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No Dining March

Kristen at Couponing to Disney is hosting “No Dining March”.  You can read all about it HERE.

I LOVE THIS IDEA!!! When we were saving money to relocate (and living on only one paycheck/month – saving the other one) last year, this is something I instituted within our family.  But what a great concept of doing it en masse to help our budgets.  Similar to her “rules,” I allowed us “free” meals and ONE “cheat” each month.

I’ve decided to join in the “fun” (not that I find cooking 3 meals a day for my entire family always “fun”…), and see how much I can save.  Wanna join me/us????????

Kristen is hosting the event as a competition, with a prize (randomly selected) at the end of the month – so if you’re looking for some incentive, by all means CHECK HER OUT HERE!!!!!  I want to participate in the concept (after all, who DOESN’T need a little extra wiggle room in their budget?), so these are Kristen’s non-contest “rules”…

1. You must challenge yourself. Try to spend less than you spend now. If you don’t go out to eat at all, challenge yourself to try new meals this month. As long as you are challenging yourself when it comes to your family’s eating habbits, you can participate!

4. You are allowed 1 freebie meal [I inserted to add – this means that you go out once during the month – you get one chance to “cheat”]

5. Free meals do not count against you. This is a challenge to spend less money going out to eat than you usually spend. If someone else is paying for the meal or you have a coupon to make it free, great!

6. Here is a thought… consider keeping a tally of what you would of spent this month. For example, if you really want to go out for breakfast this morning and you resist… write that down! You could then donate that money to a food bank or save it for a goal you are working towards (like a trip to Disney World!).

LET’S SAVE SOME MONEY AND USE THAT STOVE / OVEN / MICROWAVE / CROCK POT THAT’S COLLECTING DUST IN OUR KITCHEN!

Isn’t this an adorable little wallet?  I’d feel so stylish if I pulled that out at Pottery Barn … I think it’d make me smile even at the Dollar Tree!  … But, it’s just not meant to be.  That is NOT my wallet.

THIS IS MY WALLET. (My hands look so much like my mothers!)
Yep – it’s official.  I’m barely 30, and have a “mom wallet.”  It’s the size (and weight) of a small cat.  But it contains EVERYTHING I need to function in the shopping world (in addition to the stack of coupons I keep in my car. (You can read about them HERE.)  In addition to basics (like my driver’s license, bank card, and the occasional dollar bill), it also holds all insurance cards, doctor’s business cards, some family pictures (though, apparently not any recent ones – oops!) …

… gift cards …

… occasional coupons …

… and REWARD PROGRAM CARDS!

(Wow – that was a long intro, eh? Sorry about that.) (Disclaimer – there’s more stuff in my wallet to make it that full, but I just didn’t photograph it.)
Reward Programs are another way I save money.  The ONLY of the programs that you see cards for that cost me money are AAA (which, if you use it for discounts when you shop, IS a reward program), and the Picture People Portrait Card.  ALL OTHERS WERE FREE.  I think it’s a complete waste of my Aaron’s hard earned money for me to PAY for a reward program that may or may NOT even pay for itself.
I think the grocery store cards are self-explanatory, so I won’t discuss those.  So are the punch cards for customer loyalty (like Cold Stone – we got those punched on our Valentine date! *smile*).  If you look at the photo, you’ll notice that I really don’t have THAT many stores represented.  These are the stores I frequent the most (except for Target, Kohls, Walgreens, and the Dollar Tree – none of them have such cards). Most of my online shopping is done through Amazon (with an Amazon Prime subscription – AMAZING deal if you shop there a lot – FREE 2 day shipping on most items, and it only costs $70something a whole year.  You can ship to ANY address, not just your own, so go in on the cost and “split” it with some of your family.  They give you the money, and you order their stuff for them.). I do a lot of other online shopping these days too – I don’t have the physical energy these days to do all my shopping in stores while dragging two kids with me.
Let’s discuss HALLMARK Crown Rewards.  Whether or not this is a rewarding program for you depends most likely on where you currently buy your cards.  If it’s at the dollar store, then this won’t help you any.  But if you buy them at the grocery store, then it’d mean an extra errand, but they cost the same at the Hallmark store.  You earn points based on cash spent in the store and on number of cards purchased.  So, I bought my 75% off Christmas cards there in January – and that one purchase ALONE got me 1/3 the way to a reward certificate.  Several times a year they mail me a flyer (coupon?) for buy one roll of wrapping paper, get one (or sometimes get TWO) free.  That still makes it cost more than the dollar store, but thrills me giddy!  So, I might buy 9 rolls in one shot, and there is another 1/3 the way toward a reward certificate, and I haven’t bought any birthday-type cards for anyone yet.  I think in 2009, I earned $35 in reward certificates alone at Hallmark.

Next – STAPLES Rewards.  Generally you receive 10% back for ink/toner & paper purchases, along with photocopying.  BUT – several times a year (like this past January), they offer 20% back.  So, in January I purchased what should be enough ink for 4-6 months for our printing needs, and received 20% back (mailed to me as a gift certificate to the store).  I also recycle my used ink/toner cartridges there for $3 each.  It’s possible to buy generic ink/toner online for cheaper, but none of the ones I’ve found seem to actually print as many pages as the “real brand” ones do for the various printers we’ve owned through the years.  In 2009, I believe I earned about $150 in staples rewards and ink cartridge recycling. (Some of you fellow left-brainers out there are doing that math right now and thinking “Goodness, that’s a LOT of money spent at Staples! – It’s not really, not all of the purchases were for our household – other people know that we have the card, and didn’t want to get one themselves, and just asked me to buy theirs for them.  Yippee for me!)

