Last night before going to bed, I made myself an incredibly long to-do list to attempt accomplishing today. One of the big things I needed to do was to email some companies whose products I've used lately that have either pleased me or displeased me. I think it's fair that if I'm going to let a company know they suck, I should also tell them when they do not. One of the positive stories I'll relate in a different post, but I wanted to tell you quickly about two of the other experiences I had today and their surprising outcome.

First of all, you may recall this post where I showed off my stash of Off! Clip-on mosquito repellents. After using one of these for the past few days, I felt that it was my duty to let Off! know that their "head to toe protection" did not seem to cover my feet, hands, shoulders, or babe in arms. Now, I think it is important to note that even though I was disappointed in the product, I was not angry with the company and simply went into the phone call with the purpose of letting them know their product was not living up to its claims.

Alice at OFF! took my phone call and listened to me as I explained my problem with the fan. She attempted to trouble shoot with me to make sure I had been using the product properly and when she was satisfied that I was, she apologized profusely for the fan's shortcomings. She did explain that some people are simply tastier than others and that she was sorry the fan did not work for me as I had hoped. Since I told her I had purchased four in order to make a protective bubble of mosquitolessness on my patio, she asked if I had ever tried their OFF! Lantern before. I told her I had not, but that I had seen them, so she explained a little about the product to me. It is a little bit like those scented wax melter things, where you put the candle underneath the smelly wax and it melts and smells up your house, except with mosquito repellent smell. Here's the part that surprised me: She then offered to not only refund my purchase price on the fan, but to also send me a coupon to try the lantern for FREE. Not for $2.00 off, not buy one, get one, but FREE.

I most definietly took Alice up on her offer, and am looking forward to having that coupon to try before our Coupon-Catered party!

The other phone call I made was to Playtex regarding the Diaper Genie II that we use for the baby's nappies. It occurred to me one day that - despite using Seventh Generation's biodegradable diapers - we weren't doing any good at not filling up a landfill with our stinkers because we were then sticking them into this non-biodegradable plastic bag! Knowing that there are plenty of biodegradable plastic bag products out there and wondering if maybe we just didn't have a store that stocked a possible alternative, I called up Playtex to find out.

I spoke to customer service representative Patty, who let me know that as far as SHE knew, there weren't any biodegradable Diaper Genie bags in the works, but she listened as I explained to her why I thought they were needed and that I felt that people who were using greener disposables would probably be willing to pay a small price increase in order to also have greener liner bags for the Genie. She promised to pass on my suggestion, and then asked if I was interested in signing up to recieve special offers and coupons from the company in the future. Well, of course I am interested in coupons for a product I actually use! I think the only DG coupons I have ever seen were merchant specific to Babies R Us. After I gave her my information, she closed the call by thanking me and saying, "I'll get a coupon out to you this week!"

Super Surprise Score!

So - in conjunction with my experience with Blue Diamond, what I've learned is that if you're willing to take the time to a) Let a company know they've disappointed you, b) Let a company know they've pleased you or c) Let a company know you've got an idea for them, then your time will most times be rewarded.

So if I were you, I'd get cracking on telling companies how you feel...but that's just my suggestion.

July 14, 2009

They say it was curiosity that killed the cat...

...but I'm far more convinced it was one of the products from my Sunday coupon circulars.

You know which ones I'm talking about...don't act like you've never glanced twice at those checks with your alma mater's logo on them, or that you weren't intrigued by an entire series of Christmas ornaments dedicated to the awesomeness of cheese. Here are a few gems I thought were worth sharing with you from some of my recent circulars. Stop me if you've seen these. Really stop me if you've bought these, because we need to have a little chat...

The first ad is sort of what I expect to find in the circulars: Useless stuff

In these hard economic times, is your fridge looking empty and bare? Then maybe you should dress up the outside with these Handpainted Dachshund Magnets! There is nothing more heart-warming than a kitchen appliance devoted to dogs in costumes! Look at their tiny legs! Look at their long noses! Look at their hats! I think that for only an initial investment of $4.90, you won't even mind the total investment price of $302.40. That's right, folks, all 25 of these handpainted, expertly sculpted magnets are yours for the bargain price of just THREE HUNDRED TWO DOLLARS AND FORTY CENTS!

Clipping coupons because you don't have over $300 to spruce up your fridge with dogs in costumes, you say? Well, let's move on to our next category in coupon circular ads: Clothing.

First up in the clothing category is this little beauty from DreamProductsCatalog.com.

