Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.
Classic View
Grid View
7 Jun 2010   ·   106
Money Saving Mom

See why I don’t pay for coupons?

I wrote not too long ago about how I never pay for the newspaper or coupons. When a quick stop at the recycling bin always reaps a stack of inserts like is shown above, it’s hard to justify, wouldn’t you say?

Plus, if I end up not having time to clip them all, I don’t have any guilt in just chucking them back into the recycling bin because I didn’t pay a penny for them!

(And yes, I really do throw out coupons sometimes. My mantra is, “Do what you can do, with what you’ve got, where you are.” Sometimes, that means I just have to let coupon-clipping go for a week or two or four, because much more important things need my attention — like my precious children!)

5 Jun 2010   ·   21
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Dillon’s, Target, Walmart, Walgreens

I tried out a new shopping schedule this past week and it worked well. Instead of trying to do all our shopping in one big trip, I’m splitting it up into two smaller trips. Here’s what I bought this week:

I spent $1.81 at Walgreens and got back $2 in Register Rewards. Read more about this shopping trip here.

I spent $7.83 at Walmart. Read more about this shopping trip here.

I spent $22.07 at Target and saved $52.45. Read more about this shopping trip here.

I also stopped by Dillons and got two bunches of flowers (reduced to $0.99 each), 3 boxes of Tony’s pizza (used 3 free coupons), 1 loaf of bread (used free coupon), 1 box Kraft Mac & Cheese (used free coupon — donating this), 2 bottles of Kraft salad dressing (1.99 each, used $1/1 coupons, plus got a $1 catalina for buying 2 — $0.50 each), 2 bags of peas ($1 each, used $0.50/2 coupon).

After coupons and a $1 catalina from my last shopping trip, my total was $3.03 at Dillon’s, plus I got a $1 catalina for my next shopping trip.


Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

5 Jun 2010   ·   28
shopping bag

6 Tips for Becoming a Successful Mystery Shopper

shopping bag

Guest post by Tanya

I’m sure you’ve heard the ads that tell you how great mystery shopping can be: “Get paid to buy stuff and eat out!”

When I first heard about mystery shopping, I actually thought the whole idea sounded too good to be true — basically like a big scam. I decided to do some research because mystery shopping sounded like the perfect way to add a little extra money to our budget and I had to know for sure whether or not it was legit!

I did a lot of reading on the internet and found some legitimate companies who were actually paying people to shop for them.

What would you think if I told you that during my first two years of mystery shopping, I made over $10,000 (between paid compensation and being reimbursed for merchandise or food purchases that were required by the shops)?

My husband and I are living proof that it is possible to make a reasonable extra income through mystery shopping. It’s taken a lot of work and quite a bit of learning, but it’s been a worthwhile venture for us.

Before you start out on your own mystery shopping venture, I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned over the past 5+ years of mystery shopping:

1. Watch Out For Scams

I found this to be crucial when searching for companies to work with. You’ve probably heard about them and it’s true — there really are mystery shopping scams out there. A couple of things I’ve done to avoid the scammers are:

  • Don’t pay anyone to become a mystery shopper. Would you pay the local retail store to hire you? Mystery shopping is a job and we don’t pay to get jobs anywhere else. If they’re asking for your money in order to allow you to shop with them, beware!
  • Sign up with companies that offer a secure sign-up form. I have the policy that I will not sign up with a website whose registration form is not on a secure site. I figure that if they can’t go to the trouble to keep my information secure on the internet, they might not be the highest quality company to work for.

2. Prepare to Work

Like anything else in life, mystery shopping takes work. Each shop assignment will have specific instructions that need to be followed in order for the shop to be acceptable. And once the fun part of shopping is done, there is a report to complete. The effort that you put into the quality of your shops will help determine whether or not the company will assign you shops in the future.

3. Weigh the Costs

This point ties in with the previous one. When searching for mystery shopping assignments, carefully weigh the costs. Remember to take into account the time you will spend both completing the shop and filling out the report afterward. Remember to calculate your gas costs too — these days those can add up pretty quickly!