And then, there’s PNC Points.  Our checking account is at PNC.  If at a store, we select “credit” rather than “debit” for our check card, we earn points.  Points can also be earned by having your account associated with direct deposit, getting your statement online (rather than through the mail), and paying bills online. We’ve probably been enrolled in the program for 3 years now, and have earned around $400 in gift cards. Do you need to read that number again? $400.  PNC – paid – me – four – hundred – dollars – just – for – shopping!  BOOYA!  (Some of those gift cards in the photo are from our PNC Points!)
That’s just a sampling of a couple of the reward programs in which I participate.  I just did a quick calculation (based solely on memory), and I think in 2008 I saved / earned about $450 from reward programs (most of 2009 consisted of a “spending freeze” while we saved up money to relocate).  And that’s NOT counting CVS, Walgreens (which I didn’t frequent until 2010), OR grocery shopping (or free gas from grocery shopping).  And many of the punch cards I’ve had have been filled already – that’s why that photo had so few.  So – perhaps this helps answer some of the questions I’ve gotten as to HOW it’s possible that I purchased THIS PICTURE for a mere $13 out-of-pocket at Bed, Bath & Beyond (retail is $99).
My shopping life is mostly spent looking for good deals – on sale – with a coupon – hopefully a reward program – and a gift card! Remember – the more you SAVE, the more you have to SPEND / INVEST elsewhere!
I am not really “frugal” – my mother and sister do a MUCH better job at being frugal than I do.  I just don’t want to pay full price.  Why should I?  If I play my cards right I can live the lifestyle I want without paying through the nose for it.  (Isn’t that a disgusting image?  It’s soooo descriptive, though!)

Sunday night (after the boys were in bed), we finally sat down to get our tax info organized.  Last year I probably got everything in order in about 45 minutes – and we claim TONS of stuff!  This year we spent just under 2 hours, but that’s because we were having a good time chatting while I was organizing everything. It probably would have taken an hour if Aaron hadn’t been such a wonderful distraction! (love ya, babe!)

We always go to H&R Block – and our lady is FABULOUS!!! (If you’re in the Wheeling area, and want to try her out, let me know and I’ll get you her info.)  She’s been doing my taxes since I was probably 15 or 16 (yes – I’ve been filing ever since that age, and yes – she’s so good that I’ve driven the 8 hrs round-trip for the 10 years I lived in Central Penna for her to do them!).  She’s SIMPLY AMAZING – and always gets us a HUGE refund.  Okay, technically I get us a huge refund.  But each year we discuss with her probable “upcoming changes” in our lives (like a job change, buying a house, having a baby, moving, etc.), and she’s given us advice about what we should keep records of so that we can claim more based on those changes.

Now, I’m NOT about to get all personal with you about the specifics of our tax refund.  BUT – I’ve been asked by several people HOW we can get so much back as a refund – without us spending hours and hours working on it.  THAT I’m willing to discuss.

I keep an envelope on my desk, marked “TAXES”.  Whenever I pay a bill that could be deducted from our taxes, it’s immediately put in that envelope.  One example is our internet (Aaron only uses the internet at home for work – personal emailing is done on his blackberry – he and I probably both use the internet equally – so HALF of our internet bill is tax deductible).

Also into this envelope goes: receipts for charitable donations (paid by check), medical bills (receipts for medicine, doctor office visits, hospital stays, etc.), stubs from paying our property and school taxes, receipts for anything Aaron buys for work (blackberry holster, some of his magazine subscriptions, ink for our printer – only if it’s for work related printing, etc.), etc.
I always store the “GoodWill Valuation Guide” in here also.  Whenever we take items to the Salvation Army, we always ask for a receipt.  They date it, sign it, and give it to us.  WE are responsible for ACCURATELY listing the items donation, condition, and value of each item.  So, I always make a list of what’s in the bags before Aaron leaves the house to drop them off.  You can find their suggested values for your donated items HERE.  For those of you who don’t donate your used, but still good items – or do donate, but don’t think it’s worth your effort to get a receipt … ONE PAIR OF WOMEN’S JEANS ARE WORTH $21.  So, if you take the five pair that are two sizes too small and stuffed in your closet (and a fire hazard), you can claim $105 OFF your taxes!  TRUST ME – IT’S WORTH IT!  You do NOT need to have photos of your donated items – just a list on their receipt.  If you donate more than $5,000 in one year, you need a different form from the Salvation Army (which also lists from THEM how much they resold the item(s) for), so just make sure your donations are less than that each year.
As the year progresses, I also put in here the quarterly offering statements from our church, and statements about our various investments (only the ones that are needed for our taxes).  When the next one comes, I remove the previous.
I have never been audited, but I know people who have.  So, I always make sure that I have COMPLETE documentation for EVERY item I claim off my taxes.  I do NOT want to come up short if/when my time comes for an audit.  So, the next part of prepping for our taxes involves our checkbook.

