SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks











three ring binder

Couponing.  I LOVE it.  I stockpile, I shop smart, and I save money.  I’ve written before about my tight budget and my love of couponing.  One of the most important things to remember with couponing is that you must be organized or it just won’t work.

If you watch that show or if you’re an expert Googler (like me), you’ll find there are MANY ways to obtain and sort your coupons.  I’ve tried a bunch before finding what worked for me.

Couponing is not a part or full-time job for me.  I am a teacher outside the home, which often carries over into my home, and at home I am trying to run a household for four 2-legged and one four-legged individual.  Saving money is crucial, but I do not have the time to devote that you see on tv.   Nor do I want to.  I spend and hour or so each month printing coupons from the internet.  I buy 2-3 Sunday papers each month for the purpose of clipping coupons.  I’m saving money.  I’m saving a good bit of money.  But I cannot allow couponing to take away from my family.

Internet Coupons

  • I suggest sticking to well-known sites when printing coupons from the internet, such as Coupons.com.  If you just Google for coupons, you are liable to infect your computer.  I speak from experience.
  • Many companies offer coupons through their Facebook pages.  I received a great coupon for Kool-Aid last summer by “liking” their Facebook page.
  • I personally subscribe to some “Extreme Coupon” newsletters.  The Krazy Coupon Lady is one of my favorites because she shares really good store bargains, as well as letting readers know about upcoming coupon availability and Facebook promotions.

The Sunday Paper

If you already subscribe to your local paper, good for you.  Unless you know there are some really amazing coupons that week, I would not run out and buy extra copies.  That’s your personal choice, but I coupon to save money, not spend it.

The way I know ahead of time what coupons to expect in the Sunday paper is by subscribing to The Sunday Coupon Preview.  It varies, of course, depending on region, but it’s usually very accurate.  I also know ahead of time if there will be no coupons that weekend.  This saves me $1.50-1.75.

Another thing I’ve done, if I have friends or family who will be out-of-town over a weekend, I have them pick up a paper for me.  Monkey 2’s godmother travels a lot for her job and Atlanta or Los Angeles will have different coupons (and MORE) than we have in my neck of the woods.  Someone is headed to Dallas for the Cowboys’ game?  Forget Tony Romo’s autograph.  Bring me back a paper, please!

Clipping Services

There are clipping services where you can order a bazillion Kotex coupons if you so choose.  Just kidding.  But you can order multiple coupons for a fee.

I’m in this game to save money.  I believe my sister has used a clipping service, but I do not know how that worked out for her.  I am not familiar with any in particular, and won’t recommend any.  Google is your friend.

Share and Share Alike

If you have a pile of Pampers coupons, see if you can trade with someone for the Dog Chow coupons you’re needing.  People even have “coupon trains,” where they mail each other coupons.  What a great way to get coupons without spending a bunch of extra money.  Be organized about it and kind of keep track of what you send to whom. (Sounds like a form is needed here)

Not only do you need to be organized in the acquisition of your coupons, but you need to have them  organized once they’re in your possession or they won’t be of any use in your shopping excursions.

The Envelope System

With the envelope system, you have envelopes for each major category and coupons go in the envelopes.  Within the envelopes themselves, I imagine you could sort the coupons by type or expiration.  When I used envelopes, I had to do a lot of digging to get to what I needed, coupons expired before I used them, and I couldn’t always remember what coupons I had.  Envelopes are nice because they slide into your purse.  If you use envelopes in a great way, please let me know!

The Shoebox System

This would be for your hardcore couponer, I think.  What I’ve seen is shoeboxes or those awesome photo boxes (Michael’s and Hobby Lobby often run them on sale!) with category dividers.  As long as your box isn’t cram-packed, I think this would make for easier access.  Never having so many coupons, I’ve not tried this one myself.  If you’re a box couponer, share your tips!

The Binder

I love a binder.  Even before I started teaching, I have always loved a binder.  When I was five or six, my Grandpa Lew bought me my first Trapper Keeper and I was hooked for life!

On TV, I notice they use lots of zipper binders with huge rings. Monkey 1 has to have one of these for school since they don’t have lockers.  They’re really expensive. I just recycled an old 3 ring $1 binder to use for mine.  The seams are starting to separate after almost two years of good use, but I imagine I can come up with a dollar or so for another one.

I made my own dividers.  I printed the categories on pretty paper through my computer and then put the pages into page protectors.

I have a pencil pouch at the front, to keep up with a pen, various store loyalty cards, sometimes a calculator, etc.  Some of the store cards are the small, keychain version and I keep those on a keyring.  I also have a binder clip on the front cover to hold my grocery list.

My coupons are kept in trading card pages.  Sometimes I have to fold them, but I’m ok with that. I keep like coupons together, with the newly expiring at the front.  For example, I may have a Yoplait $0.40 off 6 in the same pocket as $0.60 off 8.  Like coupons.  This is what works best for me.