4. Save for Taxes

You’ll have to record your mystery shopping income as self-employment income when you file taxes each year. The amount of taxes that we have had taken out each year has varied. Sometimes we’ve saved too much and had a “bonus” at the end of the year. Other years, we haven’t set aside enough and have had to scrounge up more money to cover our self-employment taxes. I have found that setting aside 30-40% of my mystery shopping earnings to save toward paying taxes at the end of the year is a good amount.

5. Track Your Earnings

I keep a spreadsheet in Excel of all the shops that I complete, the company I complete them with, the shop fee amount, the amount I spend and will be reimbursed for my purchase and the date that I actually receive payment.

Most mystery shopping companies pay 30-60 days after the shop has been completed so it’s important to be able to know if you’re missing any payments or not. This spreadsheet is also key when it comes time to prepare our tax forms. I can tell at a quick glance how much we earned that year.

6. Know the Companies

As you work with different mystery shopping companies, you will find the ones that you like the best. Some are very strict with their requirements and will absolutely not pay you if any condition is unmet. Others are a bit more flexible and will try to work with your schedule and needs.

Some require lengthy survey forms to be completed after shops are completed, others only want a short description of your visit. Some companies specialize in upper class shops (like the Coach shop I completed or the $200 meal at an upscale restaurant), others are more ordinary (and less stressful — like gas stations and fast food chains).

Whichever mystery shopping companies you choose to go with, learn their requirements and strive to meet or exceed them. This will help you build a good reputation with that company and it improves your ability to receive future shops.

Is mystery shopping right for you?

I don’t think mystery shopping is a good fit for everyone. You have to decide how well it will fit into your own lifestyle.

My husband and I now have two little ones and we really don’t do a lot of mystery shopping these days because a lot of the shops require you to complete them alone, with no children in tow.

We have had to weigh how willing we are to give up the precious time that my husband has at home for me to go out and complete mystery shops while he watches the kids. We haven’t stopped mystery shopping altogether, we’ve just gotten more choosy about which shops we accept.

Tanya is the blessed wife of a very loving husband and mommy to two toddlers. She loves finding ways to improve the life of her family by budgeting, finding tips and tricks for around the house and looking for fun frugal ways to spend time together.

Interested in Becoming a Mystery Shopper?

If you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper, be sure to read all about my experiences as a mystery shopper. -Crystal

4 Jun 2010   ·   71
Money Saving Mom

28 “Extreme” Measures We Took to Stay Out of Debt

After reading Frugal Granola’s post on the extreme measures they took to get out of debt, I thought it would be fun to think of a few “extreme” measures our family took to stay out of debt. Now, for many of you, probably none of these things are very extreme, but compared to the average American, they are pretty counter-cultural.

The 28 items listed below each saved us at least $100 per year — if not much more! And it’s because of being willing to make sacrifices like this that, by the grace of God, we stayed out of debt while Jesse was in law school and lived on around $12,000 per year.

As our income has increased, we’ve relaxed a bit on how extreme we are (I think there’s plenty of room for occasional “splurging” if you’re out of debt and living below your means!), but we still do many of these things.

1. We lived on a very strict zero-based budget.

2. We were almost 100% cash-only.

3. We lived in a small apartment.

4. We didn’t go out to eat, except a few times per year — and then it was usually a fast food restaurant where we’d use coupons and eat for less than $7!

5. We cooked from scratch.

6. We had one car – an older, used car.

7. We readily accepted hand-me-downs.

8. We shopped at thrift stores.

9. We got books and DVDs at the library.

10. We stayed home alot.

11. We didn’t pay for a cell phone.

12. I cut my own hair.

13. We used cloth diapers.

14. We used coupons to get the majority of our food and household items for pennies on the dollar — feeding our small family all 21 meals per week for $30-$35 each week.