Whenever I write a check that could possibly be tax-deductible, I mark it in the checkbook.  “T” means tax-deductible – “M” means medical.  Our bank doesn’t return checks, and our statement doesn’t show a copy of the cancelled check.  I can view cancelled checks for 3 months for FREE, but anything after that I’m charged for them to “research” the account. (pathetic, isn’t it?!!?)  So, every third month (four times a year), I have it marked on my calendar (which I use DAILY) to print out any possible tax-deductible checks.
See it there?  (Along with changing the furnace filter, and rotating our mattress?) Once a check’s printed, I highlight the “M” or “T” in my checkbook, and the printed copy goes into my tax envelope.
SO…….. once the time comes to get our paperwork together and file our taxes, all I have to do is empty the envelope – separate its contents into the corresponding piles – put in order, and crunch a couple numbers.  EASY PEASY!  Generally, it takes less than an hour.  This year was more involved, because we were able to count certain aspects of relocating (since it was for Aaron’s job), and we had two houses worth of taxes and mortgage interest.
This year my stack of “tax stuff” is probably 2 inches thick.  It’s broken down into these categories: Charitable Donations, House Stuff (mortgage interest, taxes, etc.), Aaron’s work stuff (mileage, magazines, internet, items purchased, etc.), Investments, and Relocating.  There’s also a couple items that don’t fit with anything else – like our safe deposit box. This year “medical” didn’t add up to 7.5% of our adjusted gross income.  But due to a change in our insurance, it’s possible that this coming year it will, so I’m still keeping those receipts!
For those of you who own a house, and HAVEN’T gone to H&R Block, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT – at least once!  Most likely there’s more things you can claim, that you’re not aware of.  It’s well worth the money for you to go at least once!!!
Click on these links at the H&R Block website for info on itemizing (and some deductions you can claim even if you don’t itemize)!
There’s TONS more info on their website – so make sure you check it out.  Don’t sell yourself short of a fat refund check just because you didn’t take the time to do your homework.

#4 – shopping week TWO

This will be my final post about my actual shopping trips.  I’m sure you’re now bursting into tears – wondering how you’re ever going to survive without constantly seeing what I buy – and at what store – and how much I pay for it.  But – trust me – you’ll survive.  I’ve gotten a few questions about some more “specific examples” of my purchases, as well as some actual questions (I’ll answer some of those at the end).  So – here we go.

This week (today, actually) I shopped at Walgreens and Giant Eagle.  We’ll start with Walgreens, because these SAME principles work at CVS, and even if Walgreens isn’t in your area, I’m positive CVS will be.  This week Walgreens had more items I was interested in, and CVS appealed less to me.  (They actually had several cross over sales, but I decided to buy those items at Walgreens and save myself a trip.)  So…

Walgreens

I spent quite a bit of time preparing for this shopping trip – almost an hour.  I started by visiting Couponing to Disney and clicking on her Walgreens section.  Once I sorted through the deals she suggests, I consulted my own circular to make sure what I was interested in was at my local store.  Next I collected my coupons (using her information as a guide).  The longest part for me was deciding what would go in which transaction (I did two) and adding up how much each transaction would ring out as. – – – You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

So – transaction #1 was all the items that gave me back Register Rewards (coupons that print at the register for “x off the next transaction”.  ALL of the items I chose to buy this week that had RR, I ALSO had a coupon for – and they were already on sale.  (I figure if I’m gonna do this, I might as well get the biggest bang for my buck possible, eh?)  Transaction #1 consisted of…

And yes – everything was something I was really interested in buying.  (I need new face lotion – running low on body lotion – Aaron’s razor has seen its last shave – my razor (Schick intuition) doesn’t seem to have any coupons in the past 6 months so it’s time for a new brand – etc.)  And – I paid $46.34.  That might seem like a fortune for those items when you can purchase “store brand” items for MUCH less (and a couple years ago I would have TOTALLY agreed with you) – but just wait.

I saved $35.86 on this order.  Not bad – that’s what, about 44%?  Most people would say that was a pretty successful shopping / saving trip, eh? – – BUT – –

The Nivea gave me $5 in RR.  
The Venus razor gave me $4 in RR.  
The Gilette razor gave me $3 in RR.  
And the Aveno gave me $10 in RR.  

Oh – and I also have a rebate coupon for the full price of the Gilette Razor (So – I was actually PAID $3 to buy it).

So, what was I going to DO with that $22 in RR???  I was definitely NOT going to let myself FORGET to use them before they expire!  I spent them on transaction #2.

THIS is why I spent almost an hour earlier today deciding what I was going to buy at Walgreens.  I scoured their sales and my coupons to get the biggest bang for my buck.  For transaction #2 I spent a whopping $1.23.  Even at $23.23 (what I paid plus the RR) it would have been a good deal – the batteries ALONE were more than $10 at regular price.  Now – there was one tiny slip up – which I DID catch – but not soon enough.  The register forgot to print out the $10RR for the Aveno.  I didn’t realize that till I was about ready to pay for this order, a line was forming behind me, and my toddler announced to everyone in the entire store that he had reached the end of his rope.  So, rather than asking the guy to void the entire order and print out the MIA RR, I just paid, and the manager brought one right over to me. (He had noticed as I went through the store how, um, calculated I was being – so he didn’t even look at my receipt – he took my word for it.)

So – let’s pretend my toddler didn’t have echoing screams in the store, and the RR printed out the way they were supposed to, and I had used it on the transaction.  All together – between the two transactions I spent $47.57 – I saved $83.16 – oh, don’t forget the $8.99 rebate – I actually saved $92.15 – 66%.  I bought 28 items – which averages to $1.70 EACH.  Not bad.  So – depending on how you look at it – I saved $92.15 from about an hour’s prep work.  So, today I EARNED (my family) $92.15 an hour.  How much do YOU earn an hour at YOUR job?

Giant Eagle

Giant Eagle was much more cut and dry.  Today I purchased 22 items…

Using coupons – and sales – I spent $42.47 – I saved $32.23 – 43%.  (Everything was on sale – and everything had a coupon – the Tide Stain Release was FREE.)  I also got two free cookies (one for each boy) from the Bakery.  And somewhere in the store I dropped my coupon for the sausages – that hurts.