That's right, ladies - Summer is here but who doesn't hate trying on bathing suits? They are never flattering and that light in the dressing room makes everyone look like they just came off an ill-fated 3-hour boat tour. That is why this product is so wonderful! Not only do you save yourself the emotional (and possibly physical) trauma of trying on a bathing suit, but you can look FOUR SIZES SMALLER! I think my favorite thing about this ad is the model who clearly would be shopping in the children's section if she were four sizes smaller and the only "proof" they have of this product's slimming capabilities is in an illustration done by Bobby Wilcox from Mrs. Johnson's 6th grade art class. Notice how the ad says it "Trims and shapes EVERYWHERE!" Well, sure - everywhere there is bathing suit. This means look out, world, I'm coming at you with my size "__" body and my arms and legs that are 4 sizes bigger! I think I'd rather just see people who are delusional about their ability to wear bikinis than see freakishly proportioned zebras of different colors walking around on the beach or at the pool, you know?

If you're not in the market for a swimsuit right now, that is OK. Amerimarkads.com has some beautiful items in stock just for you.

First up is this absolutely stunning polka dot dress with MATCHING BELT! I don't even know why my closet isn't full of these dresses. Look how happy the models are in these dresses! The blonde lady is almost giddy with her own hotness. But sometimes you don't want to be dressed up so fancy. Sometimes you need something a little more casual. Sometimes, you need this:

Come and knock on MY door! Mrs. Roper would be so proud that her stylish sensibilities are still making the rounds in the new millenium! I can't even figure out how much these things cost, but they would be a bargain at twice the price! The ad says I'll want to stock up on these, and boy is it right! I can hardly wait to get one in every LSD-trip induced pattern! And for all my plus-sized friends out there, don't fret; These come in sizes all the way up to 5X, so you do not have to be left out in the cold without your slammin' mumu!

I just had to know some more about Amerimarkads.com, so I headed over to their website. I found it to be a site that was strictly for purchasing from the ads. A quick google search landed me on their main site, though, and since I had some questions, I headed right over to the FAQ (well, not before perusing some of their GREAT products! Bed wedge, anyone?) to see if my questions could be answered. Believe it or not, the answer to "Who the hell buys this stuff?" was not featured in their FAQ! But I did find some other information, because the website is actually pretty well constructed and easy to navigate. AmeriMark was on the mark for just their demographic, as I'd soon learn.

One thing I learned from the website was that this company sells it's products in eight different catalogs - none of which I'd ever heard of. But they've been doing this for THIRTY-NINE YEARS. That means SOMEONE is definitely buying this stuff, and I gotta know who.

Fortunately for me, Dave Oby from AmeriMark was willing to answer some questions for me about the company and how well they do business. After explaining to Mr. Oby why I was conducting my overall experiment ("my own, nosey curiosity," I told him), I revealed the reason why I was nosing around into his particular company's business. I explained that I couldn't help but wonder why - when the main reason for coupon circulars, as I see it, is to clip coupons to save money - AmeriMark chooses to advertise products for straight up sale. His answer was surprisingly simple economics: He explained to me that the main reason for choosing to advertise via "FSIs" or "Free Standing Inserts" in circulars is simply because you can reach a large audience at a reasonable cost to the company. So, interestingly enough, it seems that the coupon supplement actually works both ways in the money savings game - to us, the consumers when we are able to clip coupons, and to the advertisers, who are able to get a bargain blast of advertising out.

So that explains why they are in the circulars, but I still wondered who the heck is buying this stuff? Who are they trying to reach via Sunday supplements? I really shouldn't have been surprised by this answer at all: The demographic, Mr. Oby explained, is middle-class women aged 50 and over. Of course. Who is it that is clipping the coupons? Mostly women. Who is it that would actually be tempted by the comfort and class of the above mumu? A 50+-year-old woman. It all made perfect sense to me. And when he explained to me who the target audience was for the ads, it answered yet another question I had about why they didn't just offer a coupon in the circular for usage on the company's website. These women, and my mom would defnitely be one of them, are not necessarily technologically savvy. They are from the heyday of catalog shopping. They like the personal touch of calling up and talking to a friendly customer service representative who takes their order and makes them feel secure enough to give out their credit card information. And while Mr. Oby said he could not divulge the numbers of how many orders they receive from the FSI's vs. other means, he did say that they have been advertising in supplements for at least the 15 years he has been at the company, and so one can easily assume that it is a lucrative form of marketing for them.

