Searching for Treasure: Saving with Coupons

Until last month, I WAS a coupon clipper.  Twenty years ago when I was a new mom, I had time to clip coupons weekly and maintain an organized coupon wallet. Time passed, more babies were born, I started homeschooling and suddenly there was no time for couponing.  With less time, I discontinued couponing, consolidated my food shopping to one store and bought as many generic brand products as possible.  Fast forward twenty years and now our economy is struggling and we have two daughters in college.  If there was ever a time that I need to save my pennies, it’s now!  I’m certainly learning as I go, but here are some things I’ve learned over the past two months:

General Principles for Couponing
Look for ways to save money on the groceries you regularly buy.  You aren’t saving money if you use coupons for items you don’t usually purchase!

  • Be adventurous and try new brands of items that you have coupons for, if the coupons make the item cheaper than your old brand.  You may find a new favorite.
  • Think ahead and stock up on deeply discounted items.  Stock up on discounted toothpaste or toilet paper—after all, you know you’ll use it!  Purchase discounted baking items in the fall so you’ll be ready for holiday baking.
  • Know how much you are spending .  Save your register receipts and write down the cost of the products you most often buy.  Use this as a guide to compare at other stores or for future discounts.

Where Are the Coupons?
Newspapers We cancelled our newspaper subscription many years ago; however, I’ve recently learned that I can subscribe to my local paper for Sunday and Wednesday delivery for 75 cents per week.  Another friend recommended purchasing a paper at a dollar store.

Mailers Even though we don’t get the paper, we still receive a weekly Red Plum mailer that includes grocery store advertisements and coupons.  You can sign up to receive the Red Plum mailer at:  www.redplum.com.

Printable Coupons There are several sites that allow you to print coupons.  These are not the same coupons that come in the newspaper, even if they have the same company name.  Most sites require you to download the coupon printer before you can print a coupon, but you need only download it once.

Weekly Advertisements Check out the front page specials of the grocery store circulars, usually featuring the deepest discounts called “loss leaders” that are designed to get you into the store to spend more money.  Don’t forget the bogo specials (buy 1, get 1) and discounts on meat.  Meat can always be frozen for future use.

Friends If you have friends that get the paper, ask them if they’ll keep the coupons for you.  Ask for pet coupons from friends who don’t have pets.  There are also organizations that facilitate trading coupons, but I haven’t explored that yet.

What’s the strategy?
Organize Your Coupons When I first started clipping coupons, an envelope worked just fine.  Sometimes I’d see other moms with fancy binders, but I had no idea how to set up one myself.  I just found this link for a binder you can make on your own:  Make a coupon binder.

Know the Coupon Policy for Each Store Each store has its own coupon policy which states how many coupons are accepted per day or per transaction, the maximum coupon amount accepted, and which coupons, if any, can be doubled or even tripled.

Use your Coupons Wisely Avoid using coupons at high-priced grocery stores.  Instead, save your coupons for shopping trips at stores that already have lower prices.

Shop on Double Coupon Day We have a local grocery store that offers double coupons each Wednesday and super doubles once a month or so.  Though this store generally has higher prices, I collect my l amount coupons, which will be doubled, and purchase just those items.  Again, you need to know how much you usually spend so you know if you are truly saving money.

Research the Blogs There are so many websites/blogs devoted to helping people save money.  Let them do all the work!  Here are a few of my favorite sites that have deals on groceries, restaurants, and other products.  Sometimes there are even free samples if you sign up for a mailing list.  Keep a look out for posts about match up items and dates for double coupon days. Here is a list of some of my favorite blogs: moneysavingmom.com southernsavers.com thecouponconsultant.com couponchallenge.com passionforsavings.com

Purchase Matchup Items Most blogs have a weekly post of match up items for a specific store—discounted items purchased with a coupon at a significant discount or even free.  The best blog for you to follow is the one that includes your local grocery stores.  Posted matchups can save a lot of money, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  I don’t always have the coupons.  Also, the matchup items are not always available at my particular store and when they are available, often the items are already out of stock by the time I arrive in the afternoon.  The early bird definitely gets the worm!

Sign Up for Group Discounts Some organizations offer discounts to their members.  One such company is Groupon.  I signed up to receive a daily email featuring a discount to a local business or service.  Most offers are available for purchase for just 24 hours and a new offer will arrive in your inbox the next day.  Generally, the discount is usually 40-50% and the coupon may expire anywhere from 3-12 months.  There is a minimum number which must be purchased by the group before the discount takes effect—hence the name “Groupon.”  After you pay by credit or debit card, you print the Groupon and present it as a coupon at the place of business.  There is no membership or handling fee.  My favorite Groupon purchase was 50% off a flying lesson at our regional airport—a Father’s Day gift for my hubby.  Groupons are a great deal for gifts or things that you regularly purchase.