I also got $8 in coupons toward my next order…

… and earned $0.10 off my next fill-up.

I’ll add a quick disclaimer here.  In the past three weeks I’ve bought enough face soap, lotion, chap stick, etc. to last me a year.  So – next week I won’t buy any more of those items (unless they end up costing less than $0.50 – that might tempt me…).  It’s NOT necessary to purchase non-perishables like that ONLY when you actually NEED them.  Buy them when they’re cheapest.

[EDITED TO ADD]

Recap of Week Two

Actually – this was week three of my shopping (but two week of me blogging about it).

SPENT – $87.04
SAVED – $124.38
PERCENTAGE SAVED – 59%

PURCHASED 50 ITEMS
FOR AN AVERAGE OF $1.74 EACH

COUPONS EARNED FOR NEXT TRIP – 
$22 from Walgreens (already used them)
$8 from Giant

 Questions Answered

Q – Okay, so you buy groceries that are not at full price – can you actually make real meals out of this stuff?
A – Yes.  I keep a well stocked (stuffed) pantry / freezer / chest freezer.  My fridge is usually actually pretty empty – it mostly has produce, dairy, and left overs.  When I go grocery shopping, I generally shop based on sales, and then decide what meals I can make from what’s in the house.  Of course if I’m having a diner party, then I go out and buy ingredients for a recipe.  But my house is so well stocked (from previous sales / coupons), that if there’s a problem finding something nutritious to cook, it’s because I’m just not in the mood to cook it.  I make sure I use everything up before it goes bad – but I might not make those cookies till Spring.  They were a good price today – so today I bought them.

Q – But, doesn’t there have to be a way to feed your family for less? I mean, come on, is pricey Digornio really necessary when the store brand tastes fine?
A – My point in explaining all of this is NOT to show how cheaply I can feed my family.  When we were preparing to relocate, I spent an average of $25 on groceries each week – for about 4 months straight.  If push comes to shove – I can do it – I have done it.  (I have a girlfriend for whom that’s been about her budget for years now.)  That’s not my point.  I’ve had friends ask how I shop – if it’s REALLY possible for me to buy 9 boxes of name brand frozen veggies for 16 cents each.  I’m sharing with them (and you) the process.  Our budget doesn’t currently require that I feed my family for $0.30 per person / per meal (that’s what $25 per week averages out to with a family of four).  I didn’t just go through the circulars and find the cheapest of the cheapest to blog about.  I shopped the way I shop – and I’m sharing it.

Q – So, what’s your point?
Point #1 – You can have the lifestyle without paying through the nose for it.  I know we’re in a recession, and consumer spending might help it rebound a bit faster.  But my foremost responsibility is to turn this house into a home – and part of that is “finding” the money to do just that.  I save in one area so I can spend (or invest) in another.  My purpose as a sahm is NOT to help Tide’s 4th Quarter profit margins – but one of my roles IS to stretch the money that my husband works so hard to make.


Point #2 – If you have a tight budget, you CAN still buy things you WANT and be able to afford them.  You might not buy that fancy razor this week – but maybe next week the store will PAY you to buy it.  Do your homework.  If you want it badly enough you’ll find a way (other than just racking up your credit card).


Point #3 – Use the resources that are out there.  I love Couponing to Disney.  Moms Need to Know is another great resource.  You don’t have to get a degree in “saving” or “couponing” – the internet is a fabulous tool.  Basically all you have to do is buy two newspapers, and wait for those blogging ladies to hand you the deals on a silver platter.


Point #4 – My grandmother lived through the depression.  My mother grew up learning how to stretch a penny into a dollar.  I was taught this stuff from birth.  (You should see my sister save – she puts me to shame!)  But most of my generation hasn’t been taught how to save – only how to spend recklessly and wrack up debt.  A can of Progresso tastes the same if it costs you $2.29 or $0.88 (what I paid for it tonight – on sale with a coupon).


Point #5 – I don’t care what your budget is.  The more you save in one area, the more you have to spend elsewhere.  Figure out what your budget is – your actual expenses – your priorities – your future goals (and what you need to get there) and MAKE IT WORK!

#3 – SALES

Something new
that I’ve started in 2010
is marking on my calendar when
the stores I frequent are having
their big sales.  

One that I remember from previous experience is that the cheapest time to buy paint (like Behr) is Memorial Day.  I’ve also commented that the last week of January, Hallmark usually marks their Christmas cards to 90% off.

But I wanna do SO MUCH BETTER than that.

I already have signed up online for emails from the stores I frequent the most.  I’ve been getting those emails for the last year or two at least.  But – I’m wanting to be more purposeful in shopping when an item’s already on sale.  Why should I pay full price???  I’m a stay-at-home mom.  Aaron’s job is to earn the money – one of my jobs is to save it as I spend it.

So – I’ve started marking on my calendar when stores are having their big sales.  There is absolutely NO reason for me to pay full price for anti-bacterial hand soap from Bath & Body Works this week if in two more weeks they’re going to have their semi-annual sale where it’s basically Buy One Get Three Free.  Right???  It makes MUCH more sense financially to stock up twice a year there (at prices which will then rival Soft Soap) during the big sale.  Or why in the world should I pay full price for furniture from Ethan Allen to fill our empty basement in January – when perhaps their “everything is 80% off” sale is in March?  For the most part stores are pretty regular when it comes to sales – and I’m gonna be ready for them.

