June 30, 2009

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

I have had several people ask me to "teach them" how I have been saving money with my shopping each week, but I have been at a loss as to what knowledge I have that might be imparted when I really don't know what I'm doing that is "special." And honestly - I save money, but I'm not getting all this stuff for free or very little money, so I'm not really in the position to be teaching lessons. I figure the best I can do is let you know what I'm doing and if you're not already doing that then you can save at least that much.

So this was going to be a supershort entry that said:

Step 1: Get your coupons from the paper or online
Step 2: Clip said coupons
Step 3: Read weekly circulars and match up coupons with sale items
Step 4: $ave money

But while I was out shopping with the last of my June coupons yesterday, I realized that there might be one place that people don't think of to search for coupons, because I don't always think of them, and you can get some really good deals that way - right at your grocery store!

I don't know if you've noticed or not, but when you walk into many grocery stores, there will be turnstiles with flyers and recipe cards, etc. on them. Well, at least at Publix and BiLo, those turnstiles also have discount booklets and coupon booklets full of coupons to use at those stores! And these booklets often have coupons for the stuff that you can't normally find coupons for - bread, milk, salads, etc. For example, my Publix coupon book had coupons for SoyMilk, Ezekial Bread products and fresh express pre-bagged salad greens. Mmmm...fresh salad greens will be nice to have somewhere mid-July when we're living off frozen peas!

Also, stores often have special club programs (different from their shopping card programs) that you can sign up for when you have children. Publix has several clubs you can join and get free information and, with the Club Baby program, coupons for free products and other discounts. I signed up for this program when I was pregnant, and began receiving coupons around the time my daughter was born. Let me just tell you - these coupons are serious business. You get coupons for free hand sanitizer and dollars off formula, diapers, wipes, and other baby products (sometimes Publix brand, sometimes name brand). But the best ones are the ones for "$1.00 off any deli item" and "$1.00 off fresh produce." Yippee skippee, y'all - we might get Mommy some bananas up in here during the month of July! And the best part is that I don't have to remember to get these coupons. They just come in the mail every couple of months, good for about 6 weeks after they arrive. There is also a newsletter that accompanies the coupons that gives you some tips and tricks for what's going on with baby at that age. As your baby ages, so do your coupons, so eventually I'm expecting to receive coupons for "Gerber Graduate" type foods. And the coupons I don't use - specifically the formula coupons - I give to my friends who are using formula with their babies. It's a big ol' win/win!

After using some of my Publix Baby Club coupons yesterday, I decided to check and see if BiLo had any sort of similar program. They do not, but if you sign up for the "My BiLo" program, you can download store coupons for Southern Home products in the "My BiLo Mini Cookbook" section, which is probably the best deal I've seen! This section gives you recipes and offers the coupons for products used in the recipes. Today there are coupons for Southern Home butter, pie crust, shrimp and maple syrup, just to name a few. As you know, sometimes using a coupon does you no good because even with the coupon the name brand can still cost more than the store brand. So having some coupons for the store brands seems like a great idea for savings to me! The page also states that this Mini Cookbook can be picked up at the store. BiLo also features Southern Home coupons in their Bonus Saver publication. It lists ongoing monthly specials and has a section with about 18 coupons for Southern Home products!

So hop online and surf over to your favorite store's website and see what they have to offer. And as always, let me know if you find any good coupons!

June 29, 2009

It really does pay to be nice sometimes!

It's interesting to me how much America has changed in the past 60 years or so with regard to customer service and manners. Once upon a time, waiters truly cared about your order and getting it correct and to you in a timely manner, because going out for a dinner was a special occasion for a couple or families and they honored that. If you had a problem with a business or service and made a complaint, it really meant something because business owners truly cared whether or not they retained your business.

Then customer service became a relic, unless you were truly shopping/dining in an establishment of higher echelon. Businesses grew and with that growth came anonymity and with that anonymity came the ability to write a customer off, because hey - someone else will fill the void.

