It’s February…Where’s Your New Year’s Resolution?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

 

I can’t believe 2012 is already one-twelfth behind us! Are you still practicing your New Year’s Resolution you made 31 short days ago? Do you even remember what it was?

In my opinion, resolutions fail because we make them and forget about them. Why not look at the beginning of each month as a time to make New Month Resolutions – smaller, more attainable feats to reach each month instead of setting ourselves up for complete failure throughout the course of the year.

I thought January 31 would be a great time to look at my budget and see how I’m doing…what’s going on with my spending habits.

A reader introduced me to a great website, Mint.com. I used to be leery of sites like this due to fear of identity theft, but let’s face it – before long our bank account information is going to be bar-coded across our foreheads and scanned on Smart Phones during transactions, so I figured I might as well get with the program.

With one click of a button, Mint showed me a nifty pie chart with descriptions and percentages of where and what I’ve spent my money on over the last month…and it’s FREE!!!!

I was expecting to be shocked by the amount of money I spend on food & drinks expenses to be high, but what really surprised me was the fact that I spent $37.95 on cleaning my car. Really, Sarah? Really?

I also spent $19 on a gym membership that I used one day this month.

So, my goals for February are to cut down on the car washes (I think a quick, self-rinse will suffice in removing road salt) and cancel my gym membership that I never use. Those two things would save me $40 a month, totally $480 a year. That’s crazy!


Ugghhhh! There’s No Method to this Coupon-Madness!

Monday, January 30, 2012

I CANNOT believe the following statement is going to come from me…

Last night, I went to my first couponing class.

There, I said.

I never thought I would be at this point in my life – where I’m devoting so much time to cutting things out of the newspaper. (I feel like I’m back in grade school cutting pictures out of old issues of National Geographic and The Paducah Sun to create collages in art class. Only this is not art…this is about as much fun as sweatshop labor.)

But when there are seven mouths to feed in your house (two of which are teenage boys and two of which are drinking about twenty-five ounces of liquid gold formula a day), you’ll do about anything to save a few bucks.

So I decided to attend this class with one goal in mind – figure out what the secret is behind this couponing craze.

I walked in almost hoping for some mythical creature like Tinkerbell or my Fairy Godmother to sprinkle me with coupon dust and POOF! It would all make sense. (Alas, neither of them was there…maybe next time.)

Instead it was a handful of women – all of us with our newspapers, binders and scissors. We sat and cut our coupons. We passed the coupons we weren’t using to the next person in the group, and so on and so forth…

I asked, “So what’s the secret to saving so much money?” (It’s not like I’m looking to get out of the store with five carts full of groceries for three dollars, but I would like to know I’m eventually going to save more than $20 if I’m putting all of this time in.)

I was dreading the answer I got – “Time!!!”

That’s just not something I have much of these days.

But they did show me an awesome website (www.stockpilingmoms.com)

This site has the usual “Getting Started” information, but what I really like is that you can scroll down the page and select a store where you shop (Kroger for me) and it will show you how to pair coupons found in the Sunday paper with the store sale ads. Because this is where you save money.

You don’t just cut a coupon out of the paper and use it – although that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s perfectly fine if you’re looking to save twenty to thirty dollars. Instead, you start a collection of coupons and then you watch the store sales to look for an item to go on sale. When the item goes on sale, you pair the store discount with your coupon from the newspaper to save more money.

This require the second part to the couponing success – Planning.

I got a welcome packet at the coupon class that included spreadsheets for the following things:

Monthly Menu Planner

Daily Planner

Pantry Inventory

Freezer Inventory

Price Book

The logic behind all of these lists is if you plan ahead, you can plan your menu/shopping trips around when the items you need are on sale. (Again, requiring time. That magical thing I don’t have an overabundance of these days.)

But I’ve decided I’m going to start small and work on one list at a time.

(As I was writing this Bianca asked if she could have a Pop Tart for breakfast. I went to the pantry only to find that we’re out of Pop Tarts, so I guess the Pantry Inventory spreadsheet is where I should start.)

I also learned a few tidbits of info that I think will help me:

1)   Don’t throw away expired coupons! Military families are allowed to use expired coupons three months after the expiration date. Check with local groups or churches to see if they collect these.

2)   Don’t feel like you have to use a coupon just because it’s about to expire. Unless it’s something that you need right away, you’re better off to wait for the coupon to cycle around again and try to pair it with a store deal. (Most coupons run on a cycle or seasonally. I’m hoping this is something I’ll get use to as I do this longer.)

3)   Don’t make copies of coupons – especially if printed off your computer. These coupons have trackers in the barcode that can be linked back to your computer! You are NOT allowed to make copies of on-line coupons for friends.

4)   Try to find your Sunday paper early on Sunday or at a smaller Mom & Pop store. Most of the gas stations and grocery stores around me sell-out really early. At the coupon class I learned that some people drive around and collect all of the papers, clip the coupons and then sell the coupons! This is just ridiculous to me! Why would people spend money on coupons? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose?

