Practice Smart Shopping

Yesterday my wife and I went grocery shopping. Our new hobby has been seeing how much money we can save purchasing products we can and will use, usually product we would have purchased full price anyway, using coupons and shopping smartly. We got a late start yesterday, but we managed to hit three stores yesterday saving a combined total of around $90 on purchases of around $170. In this post, I just want to show how we prepare for the shopping trip and show examples of some of deals we were able to score in this latest trip.

One of the biggest criticisms of shopping smart is that it takes too much time.  In this world today, when people are so busy, they just don’t think that they have the time it takes to clip coupons and plan your shopping trips.  Well I say, it doesn’t take as long as you may think and you will surely find time if you just look.

Where do we get our coupons?  We buy a Sunday paper each week which typically comes with a handful of coupons inserts.  You can view contents of the upcoming inserts at http://www.sundaycouponpreview.com/.  I know of some people that will buy multiple papers just to get multiple sets of coupons.  We don’t typically, but will sometimes ask other family members for their inserts that are just going to get thrown away anyway.

Another huge source for coupons is on the internet.  The three main sites; www.coupons.com, http://www.redplum.com/ and  http://www.smartsource.com/, provide access to many coupons that you can print (often multiple copies).

You can also check out company sites as they often offer coupons for their products as well, sometimes requiring signing up for a newsletter or something, but it is often worth the hassle.   Also don’t forget the store websites themselves.  Most stores offer store coupons or special coupons / deals for card members.  Also most stores will allow you to stack store coupons with manufacture coupons, thus getting double savings on a single product.

Prepping the coupons.  Much of the time, and the resistance by others to couponing is the cutting and sorting of the coupons.  We found that while relaxing in the evening, we were simply watching TV and doing absolutely nothing else.  We now take this time to clip and organize.  I will often clip, do a very loose sorting into very general piles (food, non-food, …) and then my wife will sort how she likes them and put them into a binder.  At the same time we check for expired coupons and remove them.  This is pretty mindless work, so perfect for sitting in front of the TV when you are doing nothing else.

Our binder is a typical three-ring binder you can purchase just about anywhere for a dollar or two.  In the binder we use inserts designed for baseball cards.  We had some laying around, but you can find these just about anywhere you can find baseball or Pokémon cards and are not too expensive.  My wife will categorize as she see fit and then places similar coupons into the individual sleeves.  This binder fits nicely into my wife’s purse, she carries a fairly large and roomy purse, and is easily accessible in the stores.  Check out this post as this is how we modeled our binder after.

How do we determine which products to buy?  This is pretty simple.  We buy what we need.  We rarely buy just for the sake of getting a deal (we will sometimes if we can get the product free or close to free).  Someone once said the best deal they ever got, was the one the did NOT buy. 

If it’s a product you use and you get a good deal, feel free to stock up.  Sure you have to be careful on perishable products, but if you can get a great price on toilet paper for example, then by all means buy as much as you can.

During yesterdays shopping trip, one good deal we snagged was a buy on a feminine product my wife uses.  Rite-Aid had a buy one get one free special (B1G1) on this product.  We also had a manufacture coupon for B1G1.  We also had two more coupons for $3/1 (three dollars off of one item) for this particular product and another for $1/1.  Here is how we did this deal.  Purchased a quantity of 4.  Rite-Aid’s deal gave us two of them free.  Because however we had four items, we were still able to use four coupons. With our B1G1 coupon, we got the 3rd free.  Then with the other 3 coupons we had $7 knocked off the fourth item (the only one were were really paying for).  These are regular priced at $7.98.  So we snagged four products, totaling about $32 at regular cost for a total of 98 cents, through the usage of store sale and coupons.  According to my wife, this will last here almost a year.  I would say that was worth the couple minutes it took us to plan.

Another fun deal we got yesterday was on pickles.  We love dill pickles and with spring coming up (we’re being optimistic here) it’s getting time to start grilling (hopefully sooner than later).  And what goes better on hamburgers than a few good dill pickles.  Well Giant Eagle had Vlasic pickles on sale 2/$4.  Giant Eagle has a program called eOffers that allows you to load coupons on your store card that automatically come up at the register. The had an eOffer coupon for $1/2.  This knocked the price down to 2/$3.  Already a good deal.  We then had two manufacture coupons for $.55/1 off of Vlasic pickles.  Since you can stack manufacture coupons with eOffers we were able to use those two coupons as well.  Giant Eagle also doubles coupons under $1.  So those coupon values jumped to $1.10/1 once doubled.  For those two jars of pickles the final price came to 2/$.80 for two large jars of  pickles.  Good deal for sure.

Planning our trip.  We plan pretty much what we will buy and from where based on our needs and store sales.  We will write out a list of items, their prices and any coupons we plan on using, with one list for each store we plan on going to.  Between the two of us this really doesn’t take much time at all.

Then we plan our route.  We try to plan our trip to travel the shortest distance possible.  Another common complaint of couponing is that you spend as much on gas as you save with coupons and sales that you really aren’t saving anything.  While that may be true if you were only buying one or two items, if you plan well you will come way out ahead. 

Our last trip, I drove maybe an extra 10 miles to get to the different stores (living out in the country we are used to driving distances to get to stores so not a big deal).  We might have spent an extra dollar or two in gas, but when we saved $90 dollars, I think we came out way ahead.

Yes going to multiple stores takes time.  Yes we take a few hours to purchase stuff from multiple stores, but when my wife and I go together, I say what better way to spend time with my best friend.  With four young kids, we don’t get a lot of alone time as it is, so we take it where we can get it. 

