Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Phase 3

I stepped into the store and glanced around. It looked like it would be a good day. As I reached into my purse, I found the envelope I was looking for. I carefully opened the flap and extracted the tri-fold sheet of paper. Here were my instructions. Could I follow them through? Could I achieve maximum savings? Yes. I had done my homework. Our weekly grocery bill was about to be slashed!

Okay...that might have been over the top. But if couponing is going to be your game, then why not approach it as a challenge. After all, how would you like to save $340 on grocery and household items? How about $380 the following month? And the results aren't even in yet for May.

On to the coupon strategy that I'm currently following. I haven't been at this for all that long and am confident that with a little planning anyone else can do this too.

When you get your Sunday newspaper, pull out the sales flyers put out by your major box stores and pharmacy stores as well as any grocery ads. In my town that would be KMart, Target, Walgreens, Albertsons and Fred Meyers. At the same time, pull out the Red Plum, Proctor and Gamble, and Smart Source coupon inserts as well. You can link here to my previous posts on where to locate coupons online as well.

Using one sheet of paper for each major store as well as a business envelope with the store's name labeled on the front, go through the store circular and list any items that you come across that are on sale and would be items that you would normally purchase. If the store has printed coupons, clip and file those as well. If you're lucky enough to live in a region where your stores offer double coupons, then you can really score. I'm not familiar with how that process works specifically as it is not available in our area. Now if you're like me, I'm not necessarily brand loyal. I buy generic whenever the unit pricing is less. That in part keeps my grocery costs down to begin with. With that said, I love to try new brands when I've got the ability to stack a manufacturer coupon with a local store sale. Remember the key here is that you may not be out of that item yet, but if it's on sale now and there is a matching coupon to boot, it's time to stock up. You can shop from your own closet later and not have to pay the full price when you do run out. If there are coupons in the store's ad, cut them out and slip them into the envelope for that store.

Once you have been through the sales flyers, I then take my lists to the computer. I log in to either CouponTom.com or AFullCup.com and enter the brand name of the items on sale to see if there is a coupon listed for that item. If there is, I make note of where I can go to find the coupon in the weekly coupon inserts, or if it is online, I print it off. Those coupons are collected and put into the envelope for that store so that they will be readily available once I go to that store. There are a few great blog sites out there where the sales flyers have already been matched up with the coupons by bloggers who are experts in this field. HipToSave.com is a great resource for Walgreens. MoneySavingMom.com also has some great insider tips at shopping Walgreens. If you take a look at the site, you will see how easy it is to maximize your savings by purchasing an item on sale, adding a coupon from a weekly insert, and then perhaps receiving a rebate back. Quite often your items will cost less than half of the face value or come out free. That's how you slash your grocery costs. But remember, you have to buy when the item is on sale not when you need it.

As a quick side note, you should mark the newspaper coupon inserts with the date of the paper they were in and keep them in a folder as you will be referring back to them every week to clip more coupons as those items appear on sale at the various stores. I will admit though, that I deviate from most couponers in that if there is a coupon for an item that I absolutely know we purchase all the time, I will go ahead and clip it in advance. I want to be sure I use it up before it expires. These are the coupons that I file by category in my envelope coupon organizer. I just keep these items in mind and know where to locate them if I see that they are on special that week. As I go through the different categories of coupons in my envelope organizer every week, I make note of any that are about to expire and choose whether to redeem them or not on a product that is still full-priced at the store.

And that's just about it. I combine my errands into town with my coupon shopping to save time and gas money. But does all this effort really save money? Well, if you're anything like me you'd be skeptical and want to see the facts. To be honest, those numbers I posted above don't mean much. They simply reflect how much our family of six has saved monthly on grocery and pharmacy costs since I've started using my newspaper insert coupons as well as on-line coupons in a manner that maximizes their potential. The figures look great but should really be expressed as a percent of the total amount we spent...it would be a more effective means. Perhaps starting in June I'll keep a tally of the total spent as well. It certainly will be interesting to compare to regardless.