Behind those trading card pockets I keep my store policies for the stores I frequent most often.

And of course there are more organizing methods out there, but I’ve really only tried the envelopes and the binder.  The box is kind of appealing.  There is also a file system but I feel like I would miss a lot of deals…..I may write about that one once I know more.

Couponing should not be excessively time-consuming, stressful, or costly.  It should be organized, or it really will not garner the results you seek.  Are you a couponer?  What works best for you?

~ Katie

Coupon Sorting Mat

 

 

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{November 23, 2012}   Meal Planning
A delicious-looking meal

A delicious-looking meal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My best friend of about 30 years has massive OCD.  She calls it something else.  Her doctor calls it something else.  I call it OCD.

I like to organize, and I know that disorganization is costly, but I’m not obsessed to the point my BFF is.

Her to-do lists have to-do lists.

At one point when she and I were attempting to get on track, she told me about her family’s meal planning adventures.  I remember she had themes each night – “Toothpick Tuesday” scared me.  I had visions of one of the monkeys being stabbed.

I do not sit down with a calendar and plan out our meals.  My kids (the monkeys) are 8 and 12 and can fix toast or cereal for breakfast.  They eat school lunches, I pack  a PB sandwich each day, and I honestly have no clue what my DH (dear husband) does for lunch.  I believe he eats a lot of convenience store cuisine….Not healthy, but I can’t really fix it if he won’t meet me halfway.

Dinner is a different story.  I could sit down and plan it out, but I really don’t.  I have a general idea of what we’ll do each night and it’s based on our crazy schedules.

  • Monday – either the crock pot or something super quick and easy.  I have faculty and department meetings on Monday afternoons.  DH has pool Monday evenings.  Dinner has to be ready almost as soon as we walk in.
  • Tuesday – tacos, spaghetti, etc.  I have a little more time Tuesdays.  Monkey 1 goes to the math tutor while Monkey 2 is at Running Club, so it’s close to 4 when we get home.
  • Wednesday – if DH is home, it’s usually a grill night.  I’ve had monster hot dog cravings lately, but the only way I’ll eat them is off the grill or from a New Orleans street vendor.  Monkey 1 has our church’s version of Sunday School on Wednesdays and he eats there, so it’s just the three of us.  If we’re not grilling, it’s a frozen pizza night.
  • Thursday – Monkey 1 is again at tutoring and at this point in the week, we’re definitely on a crock pot meal.  I’m exhausted by Thursday.  But I try to keep freezer-to-crockpot meals on hand so I can throw something in the crock pot on my way out the door and it’s ready when we get home.
  • Friday – DH has pool again, so we usually go eat somewhere.
  • Saturday – we grill or I cook.  Many times, our friends down the street are grilling and we go eat with them.
  • Sunday – the monkeys are with my mother-in-law most Sundays.  DH is usually with his friends watching football or he’s hunting in the woods, so Sunday is a grab and go kind of day filled with leftovers.

Would it make more sense to actually plan meals ahead?  Of course it would.  Would it save me a bunch of money?  Of course it would.  Have I gotten to that point yet?  Maybe.

If you google Once A Month Cooking, Freezer Cooking, and Meal Planning, you’ll find all kinds of websites trying to sell you memberships for their meal-planning services.  It’s up to you how you spend your money, but I’m not buying a service when I have the resources I need in my kitchen.  Except an operational oven, which is a whole other blog post.

If I were scheduling meals out, I would start by taking inventory of my pantry and cold storage.  I could probably do a lot with what I already have.  Then I would go through my recipes, pull a few favorites, and build a list based on what I need to make those things.  I’d double my batches so I can freeze some meals.  And while I poke fun at Beca’s theme night meal planning, she always knew what they’d be having.  Just like every Wednesday I could plug-in frozen pizza.  Thursday is a crock pot meal.  Monday probably is , too.

Meal planning is a lot less intimidating now that I look at it in black and white.  I can combine my menu plan with my coupons.  And planning ahead saves money, so why not try it?

So maybe meal planning is the next step in my pursuit of ultimate cheaptitude.  Pinterest and Google are fabulous resources for this type of things – be sure to check them out.  I’ll let you know how my meal planning goes.  You let me know what you find!
~ Katie



{November 23, 2012}   The Method to My (Coupon) Madness

Coupons Ecover

It started with that crazy show.  That Sunday, I bought 3 newspapers.  And I clipped and clipped and clipped. And I used coupons.  Some of them.

And I’ve learned a few things since then.

Recruit a Money-Saving Buddy

My friend Stephanie started couponing about the time I did.  We traded coupons, alerted each other to amazing deals, and kept each other motivated.  When you’re on a tight budget like I am, every little bit helps!

Coupons from the Sunday Paper

I only purchase one paper on Sundays.  If someone gives me their inserts, I graciously accept them (Thank You, Dad & JB!), but why am I going to spend $10 on papers to save a few dollars with coupons?  It makes no sense to me.