One such group discount is available through Homeschool Buyers Coop.  Members sign up to receive a free newsletter which communicates all available discounts on various homeschool curricula.  Each discount is available for purchase for several weeks.  There are three levels of discounts, based on how many orders are placed—more orders equals a deeper discount.  If you purchase early at a lower discount and more people purchase later, you receive price based on the number sold at the close of the deal.  You may pay by debit or credit card and the product ships after the deal has expired—which may be several weeks after you made the actual purchase.  I was able to save about $50 on a music curriculum for the fall.

 

Be Ready to Learn
Really, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much to learn--and it takes time to master the art of major savings.  If you are an “Extreme Coupon Queen,” please post a comment to this article and share your favorite secrets for saving money with coupons.

Note: Groupon compensates me for new referrals; however I posted about it because it has saved my family money, not because I'm trying to make money.

September Organization Challenge: Finances

Getting a handle on your finances takes some time, but is an inexpensive way to cut down on household expenses.  When bills are accessible, it is easier to pay them on time and save money in late fees or rush shipping.  When receipts are organized, broken items can be returned or serviced for free under a warranty—if you can find it!  The savings can really add up.

Set up a system As soon as you get the mail, put the bills and bank statements in their place—preferably somewhere above arms reach of little ones.  Don’t lay your bills down anywhere else, lest they get lost or moved by another family member.  I use a letter sorter which has enough space for a few blank business envelopes, stamps, rolls for coins, and a pen.  You could also use an expandable file folder with a sufficient number of pockets for your filing system.

Keep  debit and credit receipts Collect your debit and credit receipts in your wallet or in your filing system.  Enter them regularly in your checkbook, Quickbooks, or whatever system you use.  Keeping an accurate balance of your finances will help you avoid overspending.  Clearly mark the receipts that have been entered.  File receipts necessary for warranties, stapling them to the user’s guide or other warranty information.  We file all other receipts by month in business envelopes, in case something needs to be returned.

Print receipts for internet transactions Internet purchases can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of daily and weekly expenditures.  Print out receipts from internet purchases and file them with your bills and bank statements.  Record them regularly so there are no surprises at the end of the month.

Pay bills regularly  This seems like such a simple idea, but it is so easy to put off paying the bills until next week and then you realize that you have a bill due tomorrow!  Paying bills regularly saves money in late fees and overnight shipping.  If you need to keep a record of a paid bill, record the date and check number on the stub before filing it in your filing system.  (I’ll save that one for another article…)

Keep a file for warranties and manuals Create file folders for warranties and manuals of products that you purchase.  Staple the receipt to the manual so you have all the information for the warranty.  You can even mark your receipt if it was paid by credit card because some credit cards double the manufacturer’s warranty.  Also, record the serial number, especially for electronics.   When some of our personal items were stolen, he mentioned that he would be able to trace items if he had a serial number.  Now I record those on the cover of the item’s manual.

Technically, I have more than one warranty file: one for outdoor items such as the lawnmower and tools, one for kitchen tools and appliances (toasters to stoves), one for electronics (stereos to phones), one for everything else luggage), one for jewelry and one for kids furniture and toys.  My girls have their own file folders for items that they own.  A little bit of time could save a lot of money down the road.

Monitor bank statements Be sure to balance your checkbook, double checking all expenditures, automatic withdrawals, and deposits. Banks sometimes make mistakes.  Once out bank direct deposited my husband’s paycheck TWICE.  We were only looking at the bottom line and didn’t catch the error for two months.  It was a blow to our budget when the bank withdrew the second deposit from our account!  More importantly many banks are changing their fee structure and charging for various services.  Know if you’re being charged, what for, and how much.  Shop around and see if you can find comparable services for less.

Use cash Whenever possible, use a cash system.  Withdraw money weekly or biweekly for gas, groceries, entertainment, or clothing and store them in separate envelopes.  Before you make a purchase, consult your envelope to see how much money is available for your purchase.  This does require an amount of self-control not to spend over the limit or spend on items other than the designated categories.  You may also find it helpful to save receipts for cash purchases so that you can accurately budget for the future.