Lately, however, I think that the economy has seen a little shift to the old ways, where businesses now need their customers because people are opting to shop less, eat out less, consume less to make sure their families remain financially sound. And due to this shift, I began to feel like it was well within my rights as a customer to point out when businesses fail to meet my expectations so that they can either A) Strive to make the experience better and win my future visit (which happened with both Ruby Tuesday and Steak-n-Shake) or B)Ignore my complaints and lose my business (as has happened with both Arby's and Jack in the Box - seriously, guys, don't have an email client on your site for people to use to let you know about service issues and then ignore repeated attempts to get some sort of non-automated response!)

To be fair, though, I also feel like when businesses do a good job, they deserve to know and receive the praise they've earned. I love to get gracious emails in return from company's when I've praised them, because it makes me hope that they strive to continue that great service from now on.

But every once in awhile, I get a little surprise. Such was the case when I recently sent an email to Blue Diamond Almond growers. After realizing that my daughter shares her daddy's lactose sensitivities, I mourned the fact that I could no longer drink milk like it was going out of style until I was finished breastfeeding. All I could see was a long, lonely 8 months ahead of me. I have thyroid issues and am discouraged from overdoing it with the soy products, so I knew my choices were pretty much rice milk or almond milk, neither of which seemed very appealing on my morning cereal. After receiving a coupon at the Metropolitan Cooking Show for a free half gallon of Almond Breeze Almond Milk, I decided to try it first and see how awful it was before I paid for any rice milk to test.

Well, to my surprise, the almond milk was super tasty. It doesn't taste like milk, but it didn't taste like "white nasty" as I had imagined it would. As a matter of fact, I don't notice much difference at all on my cereal. Now, I'm not ready to pour a big glass of it to have with a slice of chocolate cake yet, but it's growing on me. And I've purchased several cartons since that first one and even tried the chocolate flavor (oh my - I like it better than chocolate milk, really!)

I figured that Blue Diamond deserved to know how pleasantly surprised I was to find a milk alternative in their product and how grateful I was to have such a tasty option for the next 7-8 months. I was not surprised when I received their "thank-you" email, but what DID surprise me was that they wanted to thank me for being a customer and were sending me some coupons for $0.75 off a future purchase! Well, that suited me just fine, especially since I knew my project was coming up and with as many cereal coupons as I have, I knew I was going to need something to wash all that fiber down! But imagine my surprise when I opened my mail the other day and found not one, not two, but EIGHT coupons for Almond Breeze!! And they don't expire until next December (as in 2010), so I have plenty of time to enjoy my coupons.

Now, I believe you should only give praise when you feel it's due and expect nothing in return but the feeling that it gives you to let someone know they've done a good job. But do know that some people out there really appreciate it when you appreciate them, so don't be surprised if from time to time you are rewarded for your customer loyalty.

Mutual Admiration: This is a change I could get used to!

June 26, 2009

"An Organizational Genius" aka "What My Life Story Will Never Be Called"

So I've spent some time considering coupon organizers lately. Normally I would (and have) made fun of such things. As it is, I shun the extraneous, especially when other people tell me I just HAVE to have it. If you tell me I just HAVE to have something, I will go out of my way to never have it, just to spite the populous. What can I say, it's the rebel in me. It is for this very reason that I was never into New Kids on the Block as a pre-teen. On the other hand, tell me I can't/don't/shouldn't have or do something and it's as good as handing it to me. (Hello, teen drinking!) Anyway - the point is, the fact that I am considering anything such as the "coupon binder" is a huge coup, and I don't know how I feel about it.

For one thing, my current organizational method really works for me. I like to call it the "PILES System." PILES isn't actually an acronym for anything, I just like to emphasize the obvious. Everything I own is literally categorized into many tiny piles all around my house. Books without shelves? Check the piles. Shoes outside of the closet? If my husband hasn't arranged them in a shoe parade through the living room, then they are in a pile. Important papers needing my attention? That's this pile over here. Clean clothes yet to make it into drawers? You guessed it: In a pile. Thing is, I know pretty much what is in any given pile at any given time and having to sort things and put them away simply makes me lose stuff. That's why I very rarely put anything away. Then I can't find it and I end up dissolved into a puddle of tears on the floor, screaming about how someone broke into my house and stole only my left silver flat or the power bill. So it makes sense that when I created my coupon organization system, it too would fall into the "PILES" method of paper management.