Why do this?  Well as I’ve stated many times before (here and here for example) we are trying to become more frugal with our money because of the current world economic state. It just makes sense to save money as best as you can.  The stores give you these means to save money, but so many do not take advantage for one reason or another. 

But we also found that God wants us to use our money and resources wisely. 

The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get.  -Proverbs 21:20

 

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. – Proverbs 22:7

and we should never forget this:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,   “Never will I leave you;   never will I forsake you.”  — Hebrews 13:5

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God Tears a Man Down, Just to Lift Him Up

I recently had to make some difficult decisions, some pretty big, life-changing decisions. But first a little background.

Ten years ago, I was unhappy at my current job. I was a software developer working for a smallish company. There was nothing really wrong with the company itself and the work I was doing was satisfying and challenging. I think my biggest problem was I got bored. Along came a friend who was doing computer consulting and he offered me a job in July 2001. It was more money, more flexibility (I could do a lot of work from my home office) and since I wasn’t working on a "product", I was doing something different almost every day. It was anything but monotonous.  Then came along 9/11.  That fateful day that changed so much in our country and indeed it touched each and everyone of us in some manner. The economy started to fail and work was getting scarce. Shortly after Christmas, I was layed off because he just couldn’t afford me anymore.

It was at that point that I though I had hit my lowest point. Here I was, I had just given up a good paying job six months prior to join a small and exciting company doing what I loved to do and now I was out of a job. What a way to start 2002. I had a choice to make then, do I go looking for a job? Or do I try to make it on my own? Well there were no jobs out there at that time. I had no choice to try it on my own. I jumped into the consulting world. My former employer, the one that just laid me off, passed me some work as he could (not too much at first as he was struggling to survive as well), I picked up a few small clients on my own and I began to grow the business. It was very slow at first. I went from making 70k+ in 2001 and before, to barely scrapping together 20k in 2002. I supplemented my income by selling books on eBay. That kept food on the table and a roof over my head, but just barely. My wife and I and our three children, just keep plugging away.

A little over two years of this and I began to realize what God was telling us. When I graduated from college and got my first job, I moved up the income ladder very quickly. In just seven short years I had increased my income over 50k. What I realized I hadn’t done, was increased my giving and generosity. When we were making the good money, we spent more than what we had and as I got raises, I just kept spending more. By the time I had lost my job in 2002 and lost almost 50k in income in just one year, it shocked us into making life decisions that made us stronger as a family, stronger in our faith and stronger in our financial health. During this time period when we seemed to be at our lowest, a good friend said something to me that has stuck with me ever since.

He said to me,

Jason, the good Lord tears a man down, just to lift him up.

What did this do to me? It made me realize that God had a plan for me and that through the trials by fire, I was becoming a stronger person for God.

Well, fast forward a bit and my business has picked up. I gained a few clients, including one that kept me billable 32 hours a week guaranteed. To any of you that are self-employed you realize how important this was. Good billable hours and steady pay check. In only two years, I had increased my income again 60k+. At about this time, my wife became pregnant with our youngest and we determined that the time was right to buy a house. Our old place would be much too small for four children and now we had steady income so we jumped into the housing market and found our dream house only a mile from where we lived at the time. It was perfect. Plenty of room, a few acres of land, kids didn’t have to change schools….it couldn’t have been more perfect.

During the next four years life was great, the business kept growing as the economy grew stronger and stronger from 2005 to 2008. I was soon making more money than I had ever before and life was good. But we had forgotten some of our lessons from before. While we didn’t spend frivolously like we did before, with the new house, we had more expenses than ever before. Our children were getting older and thus more expensive as they became involved in different activities. We had plenty of money, but we just never seemed to have any left over at the end of the day.

Let’s move forward once more to 2009 and 2010. Finally the failing economy which started in 2008 caught up with me. We had purchased our home when real estate was booming, now our house was worth less than what we owed on it. Business started to decline. Some of the steady work became less steady. Paychecks became less frequent and farther between. Come 2010, we were in trouble. Once again God was putting us through the fire. While it was tough at times, I tried to remember the quote from my friend that I stated before. I truly believed that God had a plan, that God would give us no more than what we could handle, that when we came through this fire, we would come out stronger and more able to do God’s work.

Well now here we sit at the beginning of 2011. Just a few months ago, I truly felt we were on our way to the poor house. I just couldn’t see a way out. There weren’t many jobs, my business was doing anything BUT booming. I was struggling just to put food on the table and gas in the car let alone anything else. I kept asking God in my daily prayers to open that door to where he wanted us to go. And if he opened that door and I didn’t see it, then I wanted Him to smack me on the head, pick me up and throw me through.

Well the door has opened. A few weeks ago, sort of out of the blue, a job offer was made to me. Another small consulting firm, but more established than the one I started off with ten years ago and with financial backing. The job is pretty much doing what I’m doing now, so my day to day doesn’t change much. I do have a team though now. Instead of working mostly for and with myself, I now have the resources to expand the business even further. Yes I give up ownership and some control, but what I’ve gained is so much more. I’ll have to go into details in a future post, but God really did open the door and seem to shove me through. My wife and I have made a promise to God and to ourselves, that we will not fall into the trap again of living beyond our means. We’ve already made moves over the last six months to change our lifestyle to be smarter and more efficient with our money. We’ve gotten into the habit of it in fact. God used that time period of struggle to make us stronger. God has lifted us up after bringing us down and we are ready for the next season in our lives.