As I’m clipping, if I spot something awesome that I don’t see often, I may go back for more papers.  $1 off Dog Chow is great for me and worth another paper.  Apart from that…..

Printable Coupons

I do use printable coupons.  A lot of products have FaceBook pages that you can “like” and get a coupon.  That’s how I stockpiled my Kool-Aid!  The website I use most for coupons is probably http://www.coupons.com.  In addition, you can sometimes go right to the brand’s site and print coupons.  Google for free coupon sites and you’ll be amazed at what you find.  Be careful, though, because some links that will show up are virus-ridden (thank you, White Rain Kids’ Shampoo).

Loadable Coupons

If you use store loyalty cards, a lot of times you can load the savings right to your card and not have to think about it. This is fabulous!  Both of the groceries that I frequent (Brookshire’s and Kroger) have this option.  However, both of these stores triple hard copy coupons up to 35 cents and double up to 50 cents.  Preloaded coupons do NOT double or triple at these stores.  I only load higher value coupons to my store cards.

Clip What You’ll Use

My Rhonda Belle and I had this conversation today.  She is enjoying clipping coupons but says she’s stopped clipping things she doesn’t use.  This makes sense.  Our time is valuable.  I don’t color my hair so why clip a Clairol coupon?

On the flip side of this, I don’t clip based on brand.  Right now I use the store brand dishwasher soap, but I’ll still clip Cascade or Finish coupons.  Why?  It might save me money!  If I see a coupon for something we use – deodorant, pasta, etc. – I’m not brand-limited.  Clip it and keep it!

Matching Coupons to Sales

It is a rare occasion that I use a coupon right when I clip it.  I know that after X number of weeks, Totino’s pizzas should be going on sale at Brookshire’s.  I pour over the sales ads when they come in and match up the deals to my coupons.  If my family’s beloved frozen pizzas are 4/$5 this week and I have a coupon for $1 off 4, then it goes on my grocery list.  I try to match the coupons to the ads to maximize my savings.

Coupon Match Ups

Don’t pay for your coupon match ups.  There are websites where this is available for free and many SmartPhone apps.  Personally, I check my GrocerySmarts app every Sunday morning to check on deals at my CVS (my other favorite place to shop!).  This app creates a coupon match, lists sales prices, and shows which items are generating Extra Bucks.  I have the free version, which shows one store at a time, and I refuse to upgrade just to compare stores – I don’t shop Wal Mart, Target, Rite Aid, or Walgreen’s often.  There is a GrocerySmarts website where you can see it all and create a printable shopping list.

Organizing Coupons

I used to love the little coupon wallets you can order through the newspaper or buy at the store.  They’re so cute – and collect dust on my shelf.

Coupon wallets and envelopes are not helpful for me.  I end up with expired coupons.  I can’t find the specific coupon that I know is in there somewhere. It’s more frustration and just not worth it for me.

When I first got into couponing, I went to a class (Duh, I’m a teacher). It cost $5 and I didn’t learn much, but it was interesting.  At this class, the instructor was SELLING coupon binders for $20 each.

Really?  I know you need to spend money to make money, but I’m not going to spend money to SAVE money.

I’m a teacher.  I have a ton of empty binders. If you spend $20 on some coupon binder, please do not let me know about it.

  • Supplies for Your Coupon Binder
  • 3 ring binder of your choice
  • trading card binder pages
  • dividers
  • pencil pouch

Like I said, I already had binders on hand and I’m not picky.  The trading card pages I bought at Hobby Lobby ($7.99 for a package of 30 and I used a 40% off coupon – on my phone – so it was under $5), but a quick Google search a minute ago and I found good prices from Amazon.com.  Dividers I also had on hand, but I printed my own on pretty paper from Dollar Tree and slid into page protectors.  My binder is sorted into store areas (pantry, beverages, freezer, baking, feminine supplies, etc.) and in order of my grocery.

There are 9 pockets on each of my pocket pages.  I slide the coupons in, with the soonest expiration at the front.

The pencil pouch holds my store cards, any extrabucks, maybe the coupons I’m already planning to use, a calculator, some cash…..

I use a binder clip to clip my list to the front of my binder.

I’ve heard people say they can’t remember what is in their binder.  For me, this isn’t a problem.  If you spend an hour or two loading your binder each week and cleaning out expired coupons, you’ll get familiar with the contents.

Again, this is just what works for me.  I never see 99.5% savings like the ladies on “that show.”  I’m just not that good, I work too many hours, and if I can stay within $50/week for my family of 4, I’m a happy couponer.  I have seen over 50% savings with my system.  It doesn’t happen really often, because we go through a LOT of milk and meat, but I’m usually at 30-35% saving between my store card and coupons.  And we eat REALLY well on a shoestring budget!

Again, I encourage you to search around the web and see what other people are doing.  Find a method you think will work and try it out.  Modify it.  Make your couponing system your own.

And let me know what you figure out!  Happy Shopping!

~ Katie



et cetera
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