Sunday, April 26, 2009

Guest Post: A Journey to Save Money and Still Eat Healthy

Guest Post by my friend Joy from Joy's Solutions.

I am a stay-at-home mom and mother of two. Matthew is 5 and Holly is 2. It is very important for me to be wise with our money. Even though my father-in-law gifts us money from time to time I would like for us to live on my husband's income alone so that any extra money we may receive can go to saving for the kids' college funds or our retirement years and a few special extras every now and then. Which brings in living on a budget.

So, we take the income and divy it up into categories and try to live within them. Groceries was a category that I realized very quickly after tracking our spending for a couple of months that seemed outrageous. We were spending at least $850 a month on groceries - which, for us, includes vitamins, health and beauty, household (envelopes, tape, light bulbs, etc.), dog food, cat food, cat litter, fish aquarium filters, baby diapers & wipes and lots and lots of milk. And I imagine that we may have been spending more than that before tracking it and being accountable to a budget. This amount shocked us. Grant it, it does take money to live and we certainly have a lot of "mini-categories" within our "grocery" category, but still we felt that we needed to bring the amount spent on groceries down. Since, we knew that it was possible.

What would we do to bring the grocery budget down? Coupons of course. But we had used coupons in the past and they didn't seem to work. They didn't work because I didn't use them with the right timing. Or, I was unwilling to try something new at the time - a different brand that the coupon happened to be for. But they needed to work this time. Our goal was to live on Jeff's income alone and well. Would it be possible? If we wanted to save any extra gifts for future use instead of using them up on whatever then I was either going to have to make money or save money. Making money was not an option. Any money I might have made from a job would have been mostly used up to pay for childcare while I was gone. I could have done some babysitting in my home. True. And I still may someday. Maybe. But, I could try and save money - hence, in a way - making money. I would be "freeing money up" that had once been needed elsewhere and could be used to pay for other necessities or extras. And - our money would not be going out to childcare. And the money I might make by saving it would not be taxed either. That seemed like an option.

Before even clipping coupons though, I had an "ah-ha" moment. It occurred to me when making my weekly menu to start looking at the things I already had in my cupboards to see what I could come up with so I only had to get something to go with it and not the entire meal. The other "ah-ha" I had was that I could look in the grocery ad to see what was on sale BEFORE deciding on our menu options. I used to think, "Hmmm, stuffed green peppers sounds good. I'll make that" and proceed to write down all the ingredients to make it without any care to prices. Now, I think, "Hmmm, let's look at the ad... I see that chicken is on sale. What could I make with chicken? Oh... Lawry's is on sale too. Oh, we could have marinated chicken breast and - look at that - yams are on sale too - ooohhhh, you know what could be so yummy? - yummy yam mashed potatoes with brown sugar and a little butter - mmm, M. Let's cook that." In my mind, this is the first step. Before even doing any coupons. Plan. I learned to use what I have first THEN to fill in the blanks in the weekly menu with items that are on sale.

I ordered the Sunday paper back in August 2008 and began clipping. I met Cindy is September 2008 and she began teaching me how to work the coupons. You can read all about her teaching right here on this blog or even attend one of her classes. I did, in January 2009. The idea is this: WAIT for a store to have a really good sale THEN use your coupon in conjunction with the sale. Second, take advantage of this low price combined with coupon and stockpile several of the same items. For example, Kroger just had Angel Soft 4 pack toilet paper as part of their 10 items for $10 deal. You could get 10 Angel soft coupons (buy extra papers, get neighbors or friends or relatives to give you their extra coupons, buy coupons on line, even print coupons out online, etc.). The coupon I had was a .50 coupon and I had 8 of them. Kroger doubles coupons up to $1, so I got 8 4-packs of the toilet paper for FREE (I bought Kroger cooking spray for $1 and a McCormick's grill master seasoning for a $1 - free with coupon - to make my 10 items). Toilet paper is not going to spoil and can be stashed out on a shelf in my garage unharmed. This is how stockpiling works. Now, I have no need to shop for toilet paper for a while. I can stockpile something else that's low priced with coupon next week.

I get a little excited over the stockpiling side of things. That's where the budget comes into play. Even though I could get deodorant for .49 cents or $1 each. I have to stop myself. I have to stay within my budget. Just because it's a good deal doesn't mean I can go around buying every single good deal I see. I have to prioritize which items we need the most. I have 5 deodorants for EACH my husband and myself. I kept track and found that it took me SIX MONTHS to go through one container. Well, I guess I'm stocked for the next 2 1/2 years! But, hey - it's deodorant - it's not going to rot. But I learned from that. I have to be careful not to buy more than we'll use before the item EXPIRES - obviously important with food, but also important with vitamins and medicines too. And, like me, you may find that that takes a little practice and time to learn how much of something your family will use in a certain amount of time.

I have learned to take advantage of the Walgreens Easy Saver catalogue, Register Rewards, CVS Extra Care Bucks, Rite Aid Single Check Rebates (I got two boxes of Alavert completely free this week), Meijer Mealbox, online coupons, e-coupons and (for the first time) bought coupons online this past week. I also take advantage of free samples and company's rebates and special offers. Cindy can teach you all about each one of those. She taught me - is still teaching me - and she can share it with you too.