Since coupons are so small and easy to float off the coffee table should someone open the front door vigorously, I do manage my piles into small receptacles from time to time. One receptacle, where I keep coupons that are dated for expiration far into the future, is one of those very small plastic wallets that has the button on the outside and the 12 inner dividers. I have them - obviously - divided into months so that I can stow away my future coupons and get them out again when it is coming up to that month. This assures that I get the most coupons used before the expiration date because I KNOW when they will expire. It also assures me that I will end up buying a whole lot of crap without a coupon because it's in the December slot and it's only June. Of course, they say that it's wise not to use your coupons too early, but at a certain point it just becomes a ridiculous game of "Now? Should I use it Now? How about now? NO? What about yesterday?" etc., etc. But I digress.

The other receptacle for my coupons is a plastic ZipLoc type baggie that I keep in my purse. In this baggie I keep all current month's coupons that haven't been doled out for shopping trips PLUS any store-specific coupons that I can use while I'm out. You know, "free french fries from McDonald's with purchase of Huge-Ass Latte" or "Free Diapers with Purchase of Breast Pump at Babies 'R' Us" type coupons. (What is with some of the strange "Get One" coupons, anyway???) They are close at hand this way so that if I'm out and need french fries with my latte, there's my coupon and I'm not kicking myself for having to pay for those fries while my coupon rests at home, surely in a pile somewhere.

So that's what got me thinking about investing in one of those major coupon binder thingies. I had seen women at the K-Mart when coupons up to $2.00 were doubled, strolling around with HUGE binders, much like the Trapper Keepers of yore, flipping through plastic pages full, I MEAN FULL, of coupons and circulars. And here I was with my little paper list, items written on each and coupons tucked neatly into the folded list for easy access. They just seem to have it so together. All the pages. All the sections. And all they had to do was flip through, while I dropped first one coupon and then another flipping through them like a cheap deck of cards to double check the parameters of the coupon's power.

But might this technique be too much for me? I already have trouble putting things into categories. How do you organize them? By expiration date? By product type? By price?

It's a bit much for me to handle.

I think for now I'll stick to my PILES System of coupon management, but I'd love to hear your tips and tricks for coupon organization. Got a binder you love? Let me know. Think a binder is for the weak? Tell me your tips and tricks. I'd love to do a follow up post with all your best tricks and tips for organizing posterity!

June 23, 2009

Two-fer Tuesday!

Tuesdays are awesome. First of all - the garbage truck comes. Any of you with one or more children (or husbands, or hobbies) knows how quickly the garbage can fill up, and after our recent bout with illness the diaper pail was super full so I was extra happy to see those lovely garbage men coming down the street this morning.

The second reason I love Tuesdays, though, is because Tuesday is the day that the grocery circulars come out.

"Hold up!" I hear you say. "There are circulars in the Sunday paper. Don't you get the Sunday paper?"

Yes, I DO get the Sunday paper, but I recently found out the HARD way that some of the stores put out special "Sunday/Monday/Tuesday" sale circulars with prices that are ONLY good for those three days! I had coupons for the family's favorite juice (Ocean Spray No Sugar Added Cran-Grape, btw, just in case anyone ever has a hot tip on a sale or coupon to send me) and had seen in the Sunday circular that it was on sale as a BOGO item at Publix. But when I got to the store on Wednesday that week, there were none in the front of the store and there were no sales signs in the juice section indicating that sweet nectar of cran-grapey goodness was still on sale. When I inquired about it at the managers desk, I was told that sale had ended the previous day. Lesson learned.

That discovery changed everything about the way I shop. I used to sit down on Sunday, clip my coupons, and then pour over the circulars to make my shopping lists and plan of attack for a Monday shopping day. Now I still clip my coupons on Sundays, but I wait until Tuesday to make my lists and shopping plans and head out to the stores on Wednesday. This change has had a couple of unintentional benefits. One is that shopping during the week makes for far less crowds. This comes in especially handy when I'm shopping with the baby because it makes for a faster trip. The other is that waiting until mid-week to get to the stores gives them a chance to restock after most people hit them up on Saturdays and Sundays. I love to have a fresh selection!