Because of the nature of coupons is to save, I did wonder if the recent economic downturn had affected their business at all, and I was suprised to hear that it had actually been very good so far this year. Apparently, other catalog based companies are folding, and Mr. Oby said the lack of clutter in folks' mailboxes was helping them to stand out a little more from the crowd. I do wish I had asked him since the company aligned itself with "money saving coupons," did he worry about being perceived as having products of lower quality because they were advertised with other "discounts," but that will have to wait for another interview opportunity, I suppose.

Another interesting facet to this story is that, even though the company uses the inserts in the supplements as a means of advertising, the catalog industry is sort of self-feeding when it comes to targeting its audience. Mr. Oby explained that they had tried doing some magazine advertising in the past but that it did not work very well, and that their main, true focus is catalog sales. So, what I learned was that this company, and many others, rather than focusing on who to send their catalogs to, focus on who NOT to send them to. They then end up renting mailing lists from one another in order to reach those populations who make the cut. I find it interesting that even in a competitive industry such as sales, there seems to be a lot of back-scratching going on between companies, and I can't help but wonder then if, when there is a decrease in competition, can it hurt as much as help?

My final question to Mr. Oby was personal: I asked him did he own any of the products the company sells. He wasn't able to say definitively that he did NOT have anything that the company sells, but did state that he wasn't in the target age range, plus he didn't really fit that whole "woman" part of the demographic equation! So, no polka dot dresses for Mr. Oby, who said the were "not really my style."

So there we go. I think Mr. Oby's answers as far as who is targeted by his company via the supplements would be very similar across the board for the other products that are featured. Sure, from time to time you'll find products that seem directed at men (Omaha steaks, anyone?), but for the most part the products you'll find are very woman-centric. After talking to Mr. Oby and having him be so indulgent to my questions, (And hearing that the company actually designs a lot of those high fashions themselves!) I almost feel bad for making fun of the products. Then again, I think I'm in the clear, because I'm not his target audience, anyway!

Happy Supplement Shopping!

July 13, 2009

Taking up the Gauntlet

Ok, so I have received 4 challenges from two readers, and am going to TRY and do as many of these as possible, but I'm picking two to start plus two of my own and we'll see what progress can be made in the way of tackling these this week!

Here are the two reader challenges:

  • I'm sure you could find a coupon for this - go to a museum or some other cultural activity!

  • Dinner for four: a three course meal- appetizer, entree (with at least some type of meat, not necessarily as the main dish), and dessert (not ice cream cake).
And the two challenges from myself are:
  • Throw a smallish party.

  • Get a pedicure...from a salon!
I'll be tackling these concurrently, but they'll be well defined so you will know what you're reading about. I also plan to have a little contest in the next couple of days. Charge up those digital camera batteries and be prepared to share...

Free, but at what cost?

I was definitely intrigued by McDonald's recent announcement that every Monday through August 3, they would be offering free sample sizes of their McCafe Mochas. It seemed like the perfect little treat for me to grab one morning while out running errands or what have you, and - even though I got a late start on the day today - I stopped by after the lunch rush to cash in on my free sample.

Can I just tell you that no matter how horrible the food is, I freaking love the smell of a McDonald's? There is just something about it that takes me back to being a kid and the specialness of getting a cheeseburger and fries, and the smell is still EXACTLY the same as it was back then, and I always get a little bit high when I walk in there. And I'm sure that is exactly what they are going for. But McDonald's is really bringing it when it comes to appealing to my visual senses lately and it was sort of all I could do to resist the urge to get myself some sort of bacon and cheese smothered piece of beef with fries for Lunch: The Sequel. Their new menu boards are very chic and make everything seem VERY nice, even though I know it's the same old tiny burger patty in the same old white bread bun. Whoever redesigned those things deserves a prize, because if I weren't so savvy, I would be toast. Or a McGriddle.

Anyway, I know as well as most smart shoppers that getting you in the McDonald's with it's crack smell and pretty pictures to get your "free sample" of the McCafe is a gamble the company is taking to try and upsell you on ANYTHING else. And I'm sure it will end up working out very well for Ronald & Co. But not on me, and I could tell that the McEmployee was kind of irritated when I confirmed that I only wanted my sample McMocha.