So, how are we doing in our grocery budget category??? MUCH better! I have to say - our grocery budget includes some other stuff besides food so bare that in mind. AND - remember - I get a little carried away with the stockpiling. (But I don't think there's much else I could possibly stock pile! - I/we need to use it!) At any rate - we're now spending about $400 - $500 a month. It would probably be closer to $350 if it were for just the four of us, but now it includes my two aging in-laws as well. So, we're feeding 4 adults, 2 kids, a dog, a cat, a fish and buying minor household supplies on not more than $500 a month. (I love my in-laws very much and want to help care for them as they age and as they do not like the "Meals on Wheels" type of food but they will eat my cooking - I'm cooking it up for them! Jeff does the dishes.) So, we are spending less but doing more with it! What a way to make it a blessing to others as well! (Maybe Cindy could blog about ways to bless others through couponing. hint... hint...)

Here's a question you might be wondering about: What are my kids doing while I'm couponing? A variety of things: they're in bed, one's at preschool and one's napping, they might be in the YMCA nursery while I'm at a table in the Y's front lobby, they might be just playing, watching a movie, etc. Do I take them with me shopping? Sometimes - but not if I can help it! Also - we love our hubbies - but I've learned that I need to do the shopping. I've learned more about couponing than I've realized and it's just easier to do it myself.

I got so wrapped up in learning all about couponing for a while that I felt like I was swimming in it! I almost wanted to give up. But, I stuck with it and after about 5 months my tippy toes started touching the bottom of the pool. I had tried and failed and tried and succeeded and learned how I needed to work the couponing thing to work best for me and my family. I had to set a limit on the hours I spend on it each week - not more than 4. I had to set a limit on the number of stores I go to. I had to take a break from it for a week or two sometimes. I could not let pinching pennies interfere with other parts of my life that were already full. For instance, I have spent some time away from my personal bible study to learn about couponing. I feel bad about that and I am going to change that. However, God does work everything for the good of those He loves. He had taught me this new thing and here I enter a season of my life where I need to buy even more food and cook even more and He's already been grooming me for that. Wow. Now, my feet are solidly on the bottom of the pool. I feel confident as I make my list and shop each week. And even if I have a week where I save "only" 20% - it's still 20% - it could be a movie out or a tank of gas. We need to give ourselves credit for what we do not what we didn't do. 20% can still bless your family.

Okay, I'm almost done - but I have to address this issue. Some may think that couponing means eating unhealthfully. That's not necessarily true. And that's been part of my journey too - and partly why we spend more than other people might who also coupon. I am a weight watchers loser. I've lost 52 pounds in a year (November 2007-November 2008). You already know that I/we wanted to save money. So, I used coupons that were for less healthy options for a while and guess what? The weight started to creep back on! This is definitely not an option for me. I have a mantra saying in my head as I'm looking at something that I could get for free or very cheaply and I say to myself, "I DID NOT LOSE 52 POUNDS ONLY TO GAIN IT BACK FOR FREE CHEX MIX!" It's not worth it. My health is more important. Teaching my children to choose an apple over something processed for a snack is more important. I'm trying to establish long term healthy eating habits in them. We avoid chicken with solution in it, msg, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. Most foods made up with those ingredients in them are very cheap making it tempting to buy them especially when I'm trying to stay within my budget and that is why my "mantra" is necessary. But even with this mantra, you've read that it is possible. I've simply applied the same money saving techniques to higher quality foods. I got 8 loaves of 100% whole wheat bread for $1 each a week ago.

Bulk cooking is my next challenge. I am learning how to work that now. I'd like to cook with friends, but for now, I am trying to figure out how long things will take me and what equipment I made need and such first. Cooking all day in my house goes pretty slowly with two little kiddos needing me every 2 minutes. I've got to take it slow. And you might too. One day at a time. Currently, I'm using "Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer" that Cindy recommends, but you can use any recipe really.

I have created a very short little blog that you may visit if you like. It's called I only have two articles there. I was going to wait until I had it more organized and could keep it up better before sharing it, but I don't think that is going to happen any time soon and someone may be blessed by it, perfect or not, and I certainly cannot stand in the way of that! So, I hope you enjoy my two little articles. One is about creating a second pantry - very frugally. And the other is about how to keep and store your coupons.

I hope that my money saving journey has blessed you. I hope I've given you a few ideas that will work for your family. I hope that I have at least given you some encouragement. This doesn't happen all at once. It takes time to get a stockpile going. Stock a couple of things a week. Slowly bring your budget down. Don't chop it from $800 to $300 in one month. Mine will probably come down some more yet.

Happy Shopping!
And best wishes on your own couponing journey!



Joie77 said...

Thank you for giving me the chance to share my couponing journey with your readers.

I hope my story will help and encourage others in their own money saving efforts.

Thanks, Cindy!

Joie77 said...
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Cindy said...
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