Some things are obvious – or at least I think they’re obvious.  I ALWAYS buy decorations AFTER the season is over.  I currently own ZERO Valentine decorations – 2 spring decorations – and only a handful of summer ones.  Our budget hasn’t been determined yet to know if I’ll start adding to those seasons this year, or wait one more.  But I’m pretty good for Fall and Christmas.

I also ALWAYS buy clothing after the season’s over.  For example – last week I went to Kohls and Target and got almost all of Alex’s clothes for next fall/winter.  I don’t think anything I got was more than 20% of the original price (at least 80% off).  Those prices equalled consignment and thrift store prices.  And they’re NEW – they’ll definitely hold up for two kids to use them. (Except for the jeans and socks – Alex has started to wear holes in his this year for the first time ever).

One of my New Year’s Resolutions (if you can call them that) is to change how I spend money.  It’s not really that I plan to spend LESS – I’ve got a house (that’s more than double the size of our previous one) to decorate.  But I will be spending more wisely.  Aaron has been blessed with a job that doesn’t require us to do all of our shopping at the thrift store.  BUT – I WILL NOT PAY FULL PRICE!  For the better part of a year (as we were preparing to relocate) we were able to live off one paycheck and save the other one each month.  Well, our current mortgage is bigger than our previous one. So is our electric bill – and we suddenly have a gas bill too. BUT – by June we should be able to do that once again.  And our current budget allows for our 30 year mortgage to be paid off in 15 years.  Who knows what the future holds for any of us … we REFUSE to live “at or beyond” our means.

Anywho… this post was about sales.  I just wanted to share with you that one more “trick” I’ve picked up is to mark when your favorite stores are having their biggest sales – so you’ll be able to buy what you really want and only pay a fraction of the price.

 It IS possible to live the lifestyle 
without paying through the nose.

#2 – shopping week ONE

Better late than never, eh?  I planneded to post this ages ago, but I wanted to include CVS and Walgreens on it also. I didn’t make it to CVS this past 2 weeks, though.  Life got in the way.  So, I’ll just have to do another post of shopping week TWO to show the CVS process.  I should note that I typed this post over the course of several days – most of it more than a week ago, so please ignore the “today I” comments – they were true the day I typed it – but not today.  Today I’m stranded at home because of a fabulous blizzard.
Now, for those of you just tuning in… I’m not just bragging here.  I was ASKED by several people to explain to them ON MY BLOG how I shop / SAVE.  Some of my friends have been asking me for at least a year to explain to them how I “stretch” the Feitner’s dollars.  I’ve already done a post about coupon-ing.  This one is a recap of my real shopping trips – the past two weeks.  I think there will probably be at least 3 more posts coming on this topic – sometime this month.  So, I’ve numbered them as part of the title – so you can more easily recognize them.

Target

I visited Couponing to Disney‘s link on this week’s Target Deals – scrolled to bottom and selected to view it as a PDF.  As I read through the pdf, if there was an item I knew I wouldn’t want (like dog treats since we have no dog), I clicked it once, and it automatically is deleted.  Once I had the list of potentials, I printed it out.  

Next I went back to the master Target list and clicked on each link she had for a coupon.  Once it printed (most can be printed twice per computer), I put a check mark by it.  Next I looked through my stack of coupons (which is incomplete because saving them is still a new part of my routine) and cut out the corresponding ones, and put a check by it.  On the left of the item is a check mark(s) that tell me how many of the products I can get with my coupons.  At the store – once the item was in my cart, I wrote OK.  [I also wrote diapers on it – I wanted to check out if my coupons for diapers were worth the money or not – BJs was cheaper.]

Not all newspapers actually have all coupons in them.  Not all stores carry all of the same products as all the other stores.  And not all stores have their products priced the same as all the other stores.  Here’s what ended up finding its way into my cart.

I bought 14 items – spent $14.49 – and saved $33.17.  Not bad if I do say so myself.

Giant Eagle

I’m still getting used to the fact that in this area, Giant Eagle’s specials run Thurs-Wed rather than Sun-Sat like Giant did back in Central Penna.  I’m also still learning how frequently (or infrequently) different items I buy go on sale.  I think I’m going to need one more month of watching the circulars.  This morning I spent about 15 minutes making out my list – based on what’s on sale – and collecting my coupons.

Let me explain what my list means.  Digornio is on sale 3 for $13 – (3 in the circle means I must buy 3 to get that price). The c in the circle means I have a coupon – the “-1” beside the c means that I only need to buy one to use the coupon. [I found a pull off coupon at the store for $1 off two pizzas.] Ragu had a coupon if I bought 3 of them.  The items in the bracket with $20 written on the right – were a special being run this week – if I purchase $20 of those items, then a $5 coupon would print for my next trip.  So, I did the math (at home rather than at the store with screaming kiddos), and got 6 Ragu, 1 Skippy, 5 Knorr, etc.).  Bread was buy one – get one free.  Oatmeal was on sale last week – not sure if the sale’s continuing – wanted to check (’cause some do without re-advertizing) – but it wasn’t still on sale.

Now – before you see what I purchased – don’t judge too harshly.  I have LOTS of fruit, vegetables and meat at home already in the fridge, freezer and pantry.  Last week’s sales were better for those items than this week’s were.  So, I bought extra last week, and less this week.  I went shopping with both kids, and got in and out in less than an hour.  Here’s what made it into my cart.

You’ll notice that the ONLY store brand item (besides ground beef) is butter.  Every other brand name item (except the pizza and oatmeal) was cheaper than the corresponding store brand one (on sale this week and with a coupon).  This isn’t always true – but it was this week.  I’m NOT bashing store brands!  Generally ALL of my dairy products, frozen veggies, and pasta are store brand.

