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Category: Coupons

Q&A: Time Management and Bargain Shopping

I just found your blog and I love it. But I don't know if I am a little too gung-ho about
this. I am not feeling overwhelmed. I have all these folders organized
in my favorites folder and blogs marked in my Google Reader. I have
forums to help me and sites to visit.

It just seems like there
are so many places to find deals and some sites have things that others
don't. Some post more frequently than others.
I guess I am looking for a way to simplify this so it is not so overwhelming. You said you take about 45 minutes a week and at the rate I am going, it will be hours a week checking blogs and forums. -Jessica

When
you are first learning to shop frugally, it can be a bit overwhelming,
especially if this is a completely new way of thinking. Here are a few of my
recommendations:

1) Start slowly. Don't try to cut your grocery bill in half tomorrow. Instead, set a very reachable goal for your grocery budget for this month.
Once you've achieved that goal, then gradually try to shave off a
little bit more and then a little bit more. Challenge yourself to
improve at a pace that isn't too slow so you see no progress happening,
but also isn't too fast so that it frustrates or burdens you.

When
you are just beginning, pick one or two areas to work on at a time.
Perhaps you have a CVS store nearby, make it a goal that you will spend
the next 2 months learning how to shop there and get all of your
deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and soap/bodywash there
for free (there are a lot more things you can get free there, but we're
going slow, remember?). Start here to learn how to do that.

Once
you've cut out that part of your budget and feel comfortable with
CVS-ing, then move on to something else, say learning Walgreens or
Target, using more coupons at your grocery store, or making two items
from scratch which you would normally buy pre-packaged.

Whatever you pick to work on, enjoy it and don't stress over it. Stretching your budget should be an exciting challenge, not a huge drudgery.

2) Keep it simple.
There is a tendency to want to read every forum and blog out there for
fear we might miss some great deal. The truth is, most of us do not
have that kind of time on our hands. Plus, time is money;
if we waste a lot of time scouring deal websites only to come up with
minimal savings to show for our hours of internet browsing, we really
aren't saving money.

I encourage you to pick a few forums or
blogs that you generally find the best deals for the stores you shop at
and use those as your resource. Set a time once or twice a week in your
schedule to peruse through these and choose which deals you want to do
and add these to your grocery list. (I've found it helpful to copy and paste
deals I find straight into a WORD document and then use that to compile
our grocery list and menu.)

3) Set parameters.
Not only do I recommend that you have a set grocery budget and only
bring cash (and a calculator!) with you to the store to make sure you
follow your budget, I also would highly encourage you to budget your
grocery-list-making time and your bargain-shopping time.

When
you are first starting out, you might allot 1-2 hours per week to
searching for bargains, scouring the ads, clipping and organizing
coupons, and making your list. As you become more adept, I'd shoot for
45 minutes to an hour maximum for grocery shopping strategizing. Have a
set day and a set block of time, if possible. Or split it up into 10-15
minute increments over a few days.

I also recommend that you
limit yourself to one to two bargain-shopping trips per week. Bargain
shopping can be a great way to be a better steward of your family's
income, but it should never consume your life. If you are running
around all over town multiple times per week to get great deals, you
need to step back and examine your priorities.

Like I've said before,
if your home and family is suffering for the sake of a good deal, it's
not a good deal. Set parameters and stick with them! (See this post here for more helpful ideas.)

I'd
love to hear from others on this subject: How do you wisely steward
your time when it comes to frugality? Do you have a method which works
for you to effectively and efficiently save money and take advantage of
great deals without it becoming too time-consuming? Tell us about it!

Guest Post: Five Strategies for Shopping Success

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Guest Post by Beeb Ashcroft from SuperCouponGirl.com

When you first get into couponing, you will quickly notice that you're visiting at a lot of new stores. One of the great things about coupons is that you can use them to find fantastic deals at stores that might not have been worth shopping at previously. However, all these new opportunities to save can get a little overwhelming, and you may find yourself running around all day trying to snag the deals at every store.

You may ask yourself, “Is it even worth it?” People often say that they won't use coupons because they don't have the time to keep track of all these sales or run to 5 different stores. I've had people tell me that I'm just wasting time and gas by shopping around, so I'm not really saving anything.

While I think it is entirely possible to waste time couponing, I also think that it is just as easy to get a big reward for your time–and it all comes down to your strategy. Here are five strategies I've learned for shopping success:

Shopping strategy #1: Map Out Your Stores

Sit down and write a list of the stores near you, and how far away they are. The price and proximity of these outlets will determine your best strategy for true savings.