This is not to say I never look at the Sunday circulars. I do glance through them and if something is a deal I can't pass up (like the juices would have been. I'm still bitter about those darn juices!) I will make a special trip. But that hasn't happened yet since I changed my habits, so that tells you how "special" those Sunday circular specials really are!

I'm still a little behind due to illness with my shopping, so I probably won't get to the store this week until Thursday, but I have a huge backlog of coupons to use before they expire on the 30th, so I hope to have a banner shopping week.

Only 2 weeks and one day until the experiment commences!

June 21, 2009

How Tweet it Is!

I just signed the Clipped Blog up for a twitter account, and I am so excited! I don't have much of a reason to tweet in my personal life, but I think twitter will be an invaluable tool for this experiment. I can tweet things I want to remember while I'm anywhere - even from the grocery aisle!

My user name is - shockingly - clippedblog.

It's not easy being green -

You might expect that this entry is about living eco-friendly on coupons, and maybe I should have saved the title for that, but actually, I've been sick this week. Really sick. Fever, chills, total breakdown of my digestive system sick. And as I sent my dear, sweet husband out for the 900th time for more Gatorade and other "aids," I thought to myself, "Oh dear god - what if this had happened during mandatory coupon-only time?"

I think I might have been ok for getting fluids...you can pretty frequently find Gatorade coupons in the weekly circulars even if it was for powdered gatorade that we would have mixed here. But my fear was that I would not be able to find a coupon for the good stuff...the stuff that allowed me to live OUTSIDE the bathroom.

I decided to check and see what exactly I could find online and lo and behold, I found that the experiment would be able to go forward in the case of a stomach flu!

Being sick while breastfeeding poses the challenge of not only finding something that works, but finding something that I can actually take that will not bother the baby. Checking out the list of approved meds for breastfeeding moms on KellyMom.com, I find that Immodium, Pepto Diarrhea Control, Maalox Antidiarrheal Caplets, Kaopectate II Caplets, and Immodium Advanced are class B drugs that I can take for my special "issues." So I then set out to see if I could find coupons for these items.

I search first for the Immodium, since it is my helper of choice. Ladies and Gents - Google is a good friend to me. I simply typed in "coupon, immodium" and am immediately directed to the Immodium website where I find a "Special Offers" section. There are four coupons available for four different medications that they offer that should cover any digestive issue one should have.

Next we search for the Pepto. I know Pepto has been around since forever, but it just reminds me of being sick when I was a kid and I have flashbacks of my mom pulling the sickly pink, disgusting tasting, lukewarm liquid from the cabinet and pouring it sloooooowly into the spoon for us to take. Oh god - how that's supposed to make anyone feel better, I have no idea. And fortunately for me, I cannot find any sort of current coupon online for the product that I can take, so at least I would be off the hook for having to have that horrible childhood experience on top of my current challenges!

Now on to the Maalox Antidiarrheal Caplets. Funny, when I think of Maalox, I think of getting help GOING to the bathroom, not stopping it. But I won't be finding out whether it would help me out, since I cannot find any coupons online that aren't for sale...hm...that's another post indeed!

Finally, we search for Kaopectate II Caplets. First of all - one of the search results that pops up says, "Buy diarreah online." Ha, no thank you. I've got plenty of that for free here. What are people thinking with that? A few search results down, however, I find a promising lead! A link to the Coupon Surfer has a coupon for $1.00 off any Kaopectate AD product. I would have to do a little more research to find out if the caplets would be included in that category, but that wouldn't be too much trouble. Well, I say that now, when I feel much better than I have in 3 days. Maybe the husband would be happy to take over the duties of coupon searching should I be stricken with an ailment during the coupon-only time period.

A quick flip through today's coupon circulars in the paper yielded me a big bunch of notta for the drugs I needed, but hey - if I had some allergies, then I have the hook-up for Zyrtec.