Some of my “poor prior planning” items include the cake mix (Aaron’s birthday is Sunday), Oreos (to decorate his cupcakes), creamer (I ran out and it’s not on sale this week).  The oatmeal was on sale last week (not this week) – but Aaron didn’t ask me to buy him some to keep at work until this week.  And the refrigerated cookies are because I’m … um … craving chocolate this week.  Soda is much more cost effective to buy in 2-liter bottles, but that’s not practical for how infrequently our family drinks it.  And I ALWAYS buy  Juicy Juice in a can (then reconstitute it with water) – because it’s cheaper that way, but this week, the bottle was cheaper instead.

This week’s shopping trip (plus last week’s items) will make: homemade vegetable soup, grilled cheese, meatloaf, a crockpot of chilli, baked potatoes, chicken parmesean, broiled asparagus, hawaiian chicken salad, and loaded nachos grande.  The pizza and pasta packs are for whenever I have a “rough” day – easy food for me to fix.

So, now for the damage.  I bought 55 items – spent $108.29 – and saved $42.36 – 28%.  This was a so-so week.  I usually average around 35%, and my record for a grocery store is 62%.  Last week’s grocery bill was $60something – so my bill isn’t always as high as it was this week.

I also received $5 off my next shopping trip,

and earned 20 cents off our next fill-up.  Oh, look at that, we need to fill up our gas tank by Sunday to use the $1.20 off a gallon before it expires.

Giant Eagle – week 2
So, week one at Giant Eagle I spent $108 on my groceries.  But I’ve commented before that generally I budget about $75 per week.  It looks like I absolutely BLEW my budget.  However …..  Last night we finally got this week’s shopping done there.  (Threw out the receipt before I could photograph it, unfortunately.)  So much was purchased the week before – that this week’s grocery list consisted of: milk, apples, bananas, frozen juice, salad mix and garlic bread.  The total was approximately $15 – because after using the $5 off next purchase coupon, the we paid just over $9.  Salad mix was a BOGO, and had a coupon for the garlic bread.  So… Bought 15 items – spent around $9.50.  (I really wish I had the receipt…..)  This makes the average for two weeks of groceries for the Feitners $59.50 each week.

Walgreens

[EDITED TO ADD – I also utilized couponingtodisney.com as a resource for my Walgreens trip planning.]  This was my first week shopping at Walgreens – so next time I’ll do MUCH better.  In fact, this was my first time EVER INSIDE a Walgreens.  So, there was a learning curve for me.  First thing I learned – at CVS you need an Extra Care Card to get the “bucks” to print off at the register.  At Walgreens, they print automatically! (YAY – this means that hypothetically I could go from store to store to store and repeat the process – because most circulars say “only good on one item” – the next store would have NO IDEA I had just gotten the sale – BOOYAAA!)  So – I went to Walgreens (with coupons in pocket) and stocked up my cart based on WHAT WAS ON SALE – not on what I needed that day.  Then I went to the register.  First transaction – I bought ONLY
Now – I don’t use them. (If you do – let me know, I’ll be MORE THAN HAPPY to pass them on!)  Why in the world would I spend hard earned money on something I don’t use???  Because Walgreens PAID ME to buy them.  Oh yeah!  They were on sale for $7.99 – and when I bought them (one time per store) – a “coupon” for $8.00 off my next purchase printed for me.  I know a penny isn’t much.  BUT – I also had a coupon for $2 off.  So – I paid $5.99 to buy them, and then was immediately given a coupon for $8 off my next purchase (which was waiting in my shopping cart) – Walgreens PAID ME $2.01 to buy blink gel tears! (And I didn’t even have to pay tax on it!)
So – my next transaction was waiting in my cart.  I wasn’t about to “forget” to use that $8.00 coupon! (The only problem was that I added incorrectly in my head – that’s what I get for doing the math in the store rather than at home when I was looking at the circulars.  I added up the total of what the items would be – forgetting about the coupons I had for them.  So – lesson re-learned. YOU MUST USE THE ENTIRE AMOUNT ON THE COUPON at once or you lose the remaining balance.  I was caught off guard, so I grabbed whatever I saw – 3 candy bars – and added them up incorrectly once again (I only needed 2).  So … transaction #2 purchased this…
… and spent this – $1.05.  (I have NO IDEA why this will only load sideways – the actual file is correct – sorry – you’re just gonna have to turn your head.)

So – all together I spent $7.04 – and saved $18.57 – I saved 73%.  And it all started because Walgreens PAID ME to buy something. (Grrr – what is wrong with blogger today?  This is really annoying – I’m sorry!)
Oh – AND I got a coupon for $2 off my NEXT order!
Recap of Week One
Actually – this was the total of TWO weeks of my shopping (but one week of me blogging about it).
SPENT – $139.32
SAVED – $99.86
PERCENTAGE SAVED – 42%

COUPONS EARNED FOR NEXT TRIP – $7.00

AVERAGE PER WEEK – $69.66 (just UNDER my $75 average)
This fed a family of four (granted – two of them are young) AND filled my pantry with items which will last at least three weeks.  And – the only things that happened to be “store brand” were butter and ground beef.  The way I shop (by getting more than I need just that week and) using a coupon when items are on sale makes it cheaper to use name brands than the store brand (for most items).
This type of shopping/saving CAN be done with dietary restrictions in mind – for a whole year I had to buy “no or extremely low sodium” items – and my grocery bill only went up about $5 a week.  It just takes a bit of organization – using coupons – and utilizing your internet resources (like couponingtodisney.com) – BUT IT CAN BE DONE!!!