15. We played the Drugstore Game.

16. We bartered — from car repair work to clothes, we weren’t ashamed to ask if an individual would be willing to barter with us.

17. We negotiated discounts on necessary purchases and regular bills.

18).We used a birth center, instead of a hospital to have our first baby thus significantly lowering our out-of-pocket costs.

19. We reused and made-do as much as we could.

20. We pretty much didn’t buy anything for our baby for the first entire year.

21. We stopped worrying about what other people think.

22. We worked really, really hard — constantly looking for more ways to pinch pennies and creative ways to bring in a little extra money.

23. We only ate meat a few times per week — and only then as a “condiment”.

24. We didn’t pay for internet — we got a free AOL three-month trial and when we called to cancel, they kept voluntarily extending our subscription!

25. We kept our home pared down to the basics and sold anything we didn’t use.

26. We didn’t use a babysitter. Since we weren’t living close to family, the first time we left our daughter was when she was over two and a half years old!

27. We didn’t exchange Christmas or birthday gifts of any sort until about four years into our marriage.

28. We prayed a lot. And God was always and has always been faithful!

What about you? What “extreme” things do you do or have you done in order to get out of debt and/or stay out of debt?

4 Jun 2010   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Money Saving Mom® Has Gone Mobile!

You asked for it, and it’s finally here. is now mobile-friendly!

When you view this site on your mobile device, you’ll notice a few things are different.

  1. Loading time is much faster.
  2. Content is now sized and organized so that it’s easy-to-read on your phone.
  3. You can easily search for posts tags or categories from the navigation menu.
  4. When you visit the Store Deals section of MoneySavingMom, you’ll now be able to choose your store on the home page and then go directly to the posts for that store. This should make it much easier for those of you who want to access your store’s posts while you’re out shopping.

If you don’t see the mobile site on your phone at first, you can turn on mobile view by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage and clicking the ON button for the Mobile Theme.

3 Jun 2010   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

A quick Walmart shopping trip

I wasn’t planning on going to Walmart today when I was out doing some errands and shopping while Grandma was here watching the children, but I was right by it and had my coupons with me, so I popped in. Here’s what I purchased:

2 packs of strawberries — price-matched them to Aldi — $0.99 each

5 lbs. of bananas — price-matched them to a local store which has bananas for $0.18/lb. on Thursdays

Nivea Body Wash — $3.97, used $3/1 coupon –$0.97 after coupon

Bic Soleil Razors — $3.97 each, used $3/1 coupons — $0.97 each after coupons

2 YoPlus Yogurt 4-packs — $1.68 each, used $1/1 coupons — $0.68 each after coupons

2 Taco Bell Taco Seasonings — $0.50 each, used $1/2 coupon — Free after coupon

My total after coupons was $7.83 for everything pictured above.

See more deals at Walmart this week here. Did you get any great deals at Walmart this week?

3 Jun 2010   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Getting Out of Debt Can Require Extreme Measures

I really enjoyed the guest post by Frugal Granola which was posted on Getting Freedom this week. I think you’ll be inspired by it, too. Here’s a snippet:

During the early years of our marriage, we had our share of debt. It started with school loans, then the addition of medical bills, followed by the expense of a car, a mortgage, and the cost of having a baby.

Through those years, feeling the burden of debt, I would often hear financial suggestions, such as “Skip the cup of coffee,” or “Entertain at home instead of going out.” These are certainly wise suggestions, but I would shake my head in dismay; we were already doing these things!

We were meeting our daily expenses and bill payments, but were exhausted by the amount of time working and our lack of family time. It certainly didn’t feel like we had the freedom to live out our values. We were “living to work” instead of “working to live.”

We finally realized the steps to our financial freedom needed to be more extreme.

Read the full post and ways that this family decided to become more extreme in their measures to get out of debt.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some of the “extreme measures” we’ve taken to stay out of debt.