What this little experiment taught me was that I really need to start clipping any and all coupons that may or may not be usable to me at the time. I have seen all kinds of coupons for stomach ailment products in my circulars past, but have laughed as I threw them out with the offers for cutesy checkbook covers, collegiate themed happy clowns, and realistic baby dolls. I can clip all the coupons I might need - the ones for Tylenol or Pepto (blech!) or whathaveyou and then if I can't use them before they expire, I can just leave them by the products at the store for someone else to find and use.

And now it's time for me to slowly move back into the real world...laundry and other chores have piled up, and - unfortunately - I think my sweet husband has gotten the world's worst Father's Day gift from me: The Flu.

June 11, 2009

The Plot Thickens...

I'm going to get to those FAQpons ASAP - Promise - But first, let me just say that I have started to encounter some possible entanglements with my rules and they are not sitting pretty with me.

So the other day I get an email from one of my college friends saying she's going to be back in Alabama for a few weeks this summer and she hopes to see us all. She moved to Utah immediately after she got married in November of 2007 and I haven't seen her since May 2008 at her sister's wedding! So I am all excited to see her for the first time in a year and then it dawns on me: I CAN'T GO BECAUSE I CAN'T BUY GAS!

My husband says this is ridiculous and of course I will just go and see my friend.

But I think that is failing the experiment, clearly and simply, and I am determined not to go into this with failure falling immediately after the commencement of the experiment!

So I've been wracking my brain, trying to come up with the solution for this problem and I just can't seem to find one. No one around here gives gas coupons. And what's so crappy is that it would only have to be for like, $0.25 off to count, but OOOOH NOOOO.


Here is what I have decided my two options are:

  1. Search the internets high and low to come up with some sort of gas coupon and hope to God that if I find one, it is for gas stations in my area.
  2. Use a gift card I already own and buy gas outside the Walmart.
The second option seems like cheating to me. I mean, it's NOT a coupon. But it's not spending money, either, so it doesn't really go outside of the literal constraints of the experiment. But then that opens the door to all types of things, like buying the stuff I want (i.e. meat and fresh veg) with gift cards while buying the dry goods with coupons. And I don't want to go down the slippery slope but I reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaally want to see my friend.

I did not expect to have such a real life dilemma this early on, but here it is.

T-minus 27 days until I need a solution!

Also - don't forget to send me your ideas for "challenges"! Although this whole "trying to see a college friend with no gas" might be the best one yet. :-D

June 6, 2009

FAQ-pon (see what I did there? Funny, huh?)

I'm starting to get some good questions from folks about how things will work, and I figured it would be best to keep editing a single post and adding the questions with a link over here on the left than to do post after post of answering general questions or hiding answers that may be interesting to someone else within the comments.

  1. What can you do with Buy One/Get One (BOGO) offers?
    Oddly enough, this experiment isn't necessarily about saving as much money as possible. It is simply determining what you can and can't get with a coupon and how well you can live within the constraints of purchases made strictly with coupons. The BOGO offers will simply help me save money on items for which I already have a coupon, since at most stores you can purchase just one of the items for half price. Technically, I suppose since it is BOGO I would only need one coupon as the second item is free, but ethically, I'm not sure if I will do that since I know I can just buy one for half price!
  2. Are you only using coupons from the Sunday papers?
    No. As a matter of fact, I don't think I would have even thought to do this project if it hadn't been for all the coupons I've been receiving via email or finding online lately. It seems like I'm able to find a little more variety for the products I want and use, so it makes the experiment a little easier on me :-) Any coupon - paper or virtual - is fair game.
  3. Can you use online coupons?
    Absolutely. If it's a coupon - including a coupon code - it's in play.
  4. What if you get a coupon for an item that is contingent on the purchase of another item - such as $2.00 of any fresh meat purchase with the purchase of salad dressing (I'm not making that up. I used that coupon a few weeks ago!) - Can you use it?
    Yes...but only if I have a coupon for the contingent item. Since the project involves my purchasing only items that I have coupons for, then I have to stay true to that aspect of the experiment. Otherwise I feel I would open up a lot of other loopholes and the experiment would lose its (possibly imagined) integrity.
  5. What if something is free?
    Well, if it's free, then I don't have to buy it and therefore I do not need a coupon!
  6. What about discounts available from places such as AAA or Credit Unions?
    Unless it's free, if I ain't got a coupon, I ain't gettin' it!