#1 – COUPONING

Okay – I’ve been asked by several people to do a post on how I coupon / shop / SAVE.  I’m gonna end up splitting this up into several posts over the next week or two.  This first one will be about COUPONS.  Ever since I was a little girl, one of my “chores” (because I actually found it fun – I’m weird, I know) each week was to cut the coupons from the Sunday paper.

When I was growing up I learned math (in part) by grocery shopping with my mother.  That was before the days of the unit price being listed on the shelf.  My mother taught me how to compare prices with quantity in the package to find out which really was the better deal – and then figuring in a coupon and how much money we had to spend that day and what else was on the list that we still had to budget for.  That was before the debit card – so if she had a twenty in her wallet feed the whole family for the whole week – that was it. (And, no, that’s NOT an exaggeration – my mother taught me FRUGALITY!)  Now days it’s SO much easier since the store tells you which product costs less proportionately.

But – back to coupons.  It’s important to decide what method works best for YOU – for your shopping style – for your budget – and for how your brain is programmed.  Here’s what I’ve found works best for me.  (I forgot to include in the photo my actual “grocery list” and store flyer – I’m planning to go for groceries this evening.)  I’ll break down each pile for you to explain.

The Coupon Book
Each Sunday (and around here Tuesday as well) when I get a paper, I go through the coupons, and cut out the ones for items I regularly buy.  I take this book to the grocery store with me.  But before I go (when I’m looking through the flyer, I pull out coupons for the items I’m planning to buy – along with items for competing brands.  [Perhaps Charmin is listed on sale (and I have a coupon for it) – but when I do a price comparison, it might be a better deal for me to buy Cottonelle.  If my coupon for Cottonelle isn’t handy I might spend more than I needed to.  Remember – sale flyers are also a form of marketing – make them work for YOU, not for Mr. Manufacturer.]
I also put coupons in here that I receive in the mail (like the Huggies flyer you see on the bottom).  It’s a good practice to sign up online for “info” from all the major brands you use.  They frequently mail you coupons to try to keep you loyal.  [Note – I NEVER use my personal email address for this sort of thing!  I have a second email account (the same as my personal one – with my maiden name included) that I use for all “junk mail” type of things I sign up for.]
Personally, I find it a waste of my time to put all the coupons into the individual sections – but I still use the book (bought at Michaels a couple months ago for $1) because it’s a convenient size to fit in my purse, holds all the coupons together, and is bright enough that it generally doesn’t get misplaced.  And I always put on top of the pile of coupons the ones for money off my whole order – so I don’t forget about them.
More Sunday Coupons
I buy more than one Sunday newspaper.  One is delivered to us (for convenience – or in case the kids are sick and we don’t get to the store to pick up another one).  And the Sunday before a holiday there aren’t coupons.  But other than that, I buy two papers – in another month or so, after I get more used to the local grocery sales I’ll probably increase it to at least 3 papers.  All I have to do is use two coupons (for $1 each) to brake even, and I do MUCH better than that!
Saving my unclipped coupons, and labeling them is a recent addition to my couponing.  I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been following Kristen at Couponing to Disney.  Well, when she lists all the deals at Target / CVS / Walmart / etc., she also includes where you can find the coupon for each particular item.  So, on the front cover of each section, I write which paper it came from.  This way I don’t need to go through the entire stack to find the one listed. These get bundled together with a huge clip (mine just broke and I need to get another one from Staples).  Obviously once all the coupons are expired that section will be recycled.
Entertainment Book
I first bought an Entertainment Book just before we bought our house on Melbourne.  The two smaller bedrooms didn’t have light fixtures (just capped wires).  The builder bought the rest of the lights from Yale Electric, and we wanted them to match.  There was a coupon in the Ent. Book that saved us more than the book itself cost.
Recently I bought the 2010 one at Bed, Bath and Beyond – used a 20% off coupon, and there was a $10 mail in rebate.  I’ve already saved more from the coupons I’ve used from it than I spent on the book – and it’s still January.
Restaurant Coupons
We eat out more than we should.  Aaron, are you proud of me for admitting it?  (smile)  Aaron hates cooking, and when I’m having a “bad” day and refuse to cook, we go out to eat (or order in).  So, restaurant coupons are very important to us!  But once again – you can’t use them if you can’t find them!  So, I keep them all together.  These coupons come from the newspaper coupon section (like the Red Lobster and Olive Garden), from ValuPac (like the Buca di Deppo), from the newspaper inserts (like the McStroke ones), from signing up to get “info” on the restaurant website (like the Panara), and from reward programs (like the Starbucks).  There’s actually probably coupons in that stack for 50 restaurants (double that if you include the ones in the Entertainment Book).  These are also clipped together.
Another great place to find restaurant coupons (besides Restaurant.com) is on their website. For example – Wednesdays have become hectic for our family because Alex’s swim lesson ends at the same time Aaron gets done work, and I try to already have dinner on the table.  So, dominos.com has online coupons – I order ahead of time, swing by on the way home (pick up is ALWAYS cheaper than delivery for pizza – pizzas generally cost less and there’s no tip!), and we generally get two mediums for $5.55 each.  Same price as Digornio on sale (or with a coupon) – and we can sit down to eat 5 minutes after walking in the door.
Store Coupons