I hope this information will spark your desire to get out there and start clipping. Utilizing those coupons with your grocery store weekly specials and buying when the cost is right will save you in the end. I certainly don't think I've "arrived" at maximum savings yet either. I'd like to put together a list tracking the lowest prices available on frequently purchased items so I'll know when a good deal really is a steal. Anyone else like to share their couponing experiences? I'd like to hear.

Related posts:

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Part 1

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Part 2

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Homemade Biscotti

I'll admit that one of my favorite childhood snacks was graham crackers dipped in milk. My kids love them too. But anymore, graham crackers don't cut it for me. I've turned to biscotti, those twice-baked Italian cookies that show up in coffee shops everywhere. They may look intimidating, but they're so easy to make at home. They do take a little bit of oven time, but they are so worth the ability to dunk them in coffee, lattes, and or milk without the expensive price tag. And surprisingly enough, they are pretty low-fat and can be filled with nutritious nuts and dried fruits if you wish. Here's the most recent recipe I've tried:

Almond Biscotti

3/4 cup almonds - either slivered almonds or whole almonds that have been coarsely chopped
3 whole eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
7/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt

Toast the almonds in either a cast iron skillet while stirring constantly until golden brown or by placing in a 375 degree oven on a baking sheet and watching carefully.

Mix all ingredients together, including cooled, toasted almonds. The dough will be very stiff. I use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

Remove dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a log about 2 inches wide, 1 inch high, and 12 or so inches long. Place both logs on a non-stick mat placed on a baking sheet. Alternatively, use a greased baking sheet. Logs will spread slightly so leave adequate space between them. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 50 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven and reduce temperature to 275 degrees. Let logs cool slightly for ten minutes then place on cutting mat and slice each log diagonally into cookies about 3/4 inch thick. Lay each cookie on its side on the baking sheet.

Return baking sheet to oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove sheet and flip biscotti over to their other side and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes. They will not appear crunchy hard at the end of the baking time but will firm up once they cool.

If you want them to look impressive, drizzle melted chocolate over the tops or dip them in a pan of chocolate to get that espresso shop look. But in all honesty, they just need a big, ol' glass of milk and you'll be perfectly happy. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Phase 2

I think I might have put the cart before the horse in that I did not address where all the coupons that I stash in my envelope organizer come from. Well never fear...here we go.

Our family has always subscribed to at least the Sunday newspaper. And as long as I can remember, they have always been full of inserts which are actually my favorite part. Part of those inserts come from Red Plum and Smart Source, two companies that publish coupons for consumer use. In my prior couponing days, I would casually thumb through these inserts looking for high dollar coupons that grabbed my attention or maybe something new I would like to try. Sad to say, I missed the whole point of couponing. More to come on that later.

With my new interest in couponing which came from more time being online, I also discovered that there is a very large mom-blogger community on the web with wonderful women who are sharing their successes and strategies. Here are four that I will post links to:

Save With Louise

This blog is produced by a woman living in my home town who focuses on the grocery stores that I tend to shop at the most - Fred Meyers, Albertsons, and Walgreens.

Consumer Queen
Coupon Princess
Coupon Coup

These three blogs were my very first ones to read on the process of couponing and are very well done. There is so much information here. They have many wonderful links to follow to even more online information about couponing.

Lastly, I have discovered that there are coupons published online that you can print on your home computer that work just like those you would normally clip and cut. Surprisingly, the values of these can sometimes be higher than the newspaper inserts. I am listing several sites below that I routinely use. You will usually be asked to install a coupon printing program - easy and painless - that allows you to print the coupons. As well, many brands such as Kraft and Betty Crocker will reward customers for signing up for their online newsletters with access to coupons for their products. Just search for a favorite product brand and see what you come up with. As a word of note, I set up a separate email address just for this type of occasion just to be sure that I'm not inviting any spam into my home email inbox...just in case. Included in the list are also some sites that let you search for specific coupons and have searchable coupon databases.

