The last couple of years I have been staying at home nearly full time with our beautiful kids while Andrew has been going out into the big bad world (okay... medical school) and bringing home the bacon (okay... students loans... whatever!!) Anyway, things have been tight, but really cushy, if you know what I mean. Whoever says that being able to stay home and raise your kids right isn't the ultimate gig is nuts. It is the best job ever. After moving from Missouri to Michigan our cost of living month to month almost doubled while our income stayed about the same. So... we were faced with the choice of me going back to work or figuring out some creative ways to make things stretch thinner than they already were which honestly seemed like and impossible task. So... I started updating my resume and polishing my interviewing skills ready to get back into the game just in time for our stake to put together an awesome provident living fair. So Andrew and I loaded up the gang and headed to the stake center for the fair... mostly planning on seeing lots of friends and feeling warm and fuzzy for supporting the leaders in their efforts and such. But, what we found that day has REALLY changed our lives. There were tons of really interesting booths on everything from building your own solar oven from a cardboard box to first aid on a shoestring to how to fix your car by yourself to how to teach your children to work. All of the booths were interesting and informative and you could tell that the people who had been asked to put them together had really put their hearts into it. When I saw the booth on using coupons to shop I have to admit that I kind of rolled my eyes. Don't get me wrong, I love LOVE love saving money and bargain shopping has always been a favorite pastime of mine, but my previous experiences with coupon shopping had left me SUPER skeptical of using coupons... I had found myself buying things I didn't want and would probably never use and not being able to buy what I needed when I needed it and spending WAY more money that I would have otherwise. Add to that the fact that I have NEVER been a person who has planned my meals and then made a list and gone to the store with it... I considered the grocery store a place of discovery, inspiration, and creativity and enjoyed going to the store each week to find what combination of what's-on-sale and what-looks-delicious would make its way onto our table. BUT-- the girl at the coupon table looked sweet and cute and...okay...a little lonely, so I decided I would go listen to what looked like was a VERY well planned presentation and BOY AM I GLAD I DID!!!! She started out by uncovering three groups of items she had gotten at the store the previous week. She told us to estimate how much she had spent on them... keeping in mind that she had gotten them on sale and using coupons. I was excited about this assignment because I consider myself an excellent bargain shopper and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what a good deal on all of these items would be. I was impressed that she had lots of what I considered "luxury" items... like expensive shampoo and brand name clinical strength deodorant... ahhh... I added up what I thought I good deal would be on the items and then divided it in half... figuring she must have got a really good deal on things or she wouldn't have brought it to her presentation. For one group, I thought she had spent around $30... another about $20, and another $15. I was completely taken back to find that she had spent less than $5 on the first... plus earned register rewards... a foreign term to me at the time... $2 on the second... with extra care bucks... again... what?! and she had MADE MONEY on the third group... WHAT!!!!! I was intrigued but still VERY skeptical. How could someone learn to shop like that? She must spend hours every week clipping, sorting, planning, shopping, etc. Right? She must occasionally have to resort to shady means of scoring these deals... Right? She must live, eat, drink, and breath coupons... RIGHT? She politely anwsered other people's questions and then handed out a flier with resources for us all to look over at home. Enter Deal Seeking Mom and The Krazy Coupon Lady !! These are two of the websites the sister had put on the handout. I got home and looked them up and was hooked. These sites are full of ladies (and men) who take the tricky out of shopping with coupons and rebates and such and have made it possible for me to buy the brands I never could afford before, stay home with my kids full time, build a better than one year supply of food and personal care and household items, and even make money doing it. I spend about 4 hours on average each week looking over the websites, printing or ordering my coupons, and actually shopping. I shop the grocery stores (mainly Meijer and Kroger) and the drugstores (Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens) almost every week, and I LOVE IT!!! I buy things when they are on sale and "stack" this with manufacturer and store coupons... Catalinas... and even rebates! Oh... and I ONLY buy the brands I want. I get Aveeno, Nexxus, Secret Clinical, and lots of other brands that were way beyond our student budget means before and MAKE MONEY DOING IT... I get all of our itunes gift cards for free... I go out to eat with my husband using our gift cards I scored using coupons and I buy my kids birthday and Christmas gifts (think books, art supplies, Wii games, leapfrog systems and more) free or dirt cheap (Christmas this year is DONE and ready to be wrapped this weekend... and it cost us less than $25 for over $500 worth of gifts for our kids, family, and friends...
Sound tricky? It is at first. It's a whole new language. But, it is totally worth learning. Deal seeking mom and Krazy coupon lady have simple tutorials and beginner links for getting started. Store cashiers and managers are always happy to anwser your questions and help you maximize your savings. Sometimes they will even take notes to score the deals for themselves. Really.
Things I have learned:
1. Stop searching the weekly ads for yourself-- Wednesday night I do a google search for the store and then the ad date (for example Walgreens 11/22-- the ads start on Sunday) then I look for the slickdeals forum link and click on it. I look at all of the deals all of the "pros" have picked out from the ads-- they will even match them up with the coupons you will want to "stack" them with so all you have to do is click and print them or go to your favorite coupon clipper to order them. I check out and every day to see what deals are here and things to come.
2. Stop clipping coupons-- unless you already pay for a Sunday paper and you want to keep the paper for the news in it (I prefer to read online for free) there is no reason to buy the paper for the coupons-- in my experience you just end up paying WAY MORE for all of the coupons you are never going to use that will just clutter your life. Instead, wait until the Wed. before the week and then find out the next week's deals then print those that you can and order those that you can't.
The Coupon Carryout is my favorite... but if they are out I turn to ebay as well.
3. Start stocking up!!! When the "stars align" (a sale stacked with coupons and/or other offers like rebates or catalinas, register rewards, or extra care bucks) for items you use... STOCK UP AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!!! When things are free... stock up for sure, when they are money makers... stock up even more... and for all other situations (like when you are going to have to actually pay money for something...blah)... determine what your highest price threshold is (like 25 cents for a box of cereal, or 15 cents for batteries, or 5 cents a diaper or whatever) and buy ONLY if you are in imminent need of the item (remember, there will always be another sale and the second you pay money for something, it will probably become free or a moneymaker in a week or two just to make you crazy!!) Think ahead for things like Christmas and birthday gifts and work in advance to get the things you want for these situations FREE beforehand rather than paying money you could otherwise save on the spot.
4. Join FREE groups like Bzz Network and Vocal Point... these organizations send you FREE ITEMS to try and review and tell others about with tons of high value coupons to use and spread around... ahhh....
5. ALWAYS use your free rebate site of choice when shopping online and ALWAYS go to retail me not to search for more online discounts on online purchases. Some credit cards, like discover, will give you big rebates through shopping through their links-- like 15% back at places like gap and old navy from time to time. I also use Ebates and Swag bucks to save money without doing anything on purchases I make online...nice...
6. SHOP RITE AID... Last month I made MADE made more than $80 in REAL LIVE CASH just by maximizing my use of their single check rebates program stacked with sales stacked with coupons... sounds tricky but if I can do it, anyone can. Deal seeking mom and Krazy coupon lady make is as simple as point, click, print... SAVE!!!
7. Keep an accurate, up to date database of everything you spend. Every penny. And everything you have saved. Every penny. It will make you VERY VERY happy to see how you are saving and see how your storge is growing and see how you are able to be giving and generous and still stay WAY under budget. You can do it!!!