Whether you use cash, check or credit, be sure to keep receipts you might need for returns or warranty purposes.  When I purchase clothing or shoes, I keep the receipts for at least one month in case there is a defect in the product.

Make a budget—and follow it I saved this one for last because it is a little intimidating.  Making a budget does take some time and sticking to it takes a lot of self-control, but spending only what is budgeted is guaranteed to save you money.  There is no need for me to detail the process of making a budget since there are so many other organizations that specialize in budgets and finances.  Years ago we used Larry Burkett’s budget system to get out of debt.  (It’s now called Crown Financial Ministries.)  Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is another successful system for eliminating debt and living within your means.  Which one is best?  Well, it’s like a famous body builder once said when someone asked him which exercise equipment was the best.  His reply was, “The one you use.”

Sometimes life passes by so quickly that we easily fill our days meeting the urgent needs without giving thought or attention to looking ahead.  Take some time to organize your finances, evaluate where you are and set some goals for where you want to be.  Not only will it improve your bottom line, it will be time well spent.

A Secure Investment: Investing in Your Children

(Note:  This article is by no means intended to criticize working moms or moms who don’t homeschool.  God calls families to different ways to raise their children:  there is certainly more than one way to raise a godly child.  My heart is to encourage moms who have chosen motherhood as a career.  It is a wise investment.)

After investing diligently for twenty years, my retirement account still stands at zero.  It has nothing to do with my broker or with the economy, but it is a direct result of how I invested.  For more than 20 years I have been a full-time, stay-at-home mom for our four daughters.  I have invested money, time, and energy into teaching, training, and mentoring these young women and it is an investment that has paid high dividends.  (Of course my husband has also played a significant role in their development, but this article is not for the Daddies.)

Before our children were born, I was a public school music teacher who also taught several classes of hearing-impaired students.  Most of the 750 students I saw each week knew my name and some even regularly visited my classroom for extra time together.  I had a decent income, a retirement account, and summers off.  My career afforded me the opportunity to make great dinner conversation as I described how I taught music to hearing-impaired children.  I taught for two years and loved my job.  In the eyes of our culture, I was successful.

God blessed my husband and I and three days after the last day of school, I found myself at home with a newborn baby girl who wasn’t interested in my teaching success!  My ultimate career choice was to be a wife and mother, but somehow this wasn’t what I thought I had signed up for.  Everything was new to both of us and it took some time for us to learn.  Even more disappointing was the reaction of friends and acquaintances when I told them I was a stay-at-home mom.  Some of them questioned what I did all day and others politely smiled and found someone else to talk to.  It was painfully clear that society did not approve of my

No matter what the view of others, I stayed true to God’s call for me and our family.  There were joyful days and there were difficult days (when wanted to quit or resign!).  Most every day was full—full of laundry, cooking, cleaning, straightening, counseling, teaching, repeating, training, undoing, redoing, correcting, repeating, disciplining, discipling, and did I mention repeating?  We read the Bible together, prayed together, talked together, dreamed together, and cried together.  Sometimes the progress was infinitesimal and my dream of God-fearing daughters seemed elusive, but still my husband and I prayed and stayed the course.

As with any investment, there was risk.  Would it be better if we had a second income so we could provide better?  Would a one-income household limit what they could do?  Should we send them to school so they can be taught by the “experts” instead of an inexperienced mom?  What if I ruin them?  The enemy of my soul tried to discourage me and cause me to doubt our choices and my value, but I held to the truth that I am a precious daughter of the Most High God.

Today, our investment continues to yield a high rate of return.  We have four daughters who are lovely, inside and out.  They aren’t perfect, but they know the Savior who is and they’ve been saved by grace.  They know the Word, and they obey the Word.  They are carriers of His presence who sow seeds of Jesus’ love everywhere they go.  My time as a stay-at-home mom has been the best investment I’ve ever made.

September Newsletter: Saving and Investing

The articles this month focus on saving and investing.  Our economy has certainly changed over the past few years, but we have no need to fear.  God’s word has promised that “Our God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory.” (Phil 4:19) Our part is to be good stewards and wisely use what God has given us. On a personal note, I wrote about my mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease in March.  (Read the article…

On August 26, 2011, my 69-year-old mother was called home by her loving Savior and best friend and on September 3, we celebrated the life of a woman who had invested in family and in His Kingdom.  She had no 401-K or retirement account, but she had been a full-time, stay-at-home mom an invested generously in her five children.  Her legacy lives on in her 5 children, 11 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.  If your parents are still living, call them or visit them--or better yet, give ‘em a hug.

Because every day matters,

Joy