A Full Cup
Coupon Tom
Hot Coupon World
Cool Savings
Smart Source

It goes almost without saying that you also need to obtain the sales flyers for the grocery stores in your area. Some of ours appear in the Sunday paper and others appear in our Tuesday paper as an insert with our local Food section. They will be full of coupons for additional savings for that specific store. And don't forget to check the online sites for your favorite grocery stores. Many of them offer features that allow you to access additional coupons as well.

Homework assignment for today is to start saving those coupons inserts and grocery sale ads. Strategies on how to use them will be forthcoming. Check out some of the coupon bloggers online and read up on how they use couponing to reduce their overall grocery costs. And thirdly, poke around a bit and bookmark some of the sites that offer online coupons.

My next post will outline how I pull everything together and start stacking coupons and grocery store deals in order to make the best deals. Until then...happy clipping!

Related posts:

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Phase 1

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Phase 3

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Quest for Eating Healthy & Economically

We all want to eat healthy. We want variety. We want convenience. We want to eat locally. We want to eat what is economical to purchase at the grocery store. We tend to want a lot of things.

There’s a good chance that all of our wants are actually thwarted by choice…too many choices. Books to educate us on the art of eating healthy are everywhere. Recipes are even more abundant. Manufacturers produce just about every kind of food possible. Most everything is on sale at some point in time. So I’ll come right out and say it…I’ve come to believe that we are overwhelmed by our choices in today’s world.

There are times when I just want a few bags of groceries to show up on my doorstep. They would have a variety of fresh foods in them already chosen for me and all perfectly balanced to give my family the correct proportion of fiber, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. They would be purchased at the lowest price point possible, and there would be just the right amount of calories for us to consume and not a drop more. Yes, I could live with that. And I think we could all Iron-Chef it up a bit and cook with what we were given and become more creative than we ever thought possible.

But since the reality is that will never happen, here’s my proposal based on all the insane amount of information that I have taken in over my many, many years here on earth deciding on what I should be eating and what I should be feeding my family.

* Make an effort to eat whole foods that are produced locally and eaten in season. The less processed they are (whole and in their natural state) and the less distance they have to travel (produced locally) means better nutrition for me and my family. After all is said and done, making economical food purchases does matter as well.

* Decide what a healthy ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats should be. I think we all realize that a carb-junkie will never be healthy unfortunately. On the other hand, as afraid of fat as we’ve become as a society, research tells us that some fats are healthy and essential for our well-being. So balance is vitally important.

* If maintaining or losing weight is a concern then realizing how many calories are being consumed a day is equally important. A little here and a little there can add up especially once we hit that magic age of 40 when weight tends to start creeping up on us.

* In order to keep eating habits simple but yet accountable, establish some type of a food-journal to track how much and of what type of foods are eaten daily. Nothing brings about accountability better than knowing exactly how many calories you are consuming.

In my next post I will go into detail about some of these areas and share resources where I have found support and information including my personal food journaling system and calorie charts. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sidewalk Chalk Paint

This weekend my DD7, H-Bob, was looking for something to do...something that had to do with being outside in the sun...something we could do together. So in times like these, I turn to my tear file that I keep which is chock full of pages from magazines or printouts from online of activities that I feel would be fun to try. Our choice this time was Sidewalk Paint.

Sidewalk Paint

For each color you wish to make use:

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
3-4 drops food coloring

Here's how you put it together. Using a small lidded container that will hold about 1/2 cup, place cornstarch, cold water, and food coloring into the container. You may either carefully stir the ingredients together, or as we found fun, firmly place the lid on and shake, shake, shake until it is uniformly mixed. If you find the color is not deep enough, simply add a few more drops of food coloring.