And though I had tried a McLatte before and have not been super impressed, I was willing to give McMocha a chance, especially since - as I found on my way over to McD's - my Dunkin Donuts has closed after less than 2 years in operation. (Hmph. There goes my Sunday morning bagel with blueberry cream cheese! AND I HAD COUPONS!) So I watch as the McEmployee #2 makes my McMocha with care (seriously! I was shocked), and as he hands it to me, I realize that I am looking forward to getting maybe five good, long sips out of this thing. It was so small, y'all. How small? Well take a gander:
Look at that quarter next to the McMocha! Look at the wee-ness of the cup! Look how big my regular straw is in there! (Oh, how I wish there had been mini-straws! Maybe I should have drunk it from a coffee stirer straw!) And if you know me in real life, you know I love abnormally sized things so that even though this sample size at first seemed a negative, it's mini-ness quickly won me over.

Until I tasted it.

How was it, you wonder? In a word: Artificial. Can we really not spring for real chocolate in our mochas, McD's? I mean, it was so NOT good that I didn't even drink all 4-5 ounces of liquid in that cup. And I gave it a proper opportunity to get better through 3-4 small sips. Sadly, McMocha did not prevail.

So, I am left now in a world of coffee-less Sunday mornings. McCafe's are too gross to pay for and Dunkin Donuts has apparently shut down overnight, leaving behind no evidence of ever existing in the location. My local coffee shop (which I am missing SO bad during this experiment, btw!) isn't open Sundays and I am scared to death they may suffer the same fate as Dunkin if I can't figure out how to convince people to go out of their way for local, natural, freshly baked goods and coffees. I'm pretty much willing to stand with my cute baby on the highway with a sandwich board if necessary!!!

Verdict? The time I had to take getting there, getting the baby out of the car, getting in, placing my order and then going back home to drink my nasty little "treat" was just not worth the price I didn't pay.

Of course, I'm aware that my opinion is just that, so what's your take on the McCafe? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Have another place I can get my Sunday Morning Treats? Want to send me a coupon?

The floor is yours...

The Fine Print

I am super proud of my husband, who - after some initial resistance about his having to participate in my crazy scheme - has really jumped into the game of living off coupons feet first. He actually is responsible for locating the newest resource: CouponClipper.com

This website is fantastic. You type in what you're looking for (i.e. "restaurants," "gifts," "services") and your zip code, and it pops up a list of available coupons near you. The hubby says it's related to the "Coupon Clipper" magazines which I had not heard of, but which some of you may receive by mail. You do have to join the website to have access to the coupons, but it only asks for an email address and your name and zip code, plus you can uncheck the box to recieve updates and promotions so you are less likely to end up with a cluttered email inbox!

Using this website, my husband found and printed us several coupons so that we could eat out this weekend. Thank goodness; I was sick to death of eating random, weird, mostly vegetable free stuff that was in my kitchen! The first coupon we found was for a hot dog place we had been wanting to try out for at least a year now, but it is pretty far from our house and it's not somewhere we would drive by or be reminded of often. But with the coupon as incentive, we packed up the baby and headed over. It was so much fun! I couldn't believe we were able to try a new restaurant AND have it cost less than if we had just gone on our own.

There is a little bit of an honor system, though, as you are supposed to only print and use each coupon one time. I like to play by the rules, because I don't want to be the yo-yo who messes up the game for everyone when places start refusing coupons because someone else is committing fraud. But sometimes, even when you play by the rules, there can be a little bit of a snag...

See, last night, I didn't have anything defrosted from the freezer to cook for dinner, and I was not in the mood to eat another carbo-laden meal. We had a coupon for a local upscale steak house that we had printed from the Coupon Clipper website, and I was excited to go because they have really great salads. I also knew I could get a veggie side, thus fulfilling my need for greens! We headed on over for a semi-early dinner and we enjoyed it immensely. The steaks we got were perfectly cooked, the salad was it's usual awesome self, and my grilled asparagus really hit the spot. As it came time to pay our bill, however, I noticed that we had made a huge, huge mistake: We did not read the fine print on the coupon. You see, there are two locations of this eating establishment in town, and we had printed out a coupon for the other location further away from us.

I was crushed. I just knew that meant I was about to totally fail my experiment on only Day 5! When our server came by to ask if we would like our check, my husband explained our gaffe to her. She was so kind; She said that location also participated and would ask her manager if they could accept our coupon anyway. Luckily for us, he agreed and we were able to use our coupon and save my nerves! I think it didn't hurt us that we had a really cute baby with us, so the server was more inclined to help us. :-) So note to selves: If you decide to play fast and loose and not read the fine print, do make sure to always have a cute baby on hand if you need to beg for mercy!