June 5, 2009

Audience Participation

One of the things that I think will be so interesting about this is seeing how I can deal with situations as they come up where I will need to be inventive in order to stay within the confines experiment. However, in thinking about this last night, I started to worry that perhaps there would be more days than not where the blog will simply be me stating, "OH MY GOD I'M SO BORED BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE COUPONS AND CAN'T DO ANYTHING!"

That's when I thought, ok, perhaps I have a little experiment within the experiment. Something to up the anty, so to speak. That is where you come in, dear readers. What I need from you is your suggestions for mini-challenges that will make my days and this blog more interesting. Be creative! Make them easy. Make them difficult. Just make them!

Comments on this blog are moderated in order to keep creepy spam and mean things out of my blogosphere, but I will read every single one of them. If I get enough suggestions, I may do a reader poll for what challenge I will do next!

June 4, 2009

A Very Good Place to Start

When I quit my job in December of 2008 just prior to my daughter's birth, I decided that since I would not be bringing income into the household, that it was now my job to make sure that I let as little as possible go OUT of the household budget. I had seen news story after news story and blog after blog about those "coupon ladies," the "Stay-at-Home/Work-At Home Moms" who - with fancy coupon binder in hand - can buy two grocery carts of groceries for thirty-five cents and have so much extra dry goods stored up hither and thither that they could pretty much serve as fall-out shelters in the case of a national emergency/natural disaster. To me, this was all well and good but I was not looking to be able to feed a city with my free Rice-A-Roni, I just wanted to make sure that when I went to the grocery store I got the best deal on the foods I needed/wanted that I could possibly get.

Since getting a ninety-eight cent Sunday newspaper and all it's glorious ads and coupon inserts is my only investment into the process, I started playing the "Coupon vs. Grocery Circular" game on a regular basis about a month ago. The first time I saw my "total savings" hit over $40.00, I knew I was hooked. I've yet to hit the magic number of "$0.00" for a cart full of staples, but that's due in part to the fact that I am pretty brand loyal, I try to buy organic foods when possible, and I don't buy stuff that I know my husband and I won't eat.

So where does this blog and this experiment fit into my newly found past-time, you ask? Well, about 10 days ago, I found myself wondering if a person could live solely on what they could buy with coupons. At first I thought, "Oh, no problem!" but then I started to see some flaws in the plan. How often do you find coupons for fresh meat or produce? Rarely. And of those, how often is it for organic items? And then there is the trouble of buying anything beyond food or cleaning supplies, since items like gas and clothing are even less likely to have a coupon attached to them.

When I raised the question of possibly doing this with my husband, he thought it was an interesting idea. Of course, he would think that, because he travels for his business and wouldn't really have to participate out of necessity. But he helped me flesh out what I thought should be the "rules" for the experiment, so to speak. And here they are:
  1. I begin the 30 days with a full tank of gas. This is the only "prep" I'm allowing myself to do.
  2. The one item I can buy without a coupon is the Sunday paper, because that's where coupons live.
This experiment raises interesting questions that I look forward to answering. One thing I will be keeping close tabs on is how much money I spend/save. This comes into play especially when using coupons that require a multiple item purchase to use the coupon. I will keep a record of what I buy and how much it costs versus how much I might have spent buying only one of the item without the coupon/buying the store brand of that same item. Another thing I am watching for is the healthfulness (healthiness?) of foods that put out coupons. It would be nice not to have to live off of pasta and cereal for the month, but we'll see!

So please stay tuned to see how my adventure pans out. As a breastfeeding mother, I have to at least eat well enough to keep my milk production up! And I would definitely prefer, as a person who has some baby pounds left to lose, if I didn't derail all the work I've done so far to get close to my pre-pregnancy weight!