Next find a washable surface outside and get to work. We have a blacktop driveway which made the perfect backdrop for our creation. We chose child-sized paintbrushes as they carried a better load of paint, and then went outside and proceeded to paint a pond, a beach area, a road to a meadow with another lake, and then some more roads and then.... you get the idea. You do a lot of dipping into the paint to reload your brush but that's half the fun.

Pretty soon we had some animals out mingling on the masterpiece, and H-Bob was in the middle of a great play scene absorbed in her creativity.

This activity is a keeper and will go in my Art Recipe notebook for sure!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Raised Bed Box Gardening and the Square Foot Method - Box 1

Head on over to our hobby farm site, Abernethy Creek Farm, to see how my raised bed box gardening is going... Raised Bed Box Gardening and the Square Foot Method - Box 1.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Phase 1

I'll admit to being a little more frugal in the first years of our marriage...probably about up until the time of our first child when working full time and being a first time mom became too overwhelming. Then 'time is money, and money is time' came into play according to dear husband. Throughout raising four children I've returned to clipping coupons, watching sales, and the like, but it hasn't been until just recently that I've again realized the need to watch our spending.

What's different about my couponing strategy this time around? A lot. After being exposed to other moms embracing a more frugal lifestyle, my approach has taken on that of a challenge to myself. If they can do it, so can I. This doesn't have to be about how much I don't have but of how much I can do with what I have. How much can I save this month? How creative can I get in layering my coupons with in-store savings? Can I really purchase items in advance at lower prices to create a stockpile-of-sorts to work off of while waiting for deals and coupons to surface again?

Here's how I've jumped back into couponing again. My first and immediate need was a way to contain and keep the coupons that I planned on clipping from the Sunday paper. There are different methods out there, but I wanted something right now and easily put together. My answer was to take a stack of business sized envelopes, stack them evenly by their bottoms, and staple through the layers in about three spots.

I left the envelope flaps facing up and labeled them according to the categories I thought would be most useful:

pantry items
refrigerator and freezer items
health and beauty products
household cleaning products
pharmaceutical products

Now my clipped coupons could be slipped into the open envelopes and easily found according to their categories. Of course, loose coupons in an envelope have to be shuffled through, so I subdivided some envelopes accordingly:

cereal and staples for the pantry items
refrigerator case and freezer case items
hair products, feminine care, cosmetics, guy products

I also started to stack them in order of expiration date so that I would be sure to not miss any before they expired.

Now my clipped coupons were organized and easy to transport to each of the stores I planned on shopping at.

This was my first phase of putting together my coupon arsenal. Little did I know that there were more ways to fine tune this process which I will continue in a separate post. I'm pretty sure there are other ways to organize clipped coupons and will perhaps come across a method that fit my needs a little better, but I've been completely satisfied with this to date. More uses for those business sized envelopes will surface again later I promise.

Related posts:

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Phase 2

My Coupon Strategy and Being Frugal - Phase 3

Friday, May 1, 2009

How Do You Eat a Banana?

I'm either sheltered, naive, or fairly unobservant apparently. Last evening my DS 15, Big Country, took a banana from the fruit bowl and announced, "Mom, did you know bananas are easier to peel this way?"

As a way of background information, I have always peeled our bananas starting from the stem end. It has always been that way. You struggle with that tough stem and quite often bruise the top of your banana or even mangle it if it's a little on the green side.

Big Country turned the banana upside down, simply pushed the non-stem end in a little, a had no difficulty starting the peeling process of his banana. It was one of those, "Now why hadn't I tried that before!" moments. Of course I had to ask this brilliant child how he figured this out. His response was that he had just seen someone eat a banana that way at school and decided to try it for himself. As he pointed out, most pictures of partially peeled bananas show the stem end at the bottom. I'm beginning to think he was right.

Now I'm wondering how the rest of the world peels their bananas. Have I been the only one duped into peeling them the hard way? Did I learn it from my parents? I really want to know now. Leave me a comment before I die of curiosity! Thanks.

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