I was really glad that everything worked out and the experiment stayed intact, but I will definitely be more careful the next time I get ready to head out and use a coupon!

Today is going to be a two-post day; stay tuned later tonight as I accept two of your challenges and introduce two of my own. If you can't think of a fun challenge, ask your friends and family if they have any ideas! I can be YOUR free entertainment!

July 12, 2009

Day 5: Impulse Control

One lesson that I've already learned in the short few days of the experiment is that I have a tendency to impulse buy WAY more than I ever noticed. The first time I had to check myself was when shopping last week. I was very, very, thirsty while we were out and I thought to myself, "I'll just grab a drink at the checkout!" And I never really thought about how much I may have been doing that over the years - grabbing a drink at the check out because I would be out longer and was thirsty; but I bet if I could add it up, I'd be surprised at how often those little refrigerated cases have lured me into their refreshing depths for a severely overpriced quenching for my thirst.

At least I'm not alone. Point of Purchase merchandising has been around for over a hundred years - maybe longer. And there is a complete and total industry devoted to it. The funny thing to me is that it started out being the small things like gum and candy and remains those items - along with magazines - even today. I tend to think that I am fairly immune to these check-out lane buys (aside from the drinks, of course). I used to be really bad about buying magazines in the check out lane, though; I'd get started reading some article or find a recipe while waiting for the person in front of me who was buying a month's worth of groceries for a family of 28 and then I would have to take the magazine with me or die of sheer curiosity about the article's resolution or the tastiness of that recipe (BTW: I never did end up cooking any damn thing I found in a magazine!) However, after turning 16 or so, I was pretty immune to all the candy bars, batteries, tiny boxes of tissue, and cheapie toys that now clutter up my check out lanes.

For me, the urge to impulse buy comes from deep within the store aisles. I'm not sure if that makes me odd or not, but it certainly makes me profitable from the store's standpoint. It never fails that if I take the time to make a beautiful list for any store I'm going in, that I fail to remember one or more items that I had intended to put on the list, which then generates a panic within me that forces me to make rash decisions about anything else I might want or need in the coming days that for some reason, can't wait until I'm sure the purchase needs to be made or not. This "perceived convenience" happened when I knew I'd be driving by a Target on the way home from the little one's six month check-up the other day. I thought, "Oh, I'll just pop in and get her a new bottle of infant acetometaphin so I can keep running errands and she can have some relief from her shots, even though there is already a nearly full bottle at our house!" But of course, I realized that I a)did not have a coupon for that item, so I really couldn't stop in there and b)really shouldn't be stopping to pay more money for what I already have, and that was a pretty interesting lesson that I'd never given much thought to. You know, I'd like to attribute this flaw to my having a child under one and the trouble it is to get out of the house with her, but I've been this way for my whole adult life, and so I just can't lay the blame on her for my problems.

Another thing that always gets me is a new or novel products. When I was in BiLo stealing their Blue Bell ice cream for $2.50 a 1/2 gallon, I happend to see that they had these teeeeeeeeny tiiiiiiiiiiny cartons of Starbucks brand ice cream on sale. And even though they cost nearly what my 1/2 gallons of Blue Bell were going to cost me, I had this overwhelming desire to get one and "try it." I had all but opened the freezer case when I realized that I could NOT have that precious little carton of ice cream, and man - the heartbreak was real. I was sincerely disappointed that, despite having a FULL GALLON of delicious ice cream in my cart, I could not spend way too much for this little carton containing at most 5 bites of ice cream. This must be why women who resist impulse buys can lose nearly 5 pounds in a year compared with those who don't stick strictly to their shopping lists. No tiny ice-creams for them!

I know it's been said before that the best thing is to make a list and stick to it. But it's more than that. There is a thoughtfulness that needs to be applied to your shopping, because it's far too easy to justify a dollar spent here and there. And I now hope that I can learn from having to be accountable to the project a new way of thinking about shopping so that I can resist these impulses in the future.

Hm. That's a mighty big lesson for Day Five. I just hope I didn't peak early and end up with nothing else interesting to report for the rest of the project!

July 11, 2009

Did somebody say free?

What's a girl on a strict coupon diet to do when she has a hankering for a fast food chicken sandwich?

Well, dress herself and her baby like a cow and get it for free, that's what!