2 Jun 2010   ·   69

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: How To Get Started Playing the Drugstore Game

Last week, I talked about how playing the Drugstore Game had helped to significantly lower our grocery budget. If you’re new to the Drugstore Game, here are some basic steps to help you get started:

1. Pick One Store to Start With

If you have more than one drugstore chain in your area, please do me a huge favor and don’t try to learn the ins and outs of CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid all at once. Start with one drugstore chain and learn the ropes of it before adding in another.

I’d suggest beginning with CVS as it requires the least outlay of cash. You’ll likely make some mistakes in the beginning, so the less outlay of cash, the better.

2. Read, Read, Read

Before you jump in with both feet, it’s highly important that you take time to read up on how the drugstore rewards programs work and what their coupon policies are. It is vital to be well-informed and well-versed. Plus, it greatly increases your confidence level — and you need confidence in order to work the drugstore deals successfully.

Depending upon which drugstore you chose to begin with (see point #1), here are some articles for you to read: CVS 101, Walgreens 101 or Rite Aid 101. I also encourage you to look at the scenarios and deals posted in the weekly CVS Deals, Walgreens Deals or Rite Aid Deals posts and review them until you really feel like you had a handle on how it works.

3. Start Small

I know that it’s easy to want to have some incredible transactions right out of the shoot where you get $80 worth of items for $0.22, but don’t even think about going there yet. Start with a handful of items and work your way up.

I’d suggest an initial Drugstore Game scenario of around $10 to $15. This is enough that you can learn the ropes, but not too much that you’re out a bunch of money if you have some failed transactions.

4. Don’t Expect to Do It Perfectly

Notice I keep mentioning making mistakes? That’s because pretty much everyone makes them when they are first learning.

Even once you’ve armed yourself with lots of information and have reviewed deals incessantly before planning your own, you will very likely make some mistakes. It’s okay. If you’ve never ridden a bike before, you usually don’t just jump on and ride it flawlessly from the beginning. It takes practice and patience.

The same is true with the Drugstore game: you’ll probably not have flawless transactions from the very get-go. But practice and patience will pay off in big dividends. So accept the mistakes you make as part of the learning process.

5. Be Prepared With a Backup Plan

Oftentimes, drug stores will be out of an item that’s part of the rewards offer or they won’t even stock it. A backup plan is key. I often work out 2-3 different scenario ideas and then make my final game plan once I’m in the store and able to see what they have on hand.

I also would suggest finding out when a store restocks their shelves and planning your shopping trip somewhere near those times. It’s frustrating to go in and find that they are completely out of everything that is free after rewards that week. You have a better chance of finding everything on your list if you shop right after they restock the shelves. In addition, if you don’t see something in stock, be sure to ask if they might have extras in the back which they’ve not put on the shelves yet.

6. Commit to Sticking With It For Three Months

While the Drugstore Game can save you a tremendous amount of money on household and bath and beauty products, it’s certainly not for everyone. It takes time and effort and you might find it’s just not worth the time and effort for your family.

However, can I caution you not to give up too soon? If you want to really see if it’s worth, commit to sticking with it for three months. Do at least one transaction every two weeks for three months and then evaluate at the end of the trial period whether you feel like this money-saving idea is worth the return on investment for you.

What are your best tips and tricks for someone who is a newbie to the Drugstore Game? What do you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

Get the latest coupons delivered right to your door for
as low as $1 per week with Discounted Newspapers!

2 Jun 2010   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in June

FishMama is hosting Freezer Cooking Days this weekend over at her blog. You can follow along over there and join in and link up if you’d like.

I’d love to be participating but we’re attending a homeschool conference this weekend. Plus, we’re in the process of trying to empty out the freezer. Any guesses as to why that would be the case?! 🙂

2 Jun 2010   ·   137
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: Is it frugal to shop at Wholesale Clubs?

(I was off the computer much of yesterday so I didn’t get this posted like I’d planned. Enjoy a Q&A Tuesday on Wednesday!)

