Monday, October 3, 2011

Realistic Non-Extreme Couponing

I am a long time coupon user (or couponer if you want to use the industry jargon).  I used them back when I was single and had a very limited budget; I used them after I got married when it was just the two of us; I used them when I quit my job to be a stay at home mom.  That's almost 30 years worth of couponing (again industry jargon) experience.  For a number of reasons, a few years ago, I stopped using coupons for a period of time:  I was too busy; I had a couple of surgeries; I switched to more organic and natural products.  Those were a few of the reasons.

Last spring, however, faced with mounting bills on still just one income, with four adolescent children who eat A LOT for scrawny little things, I found myself constantly going over my food budget.  I allow myself about $850 a month for groceries and household items and every month I went over that by at least $100.  It simply wasn't enough money and I didn't want to go back to work nor was my husband getting a salary increase any time soon, so I decided to take a new fresh look at using coupons.

About this same time, I caught a few episodes of Extreme Couponing on TLC.  The people portrayed on the show seemed a little 'out there' (read: Ca-Razyy) to me, I don't need enough cake mixes to bake all four of my kids birthday cakes for the next 15 years like one lady had, nor did I want to purchase cat treats for my non-existent cat like another woman did.  They did have a few good ideas though, and I decided to plunge in and see where it took me.

At the beginning of my journey, I wrote a bit about it here on the blog.  I saved a respectable amount of money, but not really enough to make a difference, so I decided to redouble my efforts to see if I could do better.  I found some really helpful websites along the way like Couponing 101, Totally Target, and My Grocery Deals to name a few.  I like to do things my own way, so I adapted some of the tips I learned from the experts, but there is still a wealth of information out there on the 'Net and for a 30 year couponing verteran there was a lot I hadn't thought of, or thought was too tedious to bother with.  The Internet makes it so much easier than it used to be.

I learned that in order to maximize my savings I was going to have to make some concessions.  I would have to A) spend more time at it, B) switch some of my product brands, C) track sales more diligently, and D) shop at more than one store per week.

I wasn't happy about all of these concessions, especially switching some of my product brands, but I came to the conclusion that desperate times call for desperate measures and these were desperate times for us.  My family needed me here instead of at a job, plus I was diagnosed with a a chronic illness that would restrict my ability to work outside our home even if I could get a job.

I won't go into all the details of how I put my shopping trips together; there are plenty of experts out there who can teach the how-too much better than I can (see the links above).  In a nutshell here's what I do:  I shop at a variety of stores including discount stores, grocery stores, supercenters and drug stores (EXcluding Walmart, that is a concession I was not willing to make), stack coupons when I can and never buy anything unless it's on sale AND I have a coupon for it.  I have slashed my bills by $300 a month, which is an average of 40% less than what I was spending previously.  Plus, it's allowed me to build a modest stock of some things we use a lot of.  My stock is constantly rotating; I don't plan to amass a two year supply of anything or prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse.  Or any other apocalypse, for that matter.  I think that is ridiculous.

I think it's important to note how much money I spend versus how much I save. Saving 40% on any particular grocery bill isn't a good thing if I walked out of the store spending more than my budget allows.

I'm pretty happy with my $300 per month savings, for now, but I'd like to cut another $100 a month at least.  And I want to do that without dumpster diving for coupons, having grocery/product stock around so long that it needs to be dusted or buying things I don't need.

Another consideration for me was storage space.  Storage space in my 2200 sqf home (filled with 6 people and two dogs) is limited, but I have been able to eek out few extra square inches to store my stash.

I didn't take picture of my refrigerator or freezer, but it is well stocked too, with fresh fruits, veggies and meat.  Not all organic, I will concede that, but as healthy as I can get it on a shoestring budget.  I realize not everyone is willing to make these concessions and for a long time I wasn't either, but like I said before, desperate times...

In my kitchen
The junk food cabinet in my office. I bought a lock for this one. 

In my laundry room