Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Coupon Experiment - The First Month

As I stated in this post, I have started a coupon experiment.  I know there are some of you out there that want to know how this whole coupon experiment is going. So, I thought I would share some lessons I have learned and some of the savings I have tracked.

So, How Much Have I Saved?
I am about two months into this learning process. I have not tracked the sale prices of everything I have purchased. I wanted to start by tracking how much the coupons themselves were actually saving me. So, the amounts I have tracked are JUST the COUPONS, not counting how much I have saved in sales I never would have known about or taken advantage of. Also, I am not counting coupons until I actually use them. Just because I earned a $3 coupon on my next order does not mean I have actually saved that; I have to use it first. So, with that in mind, what I have actually saved so far:

The first month = $228
The second month = $148

I saved more the first month because I bought coupons on ebay to get good deals. After reading this article, I am not sure of how ethical it is to use ebay for this purpose. So, I will not be doing that again. My savings will probably be slower, but I think I will still be able to do "extreme couponing done right" - slow and steady, a little at a time.

Lessons Learned?
Savings Percentage -
When you go to, you can look to see what deals there are in your area and they are listed by percentage saved. However, a higher percentage saved does not mean you are really saving the most money. You really have to look at the prices and know how much you are spending per item.  For instance, there were wipes on sale this week - one for 41% off, the other for 39% off.  However, if you calculated the price per wipe, the 39% off one was a lower price per wipe.  This brings me to...

Sale Price? -
You need to know your prices. A "sale price" is only a deal if it really saves me money. For instance, one store had Nabisco crackers on sale this week 2/$5 or $2.50 each; but WalMart has that as the normal price for the same crackers. I have started keeping a list of what my real base price is. Orange Juice is cheapest at Wal-Mart, Milk is cheapest at the warehouse store, Spices are cheapest at one of the regular grocery stores I shop at.  To start, just track the prices of the top ten things you buy (what is always on your shopping list?)  Then, see what the best prices are over a 6-8 week period.

Drugstores Can Be Your Best Friend -
Drugstores have "reward" programs.  Extra Care Bucks (ECB) at CVS, Register Rewards (RR) at Walgreens, +UPs at Rite Aid - these can all save you money.  Each one works slightly differently.  If you click on any of those store names above, it will take you to an overview of how that store works on the website, if you want to learn more.
"Extreme Couponing" on TLC -
Wow!  This show is not reality.  Yes, there are people that shop like that, but there are reasons it does not work like that in real life.
  • Some of the practices used by some of the couponers on the show are fraudulent.
  • They show the savings based on retail prices, not sale prices.  Do you ever scan your customer card at the end of a transaction?  Of course it is going to look like they saved a load of money if the total is before sale prices!
  • Some of the stores overlooked their normal policies to make it look better for TV.
This doesn't mean you can't save money.  Here are some of my favorite deals from this week:

Kikkoman Marinade $0.39 each, Chapstick $0.50 each
(Note:  I do not track my savings until I actually use the coupon, so I do not track my savings by listing the prices the way I am about to. But it does illustrate how the coupons that print at the end of a purchase can make a difference.  Below is how they would list this deal on the coupon sites I have been following.)

Buy 2 Kikkoman Marinades - $2.09 each
Buy 2 Chapstick - $1.00 each
Use 2 $1 Kikkoman marinade coupons
Use 2 $0.25 Chapstick coupons (will be doubled)
Pay: $3.18 OOP (Out of Pocket expense)
Get: $1.50 Catalina coupon for next order
Final Price - Chapstick $0.50 each
Kikkoman $0.39 each

The reason I liked the deal above was that it was the first time I knew about a "Catalina" (a coupon that is offered when you buy specific products) before I went to the store.  I wanted to test if I would get the $1.50 coupon when I bought 2 Kikkoman products.  I was going to buy them anyway, as they were on sale and I had a coupon.  Finding that the Catalina worked was just icing on the cake.

Total cost $6.02
This example shows more how I have been tracking my savings.  I earned a $10 +UP last week at Rite Aid and used it on this transaction.  Here is what I did:

Transaction 1
Buy Schick Quattro Razor $8.99
Buy Schick Intuition Razor $8.99
Use $2 coupon for Schick Quattro Razor (1/15/2012 SS)
Use $2 coupon for Schick Intuition Razor (1/15/2012 SS)
Use $10 coupon earned last week
Pay: $4.23 OOP
Receive 2 $3 +UPs from purchase of Razors
Final Price:  About  $2.12 each

Transaction 2
Buy Edge Shave Gel $2.50
Buy Skintimate Shave Gel $2.50
Use $1 coupon on Edge Gel (1/15/2012 SS)
Use $1 coupon on Skintimate Gel (1/15/2012 SS)
Use $3 +UP from Transaction 1
Pay: $0
Receive $1 +UP from purchase of Shave Gels
Final Price:  FREE

Transaction 3
Buy Nivea Shave Gel $3.69
Buy Nivea Shave Gel $3.99
Use $2/2 Coupon (Online, but may no longer be available, as I couldn't find it.)
Use $3 +UP from transaction 1
Use $1 +UP from Transaction 2
Pay: $1.79 OOP
Final Price:  About $0.90 each.
Next time, I will talk a little more about how that "stocking up" mentality is affecting our budget and our pantry.  In the meantime, I hope you will check out some of these really great resources:

Jill Cataldo - Super Couponing

Become FabuLESSly Frugal and learn how to coupon!Living Rich With Coupons

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hello, Mornings!