Today’s Q&A Tuesday question is from Melissa:

I’m curious to know if you think wholesale clubs like Sam’s, Costco, etc. are helpful for saving money? -Melissa

My friend Tammy tackled a similar question on her blog last week on why shopping only at Costco is the frugal choice for their family — as opposed to using coupons and shopping at more than one grocery store.

While I thought she had some great points, I would disagree with her — at least when it comes to our family and our current situation.

Our family has had a Sam’s Club membership in the past thanks to one of our businesses having a merchant service with them. After extensive research and trial and error, I’ve come to the conclusion that a Sam’s Club membership is just not worth it for our family. The quantities are too big, the prices are too high and shopping there was too time-consuming with young children (the store is so big and requires much more time to navigate than a quick trip into Aldi, Dillon’s or the health food store requires.

There are a few items which we found to be cheaper at Sam’s Club than what we’d usually pay at Aldi or the grocery store including: yeast, vanilla, honey, chocolate chips, dry beans and cheese. However, the Cheddar cheese has food coloring in it (something we try to avoid completely at our house) unlike the cheese we usually buy at Aldi or Dillon’s which is colored with Annatto — a non-artificial coloring.

With the exception of yeast, the savings on the few items we found to be less expensive at Sam’s Club was very minimal — usually in the vicinity of $0.10 per pound cheaper. When I did the math, including the cost of a Sam’s Club membership, it would result in a savings of about $10 per year, maximum. But it would require making at least 4-6 trips per year there in order to buy the items. And each of those trips would likely take 1 hour at a minimum when you factor in the time to drive to the store and back, get three children out of the car, and navigate a huge store.

Since I always decide whether or not something is frugal based upon how much money I’m saving per hour, a savings of around $2.50 per hour to shop at Sam’s Club is definitely not worth it.

However, this is just my current conclusion based upon our family size and location. I think that Wholesale Clubs actually can be a frugal choice for many families who are in different situations, like Tammy outlined in her post.

What do you think? Is shopping at wholesale clubs a frugal option for your family or not? I’d love to hear!

2 Jun 2010   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Can you feed your family for $25 per member or less each week?

ALL YOU is running another Grocery Challenge this year. They are challenging the public to spend $25 or less per family member per week on groceries during a four-week period (June 20th – July 17th, 2010).

The winning family will receive a $1,000 grocery card and the opportunity to appear in the November issue of ALL YOU magazine.

Sign up for the Grocery Challenge here.

1 Jun 2010   ·   27
Money Saving Mom

Today’s Target Trip: Spent $22.07, Saved $52.45

I stopped by Target today and was able to get some great deals:

5 lbs. of strawberries — $0.99 per lb.

1 carton of blueberries — $1.99

1 carton of Dannon yogurt — on sale for $1.67

2 SoBe Lifewaters (20 oz.) at $1 each — used 2 $0.50/1 printable (some Target stores will allow you to use more than one of these coupons; it’s up to their discretion since it’s a store coupon) — $0.50 each after coupons

2 GE Reveal Light Bulbs (4-pack) – on sale for $2 per pack  — used $1/1 printable (no longer available), stacked with $1/1 Target printable — Free after coupons!

1 Wish-Bone Dressing (16 oz.) — price cut to $1.49 through 6/12 — $0.75/1 Wish-bone Target coupon from 4/25 insert — $0.75 after coupon (should have used $0.50/1 Wishbone coupon (IE) (FF Link) but I somehow didn’t get that one printed!)

2 Eggo Waffles – price cut to $1.75 used $1/1 printable — $0.75 each after coupon

2 Shout Stain Remover — regularly priced at $1.97 — used $0.55/1 from 5/2 SmartSource insert (there were $0.55/1 peelie coupons on all the bottles at our store, too), stacked with $1/1 Target Printable — $0.42 each after coupons (Make sure and see this post for an even better deal!)