For example, I have a Safeway grocery store and a Rite Aid drugstore which are a 3-minute drive from me. There is also a Walgreens drug store and a Fred Meyer grocery store which are in the next town–a 30- minute round-trip.

There are several factors I consider when deciding where to shop. First, there is price and coupon policy. Safeway doubles coupon but has high shelf prices; Fred Meyer does not double coupons but has lower shelf prices. Proximity is a big factor, too: Even when I don't have a coupon for something I need, it usually make the most sense to buy it at Safeway despite the higher prices, because I would waste time and gas if I made a 30-minute round-trip just to get a few things.

However, when the sales are really good, I find it's worth going a little out of my way. I shop at Safeway for my day-to-day needs, but when the other stores have great sales, I plan a trip based on that. I check coupon matchups for my stores online and if I can see that it's going to be a great week at Walgreens, I will take an afternoon to go up there. While I'm in the vicinity, I will also pop into the other nearby stores that also have interesting sales running. This way I do it all in one shot, making one efficient trip.

But I will only do this if I consider the sales to be really good; if there's only one cheap or free item that I don't have a big need for, I'll skip the sale.

Shopping Strategy #2: Take Note of Prices

As you learn the sales in your area, you'll start to notice what the prices are like at each store and this will help you determine which stores are worth your time. You can either make a price book or use a spreadsheet (see here for an example), or just make a mental note of where the best deals are.

When I first starting using coupons, I visited a lot of stores frequently, and jotted down prices of key items in a notebook. This way, I became accustomed to the pricing strategies of stores I was previously unfamiliar with. Once you get a grip on which stores regularly have the best sales, you can narrow your focus to just those stores.

Shopping Strategy #3: Organize Your Shopping Trips

If you're planning to drive a little out of your way to take advantage of a worthwhile sale, then organization is your key to success. As you plan your shopping, think: What other stores are in the vicinity? Can you maximize your efficiency by getting deals at other places during this trip? Make a detailed list and assemble all of your coupons ahead of time. (I often print Money Saving Mom® coupon matchups and take that with me as a list!) Double-check your list and coupons before you leave so that you don't forget anything.

*Bonus tip: Pack a snack! If you're spending the afternoon hitting up several stores, bring something to eat along with you. There have been several times where I got quite hungry during my bargain-hunting-bonanzas, and ended up buying a package of chips or a candy bar to tide me over. Unless the item you're buying is free with a coupon, save yourself the possibility of spending extra and bring a snack or two along with you!

Shopping Strategy #4: Make the Most of Your Trips

Of course, the most efficient method of all is to do your out-of-the way shopping when you're planning on being in that area anyway. I often have to run to the next town to do other errands; so if I have time, I'll incorporate a Walgreens or Fred Meyer trip along the way. I always think twice before I make a special trip just for groceries. If I have to spend extra time and gas money in order to bargain shop, I want to make sure that I'm saving much more than I'm spending.

I've taken it even further, and done what I call “Coupon Roadtrips”. My fiance and I often make the two-hour drive from our home on the Oregon coast to Portland so that we can visit family and take care of necessary errands. If I have time, I check which stores are going to be along the route and see if there are any good sales happening. I certainly wouldn't drive all that way just to use a few coupons, but if we're driving by a Wal-Mart anyway and I know that there is a great deal happening, why not stop?

Shopping Strategy #5: Remember That Your Time Is Money

My time is invaluable, and I won't go out of my way for a sale unless there is a big reward. Think of your time in terms of an hourly rate: what would you charge for your time at a job? Keep that figure in mind as you decide which deals to go for.

If I spent all day chasing sales just to get a few tubes of free toothpaste, then I would not getting a good return on my time investment. But If I can spend the afternoon shopping and get $100+ worth of merchandise for free (like I did here), I consider that a worthwhile use of my time.

As you learn the ropes of super savings, you'll quickly discover what deals are worth pursuing, and what can be skipped. Trust me, with a little bit of thought and planning, you can have great success shopping around–without putting too much wear on yourself or your car.