This category is also kept clipped together.  Since we just moved, some companies sent us “welcome to the neighborhood” coupons (like Pottery barn and Benjamin Moore).  The Sunglass Hut coupon came from ValPac, Toys R Us came because I signed up for the Birthday Club for both my boys (they periodically send me $5 off $25 coupons, and the month of the birthdays a $3 off $3 or more).  Other coupons in this category are because I signed up for “more info” or “sale info” at various stores.  The Tanger Outlets booklet was from a friend, who found a good deal there, and thought I’d be interested too.  Most Outlets offer coupon bookets – just go to guest services and show them your AAA card.
Ooh – that reminds me – you can save SO MANY places just by showing them your AAA card!  I haven’t needed to call a tow truck in 5 years (praise God), but my membership IS still worth something!!!  Check out the list of discounts HERE.
It Pays to Go Green
Did you know that more and more stores are giving you cash off for using a reusable bag?  My grandmother ALWAYS had me take bags to Giant when I went grocery shopping for her – and now it’s actually “cool” to do just that!  For example, Target gives 5 cents for each one used!
At CVS, if you buy a GreenBagTag (they’re usually $1 each, but occasionally go on sale for 50 cents), and attach it to any reusable bag, they’ll keep track of how many times you’ve used it.  Every 4th time (limit one per day), a coupon will print out for $1 off your next purchase.  So, if you shop there 1 time each week, at the end of the year, you’ll have earned $13 dollars.  Or, if you stop in every day and buy something, you’ll have earned $91.  I guess now’s a good time to continue with CVS. (By the way – my girlfriend Jess is the one who taught me how to shop smart at CVS – and for that, my bank account will be FOREVER indebted!)
Here’s how I’ve chosen to get the most from CVS.  I mentioned in a previous post (you can see that example of some serious savings HERE), that Couponing to Disney does all the hard work for you when it comes to coupons and deals.  She tells you which store – which item -current price – how many times you’re allowed to buy the sale priced item – which coupon – etc.  So, each week I go through her list and on an envelope I write down the items that I would actually USE – and inside the envelope I include all corresponding coupons.  So, as I’m out and about (I pass a CVS almost every time I go into town), I stop by and make a quick stop to pick up one or two of the items.  Remember – every 4th trip you earn $1 coupon.  [Obviously this wouldn’t be cost-effective if CVS was out of your way – but I literally drive right past one several times a week.] As I buy the item (or if they’re out of stock, I cross it off).
This week only had 3 items of interest for me – last week had 9. I threw out my receipts, but if my memory serves me correctly, last week I bought 12 items at CVS, spent $4, and got $12 back in Extra Care Bucks.  So, I bought the items that gave ECB in the first transaction, then immediately used them to pay for the remaining items in my cart.  [I’ll plan to save my next couple receipts so you can better see what I mean.]
Target
Target’s coupon policy states that you can use one Target Coupon and one Manufacturers coupon for the SAME item!  If you look at the ones in the photo, three of them say “Target Coupon” in the black box.  The other says “Manufacturer’s Coupon” but still has the Target logo.  That coupon can be used in ANY store – not just Target.  Tricky, eh?  So – in the example above – if I buy (the correct sizes) one box of diapers, and one box of wipes …. I can use the $7 coupon AND a manufacturer’s coupon for diapers, and one for wipes.  Do this when the items are on sale and WHAMMO!  Cheap diapers.  (Incidentally – the cheapest place I’ve ever found for diapers is BJs – but this was just an example.)  I keep all my “Target Coupons” in an envelope entitled Target.  Then I can easily find them.
Organization
This seems like a lot of work, but it isn’t really.  The most work is just setting up your system, then once it’s in place, you just run with it.  When you sort through the mail and see a sale or coupon flyer from Hunter Douglas blinds (which once upon a time you would have considered junk mail), you remember that you need to replace the muave blinds that came with the house, and put the flyer in the clip with all the other coupons for non-grocery, non-restaurant shopping.  Your budget (and how good the sale is) will determine if this is the time to use it or not – but if you don’t remember they’re having a sale, you might get angry one night at the blinds, rip them off the wall, and then drive to Bed, Bath and Beyond (forgetting to take your 20% off coupon with you) and pay full price for something that’s of lesser quality.
So, here’s how I organize all of my coupons.  Step one – KEEP THE COUPON till it’s expired.  I probably throw out 95% without using them, but the ones I do use – I save TONS!
This stack generally stays in the car.  It’s hard enough to remember the diaper bag and my wallet when I head out to do errands with the boys.  I don’t need to remember MORE.  I’ll never use a reusable bag (and save money) if it’s not already in the car.  I’ll not use the BOGO coupon for Happy Meals (when I’ve pushed the kids too long to get “just one more” errand done, and we’re all starving and about to throw temper tantrums) if the coupon isn’t in the car.  I’ll not use the coupon for the car wash if the Entertainment Book’s not in the car.  I won’t remember what I wanted at CVS (or have the coupons) if that envelope’s not in the car.  And just in case I decide to run into ToysRUs for something, I won’t have the $8 in coupons if they’re not in the car.  Does this make sense?  IF IT’S NOT HANDY – I WON’T USE IT.  Most stores will accept a coupon on an item, if you bring it back within 24 hours (because you forgot to use it), but I’m usually too lazy to do that, so HAVE YOUR COUPONS WITH YOU!
This stack stays in my basket of paperwork that’s in my kitchen.  I only pull these items out when I’m planning a shopping trip.  I’ll discuss in a different post how I plan shopping trips.
Whew.  That was a long post about coupons.  Are you still with me?  I can think of at least 5 more posts I’d like to do on the topic of SAVING – sales – reward programs – my Grandma’s teachings – freebies / samples – and a week in the life of Julia’s shopping trips.  But I also have a real life to live (though it’d be awfully nice to just blog all day).  So, please bear with me. I’ll try to get to them as quickly as suits my family’s schedule and needs.