2 Dannon Activia yogurt (4 pack) – on sale for $1.67 — use $1/1 printable here (IE) or here (FF) — $0.67 each after coupons

5 Fiber One Cereal/Bars – on sale for $2.50 each, used 4 $0.75/1 printables and 1 $0.40/1 printable , got a $5 Target gift card — $0.82 each after coupons and gift card

1 Bic pens — $0.99 — used $1/1 coupon — free after coupon

2 Carefree liners — $0.94 — used $1/1 coupons — free after coupons

1 Nexcare (20 ct.) Strawberry Shortcake Bandages — $1.87 — used $0.50/1 Target coupon, stacked with $1/1 Nexcare printable — $0.37 after coupon

1 Band-Aid (25-count) — $1.69 — Used $0.75/1 Target coupon, stacked with $0.50/1 manufacturer’s coupon — $0.44 after coupon

1 Motrin PM — $3.99 — used $3/1 coupon — $0.99 after coupon

2 Armor All — $2.49 each, used $2/1 manufacturer’s coupon — $0.49 after coupons

After coupons and a $5 gift card I’d earned from my last Target trip, I spent $22.07 out of pocket and earned a $5 gift card back which I’ll use on my next transaction.

See all the deals at Target this week here.

31 May 2010   ·   66
Money Saving Mom

Being Frugal in a High Cost of Living Area

Guest Post by Kelly from My Friend Kelly.

I’ve always found amusement in the personal finance conundrum regarding low versus high cost of living areas (COLA). Hence, “If you’re in a high COLA, move to a lower COLA to pay less on a house, taxes, groceries, etc.” And the contradicting advice, “If you need more income move to a high COLA to find more jobs. Sure you’ll pay more for gas, daycare and insurance but you’ll be making more!”

As a California resident and now home owner, I’ve found there are ways to thrive financially in an expensive region without a sixfigure salary. Here are eight:

1. Ignore the National Averages, they’ll just depress you.

Yes, gas is higher in California than probably 46 other states. The first time this occurred to me was when a friend visited from South Carolina and kept taking pictures of our gas stations. And when gas prices were nearly $5 a gallon, all the news seemed to cover was how cheap it was everywhere else.

So while it may be cheaper to gas up in Nebraska, comparing the two regions is an exercise in frustration. Instead, focus on what you can control, finding the best deal in your city. This doesn’t mean you need a 75-page price book for every item available at Wal-Mart, just focus on the few things you’ll buy over and over again. Use the internet and price-matching sites to get the best idea of merchants that consistently offer the best deal.

You can do this with gas stations, hotels, oil changes, restaurants, pretty much any product or service where you want to cut costs. This chart shows the average cost for living and housing in all 50 states and if you’d like to see how your expenses measure up regionally check out this site.

2. Work. Really, really hard.

It’s very tempting for me to leave this out of the discussion but for the last year and a half I’ve worked 2 or more jobs simultaneously. At times, that means 80-hour work weeks and 2 days off each month. If it is feasible to pick up a second job, even short term, you will likely find more opportunities in a high COLA. It is not unusual for professionals to have more than one job and as long as you don’t violate company policy, and performance standards are met, employers should understand as well.

High COLA economies typically have more job opportunities because commuters spend more time away from home and tend to rely more on convenience shopping and services. Business and industrial areas have hotels and a variety of restaurants that are supported by business traffic.

3. Hard work goes beyond reporting for duty at a workplace.

If your utility rates are high you’ll want to make your home more energy efficient and monitor your usage. If you are willing to do the work you will enjoy lower costs even in an expensive area. My home is a half-plex and the reduced square footage and shared wall help keep my costs low.

Many of my friends have young children and have made the choice to forgo a career short- or long-term. These moms and dads work very hard themselves. They’re often utilizing “free” time to seek out the best values for their family, helping relatives and friends as needed and focusing an incredible amount of time on raising amazing kids. If you consider the cost of such services if provided elsewhere, you can quickly see how a parent’s hard work for their family will bring about significant savings as well as non-monetary benefits.