Sadly, by the time we got our photo taken with the Chick-Fil-A cow, all my spots and my ears had fallen off, but you can see my tail tucked next to my keys. And the baby's bib comes courtesy of Misters Ben & Jerry of Vermont. :-) Of course, the old saying that nothing's really ever free is true - not only did I have to wear a ridiculous paper cow nose to get my free #2 combo meal, but I had to navigate a swarm of daycare children who were all dressed top to bottom in black and white spots. The baby did great - she was fascinated by the whole event, as one who is small should be. Sadly, the one thing she seemed to really want was a waffle fry, and that was just not up for grabs.

A big thanks to the folks at Chick-Fil-A for running the promotion like a military manuever and having all kinds of fun stuff for the kiddos - prize wheels, cups, plushy cows and these photos, taken by a Chick-Fil-A employee, printed out for you via their teensie printer on the spot, and placed in a commemorative photo holder for you to enjoy for years to come!

July 9, 2009

$8.00 Bananas and Other Tales from Shopping Day One

Last night I scoured my circulars and matched up my soon to expire coupons with some of the sales I found in them as well as lined up some coupons for things we needed. The baby and I headed out first thing this morning to hit the first of three stores: Publix.

Normally, Publix is my BEST store. I regularly average about $25.00 of spending on any one trip there when I match my coupons with the sales. I knew that this was going to be a bigger spending trip than normal because I had my $50.00 BP gas gift card to buy, and even with my $10 off coupon that meant spending $40.00 right off the bat. But I tried to put that out of mind and just focus on the task at hand: Getting the items on my list.

I generally like to meander around the store, which is the direct opposite of the first rule of saving money during a shopping trip. But I was doing research and needed to make a mental note of the the prices of things, so I just kept going on my merry meandering way. I saw the turnstyle of gift cards right off the bat and made sure I grabbed my BP card so I wouldn't forget it, but after that, I just sort of shopped by the coupons in hand. So here is what I got today:

All the stuff you see here cost me the whopping total of $95.33, but $40.00 of that is gift card, so I spent $55.33 on the grocery items pictured. And yes, for what's pictured, that does seem a bit high for someone who didn't buy a single thing without a coupon!

These are the items that ran my total up. The Nilla Wafers, the bananas and the ground beef all were $1.00 off IF I purchased the corresponding items of the Starbucks coffee, the Cheerios and the Hamburger Helper. Now, I did not have to buy two boxes of Cheerios or three boxes of Hamburger Helper to activate the other coupons, but since I had to have a coupon to purchase the other items as well, then I had to play by the rules of those coupons. So, I stacked the coupons like this:

  • $1.00 off Starbucks Coffee + $1.00 off any Nabisco cookie or cracker with purchase of Starbucks or Seattle's Best Coffees.
  • $1.00 off 2 boxes of any Cheerios + $1.00 off bananas with purchase of one box of Cheerios.
  • $0.80 off 3 boxes of Helper + $1.00 off ground beef with purchase of Hamburger Helper
Now, if the Coffee, Cherrios, or Helper had been on sale, then I likely could have saved five more dollars on this deal, making it less of a total waste of money. And since I did not truly need the Cheerios or the Helpers, I feel like I ended up spending $7.98 to get some bananas and $8.40 to get slightly over a pound of ground beef. And it wasn't even ground sirloin! Oh, the things I do in order to have some fruit and beef.

It wasn't all bad, though. I got the Betty Crocker frosting for $0.50; it was on sale 2 for $3.00 and I had a $0.50 coupon that doubled to $1.00.

I got the Blue Diamond Almonds and Planter's Peanuts for $0.60 each; they were both on sale "Buy One, Get One Free" (BOGO) and I had $1.00 off coupons.

But I'd have to call this trip a bust, mostly for the extraneous spending I had to do to get what I wanted.

Next we went to Target.
I spent $45.53 on the items pictured here. The main purpose of this trip was to get my vitamins and the OFF! Clip-on mosquito deterrants. I've been trying to buy these things for a month, but they are always out of them when I go to the store! They were one of the "best buys" of the trip, because I had two BOGO coupons, making these only $4.47 each. The best deal was the razors. They were $2.59 and I had a $2.00 coupon, so they were only $0.59. I love these things to take on trips, because I hate to take my "real" razor anywhere! I usually end up forgetting it and then I have to spend big bucks to get a new one. These you can use and toss! And for $0.06 each, I don't mind that so much!

The worst buy: Can we just talk about Kleenex for a second? I have used some horrible generic tissues before, but Target brand tissues never bothered me. They are acceptably soft and meet my needs. So a coupon for Kleenex is really a waste of paper. The coupon I had was for $0.50 off THREE boxes. Well, thank you so much, Mr. Kleenex, for offering me not quite $0.17 off each box. I can go buy than mansion with all my savings. The point is, Kleenex was on sale for $1.29 and I had a coupon and it STILL was more expensive than the Up & Up brand!