Originally from London, England, Beeb Ashcroft moved to the US in 1989. Currently residing in a resort town on the North Oregon coast, she works out of her home as a freelance journalist. In her spare
time, Ashcroft enjoys clipping coupons and finding the best grocery deals. She chronicles her adventures in savings at her blog, SuperCouponGirl.com.

photo by Roadside Pictures' Photostream

What To Do When You’re Tired of Couponing

Do you ever get tired of couponing? I mean, I love, love, love getting
a great deal, but I get tired of comparing sale ads, rounding up
coupons, and going to the stores. I'm probably trying to do too much
at once. Just wondering if you ever take a break except for when you
had the baby. -Lorie

Yes! I've found there's usually at least a few times per year where I just don't have time or desire to mess with using coupons. Here are a few ideas which work for me to help prevent or reduce "coupon-shopping burn-out":

1) Share the load. If possible, don't do all the work
yourself. If you have children, let them help you clip and file
coupons. Older children can even learn to scour the ad for deals and
match up the coupons with the deals. I know many moms who pay their
children a small percentage of the savings their family reaps from their help or they
pay their young children a small amount for the number of coupons they
clip and file. 

My mom had me do much of the menu planning, coupon clipping, and grocery shopping
for our family of nine when I was in my teens. Not only did I greatly
enjoy the experience and learn so much from it, it also allowed my mom
to have a break from having to try and do it all herself.

If you don't have children or teens who can help, consider finding
some friends who love coupon-shopping and get together with them on
occasion to clip and file coupons and share deals. Just having other
people to share it with is a huge inspiration. Plus, I've found that by
sharing deals with one another, everyone discovers a lot more bargains than they would on their own and it's a lot more fun, too!

2) Simplify your system. If you're trying to go to five stores three times a week, you're going to burn out in nothing flat. I recommend keeping it simple. I stick with going to one to two stores once a week. On occasion, when I have time and energy (and maybe a babysitter!), I'll do more than that, but that would be the exception rather than the norm.

Consider what your schedule is like and what you can reasonably commit to when it comes to couponing and then plan accordingly. If you only have two hours per week to devote to coupon-clipping and grocery shopping, then you're probably not going to be able to regularly shop at four stores or keep up with clipping and filing 10 newspaper inserts every week. (you could consider the no-clip method but I personally have tried it and found it to be a disaster for me. Read more why here. I know plenty of others whom it works beautifully for, though, so it might just be me!)

Remember that you don't have to hit every good deal. In fact, you don't even have to hit 50% of the good deals and you can still save a lot of money and keep your grocery budget low. 

It's easy for me to read other blogs and see these great shopping trips other bloggers are pulling off and to feel like I'm not spending enough time coupon-shopping. But then I remember that I'm at a season of my life (homeschooling and having three little ones) where it's just not feasible for me to be spending hours a week planning shopping trips or going to multiple stores. I need to be home teaching and meeting the needs of my young children. They are only little once. The good deals will always be there.

Find what works best for your family and situation right now and stick with that. So long as you are eating well and staying within a grocery budget that works for your family, don't worry about potentially good deals you might be missing. Just be thankful for bargains you're able to find with the time and energy you have at your disposal.

3) Set your coupons aside for a season. Sometimes, simplifying your system isn't enough. Perhaps you're just completely burned out on coupon-shopping altogether. Or perhaps you're going through a difficult or stressful time in your life. Or maybe your life is just crazily busy at the moment and you don't have time to mess with coupons but you feel guilty if you don't use them.

Whatever the case, I'm here to tell you that it really and truly is okay to take a break. In fact, sometimes I think it's a good thing to take a few weeks off from coupon-shopping–especially if you've been at it for six months or more. Not only will it allow you to come back to it refreshed and excited about bargain-shopping again, but it will also give you a chance to creatively use up some of your extra food in your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry.

Even if you set your coupons aside for a few weeks, you can still save a bundle just by planning your grocery list based upon the store sales and what you already have on hand. Or, if you have an Aldi nearby, you could buy most of your groceries there.

For more ideas on how to save on your grocery bill without clipping coupons, see this article.

What do you do when you get tired of couponing and bargain shopping? I'd love to hear your ideas and input.

Guest Post: My Journey Towards Cutting Our Grocery Budget

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photo by roadside pictures

Guest Post by Jessie from VanderbuiltWife.com

Not too many months ago, I was spending $80 to $100 a week on groceries. For two people. I knew that wasn't quite right, that I didn’t need to spend so much; yet, how would I get to cook the things I wanted if I tried to pinch pennies? Wouldn’t we end up eating macaroni and cheese and cereal for every meal?

I read many blogs on saving money and using coupons, but I could not get it to click in my head very well. I thrived on trying new recipes, exciting and exotic meals from the pages of Cooking Light and Southern Living. I planned my meals, made out a list of ingredients I needed, and zipped off to the store each week.

Then, in October, I had my first child. Suddenly the cost of daycare, pediatrician visits, diapers, wipes, and other baby paraphernalia was eating at our loosely planned budget. In January, once I was back at work and more in the swing of things, I decided it was time to tackle my grocery spending. I thought surely the two of us could eat for $40 a week if I were more careful.