4. Control major costs.

Living in a high COLA doesn’t mean giving in to sky-high expenses without thinking. Sometimes when everyone else resigns to paying a premium, smart shopping can reveal lower cost options. Housing, for example, is almost universally more expensive in high cost of living areas and can make a major dent in the most frugal budget.

The cost of my first home was nearly half the median housing cost for my state. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a mansion and I don’t work in real estate. There are disadvantages to owning a half-plex, but the smaller mortgage is not one of them. When the standard encourages excess, look for reasonable prices and modesty. This might mean a 6-year-old car that was traded in for a new model but has plenty of miles left or a house without all the amenities we’ve come to expect.

When you’re considering your monthly budget don’t just look at where you can save with coupons. Take your top three expenses — usually housing, transportation and healthcare — and examine your options. If you trim even just 5% off major costs the impact will be significant.

5. Embrace your locale.

California is a cornucopia of agriculture. So much is produced here that locals can and should take advantage of it. There are fruit stands in many counties and the grocery stores carry local fresh produce nearly year round. Take some time to identify what your state or county produces in abundance.

In New York City, its affordable entertainment — there are restaurants, live theater and museums for every budget. On Hawaii, it’s fresh air, beautiful beaches and affordable swim accessories. Resident discounts are sometimes available and allow locals to take advantage of parks, recreation, and attractions during the slower off-season.

Check out your city website for festivals, tours, local interests and major industries. Enjoy the perks your community has to offer whether its hiking, music festivals, golf courses, boating, gardening or earning side income from the tourist trade.

6. Know What’s Cheaper

Public transportation is more readily available in densely-populated areas and more employers are increasingly likely to subsidize costs. Zipcars, trains, extensive bus route and bike trails enable thousands to get around without buying, licensing, insuring and fueling a car. Find out the options in your own area and even if you cannot forgo a car, substitute for other transportation when it is feasible.

Communities with a local university system or community college provide opportunities for low cost continuing education not to mention bring apprentices into your community. Beauty schools often give great haircuts at a reduced price so students can practice. My local community college allowed residents to drop off broken appliances for students to practice repairs. This saved a trip to the dump and provided hands-on experience. And $30 in tuition paid for a summer semester of pool access where students can swim laps for college credit.

Campuses also have a thriving used book market, lots of free boxes the week after the semester starts and a variety of clubs and facilities which may be open to non-students.  In my current town the university runs a mobile vaccination clinic staffed with vet students that travels each weekend providing low cost shots and medication under the direction of an experienced veterinarian.

High COLA economies also have an abundance of choice, whether it’s four car dealerships on one block or a page of Mexican restaurants in one zip code. This competition drives down prices. This is a little harder in a rural area when the only shop in town knows you’ll have to drive an hour to gain any significant savings.

It may not be worth your time to find the cheapest taco for date night once a month but if you’re hosting a party or buying a car, the savings could be substantial. Get several quotes for infrequent expenses like landscaping, professional cleaners, painters or large purchases like cars, appliances and computers.

My friend, Andrea, for example, recently purchased a newer car and “basically pitted 2 dealerships against each other and it worked!” She reports the car was “$3500 less than MSRP and $1000 below invoice.” For more tips check out this highly recommended site to successfully negotiate bank fees, salaries, cable costs and credit card interest rates.

7. Adjust Inflated Expectations

Cost of living is most easily described as the monetary cost of basic necessities: food, shelter, clothing. The measurement also tracks the consumer price index which includes non-essentials.  It may be more expensive to get a massage, see a movie and eat out in my city but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to frequent those businesses.

It may be more expensive to go to the movies in your town but you can compensate by going less frequently, finding coupons, seeing movies when you visit another town, or substituting with rented movies at home.

When it comes to durable goods the internet is the great equalizer on price. Before the popularization of sites such as eBay and Amazon you were limited to the prices set by local merchants.  Now we can search to compare apples to apples and given a few days shipping time have the lowest price available. Whether that’s finding the best price on toilet paper or trucks, the internet is in many ways the best marketplace.