Also, did you know you could be charged sales tax on the PRE-coupon amount? I did not until I checked out my receipt from Target tonight! Is that legal? I didn't buy any non-food items at the other stores, so I don't know if that's the case all over, or just at Target!

Finally I hit up BiLo.
I was a shopping rockstar at BiLo. I didn't buy much, but for what you see here I only paid $13.51. That's right: I essentially paid for all these items what you would normally pay for the two ice creams. Here's what happened: I had another Buy One to Get One situation, but it worked in my favor. I needed to buy 10 packs of Kool-Aid in order to get $2.00 off any granulated sugar. Then I had a coupon for $1.00 off 10 packs of Kool-Aid. So I picked out a sugar that was on sale for $1.99, which means I got 10 packs of Kool-Aid and a bag of sugar for $1.50!

So my first day spending total is $154.37, with a total savings of $81.85, but some waste, too.

And now I just need to find someone to come over and drink some Kool-Aid with me. Any takers? :-)

July 8, 2009

Patience is not a virtue I possess...

So I'm sitting in the floor, flipping through my circulars and WHAT should I find but a coupon for $10 off $50 BP or Shell giftcard purchased from Publix!

So, as it seems, if I had remained true to my initial experiment, I would have been rewarded with this prize!

As it is, I'm buying them anyway! Who doesn't want to save $10.00 on gas???

So, I'll be following the original rules, but without my integrity intact. LOL Oh well.

Oddly, I feel a little like I've been taught some sort of Sunday School lesson.

Day 1: The Journey Commences -

and local business pays the price.

The experiment started today with a bang. As you all know (as I have repeated it ad nauseam), this experiment is really a study in couponing and the culture that goes along with it. For the next 30 days (well, 29.5), I cannot buy anything without a coupon for said item. And never more have I wished to have a coupon than today when I took the baby to the new storytime at our local coffee shop. This coffee shop is great - they make everything in house and it's all natural. They serve a lot of gluten-free and sugar-free items, and they make some of the tastiest cakes you've ever had. And don't get me started on the Chocolatte...so yum! So it was shear torture to go to the coffee shop today, enjoy the storytime (which comes with A FREE COOKIE IN THE SHAPE OF A CHARACTER!), and not be able to have a yummy coffee drink or grab breakfast there in the form of one of their awesome muffins.

If this were just Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, I wouldn't have felt so bad for not being able to participate. Those places have plenty of business without me, and while I'm happy to see them both when I need a cup of coffee, I am invested in the success of this coffee shop because it is in MY neighborhood and is locally owned and operated! Besides, those other places DO have coupons. As a matter of fact, I have enough DD coupons (thanks in part to my good friend who sent me some!) to get me through any latte cravings I might have for the whole experimental period. But that just doubles the guilt!

I think I should have enlisted some sponsors for my favorite local businesses so that I would know someone would be going and buying products from my favorite places while I couldn't! Wouldn't that be something? "Take my place as a customer and try this shop/product/etc. while I can't and we hope you'll enjoy it so much you'll keep coming back!" Oh man - corporate sponsorship. That's what I'm missing! :-)

In other news - I got my circulars for the week late last night, so I have got to spend some time tonight going through them with my coupons to match up what we need, what I have, and what deals are on. I'm looking forward to a month of interesting discoveries: New products, tests of brand loyalty, learning about making less waste, cooking more at home and finding out if the name brand really IS better than the generic. Thanks for joining me!

July 7, 2009

2 hours to go and a rule change...

I am seriously so nervous about this project that I can't believe it! I had Ben buy me dinner out tonight because I wanted one last awesome meal. LOL They got the order wrong, though, so it was just an ok meal. *sigh*

I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I'm hoping this won't change many things about the project, but I have decided that I am not putting the gasoline restriction on myself. For one thing, 30 days on one tank of gas is a long time, even for someone who doesn't have a regular commute. If I'm going to be able to effectively utilize all my coupons, I have to be able to get to all the stores in my area. And selfishly, I want to be able to go visit my mama when my husband goes out of town for a full week. She misses this baby, and can't get off work anytime soon. So.