It’s not been nearly as difficult as I imagined. Mostly I just flipped around my way of doing things: instead of choosing meals and then making my list, I make the list and then choose meals. First, I cut out the coupons from that week’s circular that I might use at some point. I flip back through my coupon box to remind myself what I have. Then, I scour the ads of my two local grocery stores to find the great deals for the week, and match up items for which I have coupons.

After that, I use my list of items I can get for a steal to plan my menu. I’ve found that doing it this way, I can still make many meals from those magazines I love. Some of my recent favorites have been Gnocchi with Italian Sausage and Swiss Chard, Pork Tenderloin with Shallot-Cider Sauce, and Grilled Chicken Burritos with Jalapeno Sauce. I use healthy, whole ingredients to make our dinners—with an occasional side of frozen veggies or Rice-a-Roni.

I never thought I would be the kind of person to go through the grocery store with a calculator, but I do now, every week. I get everything on my list, then use any extra money I have for the week for unadvertised deals, manager’s specials, or treats for my husband.

Some weeks I still groan at the idea of laboring through the coupons and ads; but truly, it is just an hour of my time each Sunday while the baby naps, and it saves a great deal of money. Some day I would like to stay home with my daughter, and having these habits now is great practice for the future, when I might be on an ever tighter budget!

Right now my $40 budget is just for the week’s groceries, but I hope as I get more and more used to it I’ll be able to squeeze my household items in there as well. And I desperately want to get over my fear of CVSing…anyone know where I could get some tips on that? 😉

Jessie is wife to Adam and mom to baby Libbie. She lives in Nashville, TN, where she works as an editor for a Christian publishing house. She blogs about trying to keep up her household while being a full-time working mom at VanderbiltWife.com.

Guest Post: Is It a Better Bargain to Buy in Bulk?

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photo from stock.xchange

Guest Post by Beth from In Good Cents

Each month many of us head to a nearby wholesale or warehouse, like Costco or Sam’s Club, where we can stock up on everything from chicken breasts to toilet paper. Warehouses claim by cutting out the middleman and offering you the products in bulk, you are getting an amazing discount, so sales and coupons are needed or even accepted. Because we can get so much so easily, we often don’t ask ourselves if we’re truly getting the best deal available.

As a frugal blogger, I get asked a lot if I recommend buying in bulk to save money. Personally, I knew what I did and preferred, but when it came to my professional word, I wanted to do some research to give my readers the truth, instead of an opinion. So to do so, I headed to my nearby warehouse to compare and see if buying in bulk truly was a bargain.

Here were just a few of the results from my investigation:

I found I could buy a 6-pack of Puffs Plus Lotion family size boxes of facial tissue for $9.88. With 132 tissues per box, that equaled to be about $0.0125 per tissue. At Meijer that same week, smaller 60-count boxes of Puffs Plus Lotion were on sale for 10/$10. Using a $0.25 coupon per box, which doubled to $0.50, they were suddenly $0.0083 per tissue.

By buying at Meijer instead of in bulk, I could save 33% on each tissue. Though this may seem like pennies, tissue is always something we need in our family and those pennies add up over the years. However, facial tissue wasn’t the only item I found was actually cheaper at the grocery store using sales and stacking them with coupons. Here are some other random price comparisons below:

Pampers Cruisers

 
Warehouse Size 4 Value Pack (140 ct)
=$37.62 (or $0.27/ diaper)
vs.
Target Size 4 Big Pack (100 ct)
Use $1.50/1 coupon
=$18.49 (or $0.18/ diaper)
Save 33% at Target

Tide
Warehouse wth Bleach Laundry Powder 95 Loads
= $20.32 (or $0.21/ Load)
vs.
Meijer with Bleach Laundry Powder 63 Loads
Use $0.35/1 coupon (doubles to $0.70)
=$10.28 (or $0.16/ Load)
Save 24% at Meijer

Milk-Bone
Warehouse Dog Snacks Large 14-lb.
=$8.87 (or $0.63/lb)
vs.
Kroger Dog Snacks Large 10-lb.
Use B1G1 coupon
=$3.50 (or $0.35/lb)
Save 44% at Kroger

While comparing warehouse prices to the price I could get at the grocery store by stacking a coupon with a sale, I found that every single random item I price-checked was less expensive at the grocery store.  But that wasn’t the most shocking news. To my surprise, I found that most items were less expensive during grocery store sales before coupons were even figured into the mix.