8. Try Something New

There will be times, no matter how hard you try or how much you save otherwise, that you cannot cut your basic living expenses. We cannot negotiate with utility providers or get lower insurance rates without risking essential coverage. You may read tips on this site and lament the fact your major grocery chain isn’t featured very often or you don’t have a local CVS.

In those times it will help to get creative and try something new.  It may result in a new grocery shopping experiment, giving up paper, or downsizing your home.  Living in a high cost of living area can be challenging and it can be rewarding. But don’t be afraid try something new.

Kelly is a 25 year old single homeowner living in Northern California. Despite a high cost of living and tough job market, Kelly has created a cozy home without acquiring debt. Now just $3,000 away from eliminating student loans (the last of consumer debt), Kelly just took her first trip abroad, decorates from the thrift store, and enjoys teaching financial awareness. Kelly blogs at My Friend Kelly.

photo credit: meironke; Ed Yourdon

27 May 2010   ·   71

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Play the Drugstore Game

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

Once you have your coupons all organized and you’re starting to feel comfortable using them at your grocery stores, it’s time to step it up a notch and learn how to play what I call the “Drugstore Game.”

What is the Drugstore Game?

In a nutshell, the Drugstore Game is taking advantage of the rebate programs at CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens to get household and beauty products for pennies on the dollar — or even more than free!

How I Got Started Playing the Drugstore Game

A few years ago, my husband was in law school, we had one child, and we were living in a little basement apartment on a beans-and-rice budget. I had some extra time one day and I was online researching ways to save money.

In my searching, I landed upon a forum of people discussing this store called CVS. As I read more on this forum about people getting hundreds of dollars worth of products for free, you can bet I was a bit intrigued.

I’d never heard of CVS in my life, but I discovered that a nearby drugstore was in the process of being converted to a CVS. I read and researched everything I could find about shopping at CVS (which wasn’t a lot back then since there weren’t any blogs who had it all mapped out for you!) and then timidly walked into this in-the-process-of-being-converted-to-CVS drugstore and tried my hand at a simple scenario.

To my surprise, the deal worked! I paid a few dollars out of pocket and got those same dollars plus a few more back in Extra Care Bucks! I practically floated out of that store like I’d just struck gold.

I went home, did more research, clipped some more coupons, mapped out another scenario, and went back the next day. Once again, the deal was successful — and I used the Extra Care Bucks I’d earned on my transaction the day before to purchase my order. So this time, I spent less than $1 out of pocket and, after my coupons and Extra Care Bucks, I got back around $8.

In the Beginning, I Went a Little Overboard

It so happened that the month I discovered CVS was the October when CVS was pushing their Extra Care program really hard. And, during that month they had no limits on the Extra Care deals. Yes, seriously. Plus, some of them were good for the entire month. Since we only had one child, the CVS store was close to our house, I had lots of time on my hands and we had practically no money, I went a little overboard on the CVS deals.

In fact, in about three weeks, we’d gotten around $800 worth of groceries, household products and health and beauty products — and spent less than $20 out of pocket! Plus, I had around $120 in Extra Care Bucks to roll. It was a bit insane!

I’ve Learned That Balance is Key

Over time, I’ve learned that balance is key. You don’t have to do all the deals. But if you’re willing to put forth 30 minutes of planning and 30 minutes of shopping at at least one drug store every week, you can stock up on almost all the household and health and beauty products your family needs for almost nothing.

A One-Hour Investment Per Week Can Mean Free Health and Beauty Products for Life!

And think about it, if you got all of your toothpaste, razors, deodorant, shampoo, body wash, over-the-counter medicines and all the other health and beauty products you routinely buy for FREE, wouldn’t that significantly lower your grocery budget?

Stay tuned next Wednesday when I’ll walk you step-by-step through how to get started playing the Drugstore Game — and how to maximize your time and effort for the best return on your investment of time and money.

Get the latest coupons delivered right to your door for
as low as $1 per week with Discounted Newspapers!