I'm still struggling over this decision, as if it totally negates my goal, but it really doesn't. And I'm still going to keep track of these things so I can discuss these things with you. And I'm still waiting to hear from you on some challenges that I can work towards! Hit me with your best shot! I'll try my best to achieve it, coupons at the ready :-D

Wish me luck...I think I'll need it!

July 6, 2009

The Countdown Begins

Since Project Coupon will be commencing in T-36 or so hours, you would think that I would have celebrated Independence Day as one of my few remaining days independent from coupon only shopping, making crazy purchases with wild abandon and nary a coupon in sight. But like the athlete who must train in order to do well in competition, I was practicing a lot of couponing over the 4th of July weekend so that I could make sure that when Wednesday morning rolls around, I am fully and completely up for the challenge.

I will admit that I took a couple of days off from training. On Friday the 3rd, we invited friends over to enjoy some delicious burgers from our grill and those burgers were made with meat and cheese from local farms. I've gotten quite accustomed to purchasing our fresh meats, cheeses and veg from our local farmers (our favorite farmer is literally 10 minutes from our house and their products are pesticide, antibiotic and hormone free to boot!) and this is going to be one of the MAJOR things I miss during the next 30 days. The "Locavore" movement is something I support and embrace, so not being able to participate in that for the next month is hurting my feelings!

Saturday the fourth we perused the weekly sales at Target (husband was in the market for some pants we had seen on sale the Sunday prior) and ended up buying our fireworks on the way home. What a tragedy for me if I had already been in full coupon mode, to have to have my infant daughter's first Fourth of July celebration sans sparklers!!! As it was, she fell asleep long before it was dark enough to partake of the sparkly goodness, and shockingly slept through our neighbor's bottle rocket wars that occurred right outside her window. She gets that from her dad. But we did get to use a coupon on Saturday, and a big one at that! In an attempt to clean out my email inbox (I think I had 580 unread messages at this point!), I found that Ruby Tuesday was offering a buy one entree, get one free coupon for that one day only! Providence! I had no dinner plans since I was being a lazy holiday reveler, so off we went to get our free entree! I love the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday, so the payoff was double for me: Since I always buy an entree that offers the salad bar as a side, I eat a big, giant salad with my dinner in the restaurant and then no more than half my "real" dinner. I get to pack up the dinner leftovers to take home and voila! I had a nice dinner on Sunday night, too! I think the best thing about this is knowing that we will probably be able to score at least one dinner out during the course of the experiment, which I will be looking forward to with great pleasure! Nobody likes to feel deprived!

Sunday the fifth found me back in full couponing mode, as I awaited my Sunday paper so I could spend my afternoon clipping and sorting. Sadly, the holidays always seem to bring a low number of coupons in the paper, and this holiday was no exception, having only one Proctor and Gamble circular. Don't get me wrong; if I need shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, razors, detergent, stain stick, etc. in the next 30 days, I am SO covered. But I was disappointed not to have a banner week of coupon gathering before the big game started on Wednesday. But that's ok...I'll get the chance to scour the internet and make sure I am not missing out on anything good before I go through my new circulars that start on Wednesday.

My last couponless oats are being sown as I type; I am on a mini-vacay with my husband and daughter to see my best friend who has come within three hours of our house for a family reunion. The opportunity to see here doesn't come around that often, and I take it whenever I can. This trip was the real reason the experiment starts Wednesday; I wanted to challenge myself with the experiment but I did not want to punish myself. And I have to admit: I'm starting to get nervous. I want to do well. I feel like I'm taking a final exam or an interim class where you have to do all the work in 1/3 the time. I want to stick to the rules. I am afraid I will just flat out forget one day that I am doing this and buy something that I don't have a coupon for. Or that I'll just get hungry for a meal that doesn't come out of my kitchen or that isn't pasta or some other meatless item and so I'll just say "Damn it all!" and go out for pizza. The other thing I am worried about is feeling like I'm missing out; My family visits our local downtown farmer's market every Saturday. It's a ritual. We get up early, go have breakfast, buy our local products and then I coupon our side dishes and make our meal plans for the week. I always get an iced coffee from the local roaster and we stroll along our merry way. I missed out on the market a lot last year because our childbirth classes were held on Saturday mornings to accommodate my husband's work schedule, and while I actually enjoyed those classes, I truly missed our Saturday ritual of going to the market. I know it's just four Saturdays, but it's FOUR Saturdays. You know?

I think I'll take advantage of "being on vacation" and turn in early tonight. I can hear the baby in the alcove restless and I want to make sure that I have enough energy to get through tomorrow with activities and travel back home.