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Category: Coupons

Coupons for Troops

Toni from The Happy Housewife emailed me information on her program, Coupons for Troops, and I was very excited to share this with you as I think many of you would be interested in participating! She is especially looking for more military families stationed overseas who would like to be the recipients of expired coupons. Here's what she wrote:

Coupons for Troops started in 2008 with the goal of providing
expired and non-expired coupons to military families stationed
overseas. The prices in overseas commissaries are significantly higher
than those in the States and military families do not always have
access to coupons in newspapers and inserts. Military commissaries
overseas accept coupons up to six months past the expiration date.

Military Commissaries accept manufacturer coupons as well as
internet printed coupons. The Commissary is a grocery store so only
"grocery" coupons are needed. Families cannot use store specific
coupons (i.e. Target, Walgreens, Kroger).

Those who participate in Coupons for Troops are assigned an
overseas military family. Coupons, which do not need to be sorted, are
then sent directly to the assigned family. All overseas military
families have FPO or APO addresses so mailing coupons costs the same as
if you were sending them stateside. You can send as many or as few
coupons as you have available. Please only send coupons that have been
expired 3 months or less in order to give the families time to sort and
use the coupons.

If you are a military family stationed overseas and would like to receive coupons I would love to add you to the mailing list.

If you are interested in learning more about this program or in receiving coupons, please contact Toni if you are interested in learning more about this program or receiving coupons.

Q&A: Does Couponing Only Work if You Eat Junk Food?

Melissa left the following comment on my Super Savings Saturday post last week. I began to respond to it in the comments section and I wrote so much that I finally decided it would be better to make this a separate post:

I've been using coupons for a while, but I've just newly done research on getting the most bang for each coupon. The thing that I notice though is that much of the food you get at really great prices is not really so healthy… chips, candy, cookies, and lots of processed stuff which could definitely be left out of the grocery budget totally. I have a terrible sweet-tooth and really love all that stuff, but if I got that much I know it would not be so good for my waistline. Are there ways to coupon and get healthy stuff, or does the couponing really only work for the junk food? I don't seem to find a lot of coupons for fresh foods, and healthy meal/baking supplies. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place? Any suggestions? -Melissa

Melissa, what a great question! There is a widely-held myth that using coupons means you only feed your family junk food. From a cursory vantage point, it can seem like us couponers buy a lot of processed food. And yes, it might appear like my family must only eat MSG and high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden foods. However, that is very far from the truth.

I definitely do buy some processed foods and my grocery shopping trips are evidence of this. I know that bothers some people and I often receive hate mail about it. I understand that some people want to avoid every ounce of processed foods–and that's okay with me! But that's not where our family is right now. We strive to eat a balanced diet and do the best we can with the time and money we have.

We don't eat all organic, we do eat processed foods probably at least once or twice a day, and I don't always bake and cook every single thing from scratch. But if you look at examples of our weekly menus here, you'll see that according to most people's standards, we do try to eat fairly healthfully. There are definitely areas we can improve in and I'm always seeking to work on those. It's a learning process!

Balance is key to me; it's not an all or nothing thing. We've chosen to eliminate food coloring from our diet, we also rarely eat pork, we are very particular about the meat we buy, we eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables (many of which have come from friend's gardens this Summer–yum!), we make much of our food from scratch, we eat very little fast food, we use primarily freshly-ground whole-wheat flour in our baking, we use all-natural cleaners for at least 90% of the cleaning we do in our home, we don't drink soda pop, and we avoid artificial flavoring whenever possible.

Those are just the things we've chosen to do in our own home based upon the research we've done and what works for our family. Every family is different so I encourage each family to do their own research and decide what are their own family's goals and priorities and then stick with those.

While we mostly eat foods cooked from scratch, I do buy some processed foods (such as granola bars, ice cream, and cereal–and occasionally even Oreo Cakesters!) when I can get them at rock-bottom prices. We enjoy these for treats, I pack a few in my husband's lunches each day, and we often share some of our extra goodies with others.

That said, there are quite a few coupons for healthful foods. To give you an example, this past week I was able to get All-Natural Dannon Vanilla yogurt and Musselman's All-Natural Applesauce for over 66% off the retail price thanks to coupons. The week before that, I got 12 organic CLIF bars for free and five boxes of Kashi products for free. There have also been some great Target coupons out recently for fruit and vegetables. Coupons for organic foods and produce are becoming more prevalent than they used to be, and I'm excited about this trend!

If you don't want to buy processed foods at all, but you still use traditional household items (such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and the like), you could just use coupons on household items. By watching for sales on these and pairing the sales with coupons, you can significantly slash your grocery bill–without ever even using a coupon on food items!

For example, I never pay more than $0.20 for toothpaste and toothbrushes. Every few months, these go on sale for $1 and there are quite a few $0.40/1 and $0.50/1 coupons available–which our Dillon's store doubles. I save these coupons and use them during the week of the $1 toothbrush and toothpaste sale to stock up!

It's the same for laundry detergent, deodorant, dish detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and so on. By combining coupons with sales, I often get these items for free or for pennies on the dollar thus saving us a significant portion of our grocery bill.

Unless you truly cook everything from scratch, don't use shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and use cloth toilet paper, you likely buy at least a few items which you could use coupons on. If you even just use coupons on 5-10 items per shopping trip and pair these coupons with great sales, you could probably save at least $20-$30 off your grocery bill per month–and that's money which is then freed up to be invested elsewhere in your grocery budget or put into savings!

I will be quick to say that while I'm a big advocate of using coupons, there are many more ways to save on your grocery bill without using coupons. In fact, I see coupons as just a part of the reason we're able to have a $40/week grocery budget. I also recommend that you have a budget, plan a menu, plan your menu around your store's sales, learn the sales cycles so you can buy ahead when an item you regularly use is at it's rock bottom price, shop with cash only and a calculator, shop at more than one store (if you're crunched for time, just glance at your local stores' ads when planning your shopping trip and determine which one has the best sales that week and then shop there), and bake and cook from scratch as much as possible.

Not everyone can do every single one of these things (and if you're new to the world of bargain shopping, coupon-clipping, and frugal living, please do not burn yourself out by trying to do it all at once. Take babysteps, okay?), but a little time invested in some of these things can go a long way towards shrinking your grocery budget without requiring you to expand your waistline or consume loads of junk food in the process!

For more information and ideas, be sure to read my article on how to lower your grocery bill without using coupons. Amy is also doing a series on her blog on 20 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store Without Using Coupons. Check out the first installments of her series here and here.

In addition, if you're new to frugal living and want some great ideas to slash your
grocery budget without using coupons, I'd definitely recommend checking
out the book I am currently reading Family Feasts for $75 a Week.

What other suggestions do you have for Michelle? Please share in the comments section. In addition, if you eat primarily unprocessed foods and blog on how you do so on a budget, would you be kind enough to leave your link in the comments section?

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.