Even Tyson Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, which my husband would live on if I wasn’t around to cook for him, were cheaper at Marsh and these are a product that rarely has a coupon available.

Tyson Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
Warehouse 96 oz. Bag Frozen
=$12.97 (or $0.14/oz.)
vs.
Marsh 40-oz. Bag Frozen
No Coupon Available
=$4.99 ($0.12/oz.)
Save 14% at Marsh

Though I expected to find many items were a better bargain using sales and coupons, I was shocked to find that prices overall were more expensive in bulk. So while I know that there are advantages to buying in bulk and matching sales with coupons does take a little more work and effort, the savings are every bit worth it for our family.

Beth Montgomery is very happily married and the mother of two beautiful little girls, with a little boy on the way who will soon be joining their family in July. She works as a part-time at her church, authors the frugal blog, IN Good ‘Cents’, she teaches seminars to help others learn how to dramatically cut their budget on everyday items.

Note from Crystal: I personally have only found a few items (such as yeast, honey, and cheese) which were consistently less expensive at a warehouse club. For the most part, my experience has been that I usually can substantially beat warehouse club prices. However, we also have a small family (so we consume less which means buying in bulk is not always as practical) and we live where grocery stores run fairly good sales.

I'd love to hear from the rest of you on this subject since we are all in different situations. Do you find shopping at warehouse clubs is worth it for your family or not?

Guest Post: Three Rules to Remember When Grocery Shopping

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photo by appaloosa

Guest Post by Sharon from the Good, True, and Beautiful blog

I’ll admit, I’m no math whiz. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to take the SAT exam and I can’t remember much of my high school algebra and geometry (how do you calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle? I have no idea).

Most of the time this isn’t a big problem for me, but lately I’ll find myself standing in the middle of the grocery store trying to figure out the best deal, after coupons, with doubled coupons, by the ounce, pound or liter and my poor mind just goes blank.

Without a doubt, the $1.00 I used to buy my pocket calculator has returned its investment many times over. I have it attached to my price book and it gets a good workout on most grocery trips. Juggling coupons, shopping lists, fliers, and a toddler keep my brain busy enough; I’ll let my calculator tell me the price per ounce on Parmesan cheese!

So, having acknowledged my lack of mathematical prowess, I am glad to share with you my “Three Rules to Remember” when it comes to maximizing the value of coupons and grocery store promotions.  I hope they help you as much as they help me:

1) For marked down meats, buy the smallest package with the biggest discount. One of my favorite ways to save money is to be on the lookout for “late date” items in the butcher section. I can get great deals on chicken, fish, or meat that’s perfectly fine, as long as I put it in the freezer that night. My store will discount the item on the sell-buy date, and I will often see stickers for $1 off, $2 off, even $4 off items!

So how can you make the most of these deals? You need to make sure that the $ off coupon represents the greatest percentage possible. A $2 off coupon will be a greater discount on a $4.00 package than it would be on a $4.50 package. So, go for the smaller package and maximize the savings.

2) When there is a Buy One, Get One Free sale, purchase items which are close in price. My local grocery will often have Buy One, Get One promotions on meat and poultry and, like most stores, they charge for the more expensive item and then you get a like item for free.

These deals can be thought of as a 50% discount, but only if you keep the price of the two items as close as possible. If you spend $10 on one item and get a $6 item for free, you are getting $16 worth of meat for $10.00 (a savings of 40%). But if you buy two items that are both $8.00 you’ll have the same $16 worth of meat for only $8.00 (a 50% savings)!

3) If you have a "$ off when you buy $$" coupon, stay close to the "when you buy" number! This is a strategy that is particularly useful at drugstores, which will regularly offer some version of the “$ off when you buy $$” promotions (CVS just emailed me a “$5 off when you buy $20” as I write this!). 

In order to leverage the full value of these discounts–and minimize your out of pocket costs–stay as close to the “when you buy number” as possible. It all comes back to the percentages. You want to make sure that the discount represents the greatest percentage of your purchase possible.

It’s also important to remember that the store is using that coupon to make you think that you’re getting a good deal and then tempt you to spend more than you planned. But if you keep your focus on hitting the "when you buy" number, you can win at this game!

Armed with these three simple rules, I’m confident I’ll make my dollar stretch as far as possible. And if I'm not sure what the best deal is, I'm glad I can always whip out my handy-dandy calculator!

Sharon is the woman behind the Good, True, and Beautiful blog and is learning how to live abundantly on a budget! After 15 years of a successful corporate life, she is now applying her business skills to the best job of all–mom. She lives on a small farm in Upstate NY with her husband and infant son.