I can’t remember the last time I made a New Year’s Resolution and actually kept it but this year I have! No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. . . it really is April 1st and my commitment to live strictly on the budget I planned for our family in December and enacted January 1st is still holding strong. In order to get myself prepared to live off this budget (thus paying down any interest incurring debt sans mortgage and student loans in one year), I read several books, blogs and made a commitment to try couponing. I was a little skeptical about couponing but am a convert now. I had a hard time finding a book that had any advice in it that wasn’t filled with advice that we were already doing (driving one car, living in a small house, cooking our own meals rather than going out to eat, etc.). But some advice is better than no advice and one book even led me to receive $250 from the state of Nebraska! The money I was owed was “unclaimed property” which I believe to be an apartment deposit I made when I was a teenager. The money was easy to retrieve and arrived in the form of a check 4 weeks after I requested it. Talk about happy day! Here are some of the books, websites and couponing tips I relied on to get me going in the right direction. We have more money now than we did 4 months ago and I have also been able to quit my job in the process. Life is good right now.
Previous to couponing, we were spending about $125-$150 a week on groceries. Our grocery budget also includes soda, which my husband and I tend to drink a lot of. Now we are spending about $50. Sometimes more if I am stocking up on something and sometimes a little less, but it averages to about $50 (including soda which we probably spend about $10 a week on unfortunately). There are a lot of coupon critics out there, especially in the frugal people circles who think that if your bottom line is just to save money then buy rice and beans and to hell with everything else. . . you don’t really need the coupons because they are a gimmick from companies just to get you to buy their product anyway, but my goal was to not change what I was buying. I don’t want to feel like we are going without and sorry, but I need a little variety. My parents are ultra frugal. They eat bran flakes, brown rice, beans, eggs and the things they can from their garden on most days. They don’t mind eating like that and maybe when I am 65 years old I wont either but for right now, with 2 young picky eaters in the house, I am being realistic.
The trick with couponing is to know when to buy not what to buy. Here are some tips:
1) Stack coupons. I use Target a lot to stock up on things such as pantry items, frozen fruits, vegetables and chicken, household supplies and personal care items. Target accepts one manufacturer coupon and one Target coupon. Recently I took my brother there to stock up on razors. The razors he uses were on sale for $9. We used a $5 off 2 Target coupon and 2 $4 off 1 manufacturer coupon. The razors ended up costing him $2.50 per pack. So we got him enough to last 1/2 year and now he won’t need to worry about buying more until then or going to the store to buy them once a month saving him extra trips to the store which often also lead to impulse buys. I understand that the ultra frugal person would say “grow a beard” or “buy an electric razor”, etc. etc. But like I said, my goal is not to change what I do or what I buy but to change how much I spend. I don’t want to feel like I am going without or making a sacrifice. At the same time, I do make as many sacrifices as I can for environmental reasons, etc. however, I am not perfect.
2) Stock up. As mentioned above. When you feel the deal is “unbeatable” and you wont see it again for a while, stock up on it and then don’t worry about it. I know some people will argue that they don’t have space to store it, etc. I’m not talking about converting your basement into your own personal grocery store like those crazy people on Extreme Couponing. . . I’m talking about finding pasta sauce on sale for a quarter and buying 10 jars. I would say a 6 month supply would be a good goal. Everyone has space in a closet or under a bed to put some canned goods or other supplies. My house is less that 900 square feet. If I have room in my house to store stuff without looking like a bodega, I’m sure most people do to.
3) Read the ads and only buy what is on sale. It helps to read your newspaper ad every weekend and then buy what is on sale, using your coupons, preferably a “stack” of one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon. Don’t just buy mustard because you have a coupon for 50 cents off. Wait until you know the mustard will be on sale (you will get good at knowing when things are going to be on sale depending on what “season” it is in the case of the mustard most likely “barbecue season”) and save even more. Treat your coupons like money. People say they always forget to use their coupons. Treat that $1 off coupon like a dollar. You don’t forget to spend a dollar bill, do you?
Books & Web
I rely a lot on the people I follow on Facebook to tell me when there is a good deal. I also check a database online from Coupon Mom before going to Target so that I make sure I don’t miss something. The database Coupon Mom has on her site is something that most couponers rely on very much since she takes the work out of it for you basically by telling you how much each item is marked down. I also tend to like these ladies and in the beginning watched a lot of their videos on YouTube. They also have a book out that I sort of have my eye on however I’m not sure if I have kinda made it to that point where I learned everything I need to know to succeed and therefore don’t need the book but it looks great for someone just starting out: Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey: Learn Coupon Strategies to Save 000s at the Grocery Store
This is the book I read that led me to the website that helped me find that $250 I was owed: The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means Totally made reading the book worth it. The book also helps you put things into perspective when you learn what other people are doing across the country. The author is funny too so it is an enjoyable read.
This book also had a lot of great tips: America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams
I hope you too are able to make some major life changes in your financial life and that they work for you. Personally I find financial strife to be one of the most stressful things about trying to raise a family. If you can remove that stress and not have to worry about the grocery bill every time you trek off to the store, you can begin to relax and enjoy your family a little more. Good luck!