So, I've started it - the Hello Mornings Challenge. I know that it may come as a shock to those of you who don't know me, but I usually get up late every morning. Yep, my dear husband has been the one who gets up and takes the kids every morning while I sleep in. I only have to get up when he leaves for work, or his home office. I have been spoiled.

Ryan and I have always agreed that I would take any child-related duties until about 4am, He would take them between 4am and 7am. He ended up feeding them breakfast because he was used to eating early. As the kids got older, we started having late night/early morning visitors who knew Mom would have mercy on them and let them get into the bed. I didn't get much peace until they went to eat with Dad. It got to the point where I would wait until he was feeding them to actually sleep peacefully for an hour or more. I was sleeping way too late, and waking up to crazy activity that I was too groggy to deal with. I have been trying to change this for a long time, but I was not having any success. I thought, "When I train myself to go to bed earlier, then I will get up early." or "I will set my alarm for a half hour earlier and try to work my way back." I also wasn't sure what to do when I got up. I wanted to use the time to read my Bible, but sitting on the couch quietly was guaranteed to put me back to sleep. A nice hot shower was out of the question, as well. I wanted to be exercising more, eating right, planning my days, doing cleaning projects...the list was endless. What was I going to implement as my daily routine?

Enter the Hello Mornings challenge from Kat at Inspired to Action, and my good friend Jen. Jen told me months ago about how good the challenge had been for her, and suggested I check out the website. I loved the idea of "waking up FOR your children, not TO your children." Waking up FOR your children means being ready for them when they get up, waking up TO your children was the crazy activity I was already experiencing. I looked forward to finding information that would help me do that, but never did check it out. A few weeks ago, Jen invited me to do the challenge with her and I immediately agreed. I was added to a Facebook group for the purpose of accountability.

I was not optimistic about my ability to get up early, so I wanted to try this out before the challenge started so that I would have a head start. I set my alarm for 6:30 and planned to make the change! I had heard someone talking about their prayer times while walking/exercising and I thought, "Of course! Do quiet time while exercising!" So, I even knew what I would do when I got up. The first day? FAIL. There was a child in the bed when I woke up and I rushed to turn off the alarm so they would not wake up. Second day? FAIL. Two children in the bed when I awoke. I took a break for the weekend and decided to try again Monday.

Sunday night I asked Ryan if he thought I would beat the kid traffic if I set the alarm for 6:00 instead. I decided to try it. First day? SUCCESS. Wow. I was surprised. Second day? Stayed up too late the night before and still, SUCCESS. Third day, stayed up too late again and still, SUCCESS. I knew that exercise upon waking was going to be important, but who knew that setting the alarm earlier than I thought I could get up would end up being good for me? Yes, it is only day six, and only 6 am. But I have not missed a day yet. The peace and encouragement I have felt are worth it, the accountability is motivating, and the duration of the challenge is long enough to help this be a lasting good habit. Who knows, maybe I will

I thought I would end with some of the thoughts and songs I have shared with my accountability group. I hope you find some encouragement for whatever YOU are working on in your life, too.

Facebook Updates:
Day 1 - I am on the treadmill right now...I am shocked. Gonna do some Bible reading now. =0)
Day 3 - I can remember thinking over the last year, late at night when I finally got to bed, "I don't want my life to be like this!" I never got up early enough in the morning, never exercised, and wasn't eating right. Since the first, I have been keeping track of what I eat and have noticed a difference in how I feel. Then, this morning, I was getting ready to get on the treadmill and I thought, "Some people live like this. They do this every day!" It was so peaceful to wake up in the morning and I thought, "I want my life to be like this." I will have to remember this over the next few months, because I know this challenge will be harder for me as time goes on.
Day 5 - I was reading the Hello Mornings ebook yesterday, and I am glad I did. If I had not read the lines, "Get out of bed...Tell yourself that's all you have to do," I don't think I would have made it today.

Songs that spoke to me this week, along with some lyrics from them:

This is Your Life, by Out of Eden

"This is your life God knows what it's meant to be
Know you've got a destiny; time is now so won't you see
This is your life no more waiting to begin
Have some faith and know you'll win...

Put on your best foot and step forward
Knowing that God will see you through
So when you get tired and you feel a little faint
Know somebody's watching you and will help you on your way."

Strong Enough, by Matthew West

"I know that I'm not strong enough to be everything that I'm supposed to be....Lord right now I'm asking you to be strong enough...for both of us"

One Heartbeat at a Time, by Steven Curtis Chapman  (If you're a Mom, just listen to the whole thing!)