 

When I got home from the class Chuck asked, “So, how did it go?”

I was in the middle of telling him how stupid this whole couponing thing makes me feel as I dug into my welcome bag. The first piece of paper I pulled out read:

Couponing for Beginners

This is Not Rocket Science!!!!

 

Obviously, it’s a good thing I didn’t follow in my parents’ footsteps and go into science!


Shopping with Satan

Thursday, January 19, 2012

(This fiasco actually happened on Tuesday, but it took me a few days to recover before I could write about it.)

As with most things in my life, I have the best of intentions. I start each day with a positive attitude and thoughts that everything's going to run on schedule. Then, as things start to unravel, I say little prayers throughout the day for patience, understanding and a sense of calm in the storm.

Well, storm it did! It was more like a monsoon rather.

Bianca had a dentist appointment early in the morning, so I loaded everyone up in our big, black bus (a gas-guzzling Suburban) and headed into town for the day. I needed to go to the bank, stop at the camera shop, go grocery shopping…the usual, mundane tasks of life.

The grocery store is something I've only tried one other time with all three girls by myself, and on that trip I made a mental note to remember my infant carrier so I could carry one baby on my chest while the other rode in her car seat at the top of the cart. (I knew this was important because the obnoxious, doublewide carts with the car in front aren't quite wide enough for two car seats. They fit, but just tight enough that I worry one wrong turn and it will be " Baby Clean-up in Aisle Five!")

I was pleasantly optimistic as we pulled in at Kroger, because of our successful, non-eventful trip to the dentist. 

Just as I was collecting my coupon binder and diaper bag to get everyone out of the car, a cloud descended on the Kroger parking lot and dropped rain on us by the bucket. It was coming sideways, swaying the car with the wind. At first, I was thankful that we weren't in the parking lot when this happened. But as the rain continued and my babies began to cry, I became frustrated. Why did I think I could do all of this by myself? Why didn't I ask someone to watch my girls so I could do this with one child instead of three? Why don't I just pack it up and go home?

If I'd accepted defeat and gone home, I still would have had to listen to two screaming babies for twenty minutes. Then we would have been home in a house with no food, which wouldn't work. I decided I could shimmy my body through the three car seats into the very back seat. I had a jar of baby food I'd planned to feed the girls in the Starbuck's dining area in the grocery, so why not just feed them in the car while we wait? 

Well, this was easier said than done. I had to get my legs out from under my steering wheel, prop my hip up onto my console and drop my body down onto the floor between the bucket seats. Then I had to reach back up in the front seat for the diaper bag, take Brylee out of her car seat base and sit her off to the side of the back seat to give me room to straddle the base and fall into the back seat. (Step One: Check)

I alternated spoons full of baby food for each of my girls - crying like little birds with their mouths wide-open waiting for each bite. (After my babies eat, they know a bottle is coming. Initially, all I saw was Bianca's Sprite from lunch. While I contemplated how the girls might enjoy the sweetness, I quickly put that thought out of my mind.) Luckily, there was an old bottle of water in my car. How old? I'm not quite certain, but not old enough for concern. I got both babies quieted down just in time for Bianca to completely fall apart. (It always amazes me how fast they can go from sweet and angelic to demon spawn.)

"I've got to go potty!" she screamed while frantically kicking her feet against the back of my seat.

"Hold it, Bianca," I pleaded. "We'll go in as soon as the rain stops."

"Get me out of my seat!" she wailed. "I don't want to be stuck in here forever!"

Me Either, I thought. I wanted to cry myself. But I saw sunshine off in the distance and knew if couldn't rain that much longer or getting into the grocery was going to be the least of my worries...we were going to float away.

The rain stopped. And as I got the babies out, I realized I’d forgotten the carrier I so desperately needed. I got them in a temporary cart to get us inside Kroger where they keep the above-mentioned obnoxious carts...the doublewide with the car in the front to keep the kids occupied (thank God for whoever invented those.)

As I get all the girls loaded in the cart I realize I've left my coupon binder in the car. Great! I really consider leaving it in the car, but talk myself out of it when I remember I'm trying to save money. So off we go, Bianca leading the way in her green and yellow car.

The next stop for this train is the bathroom, which brings the obvious set of challenges. How do you get a cart this size in the bathroom? Once you’re in the bathroom, how do you keep up with everyone?

Luckily, Kroger has a family bathroom. As I approach the bathroom a mother with one baby is leaving. She looks particularly frazzled trying to adjust her diaper bag, maneuver the cart and hold her baby. Then she glances up at me, and I can see a look of pity creep across her face.

The best way I can describe the scene in the bathroom is like the clip from Mister Mom where Michael Keaton is in the bathroom with his three kids, with toilet paper all over the floor, where he’s using the hand dryer on the baby’s bottom.

By now it feels like it’s about ten o’clock at night – it’s really only one in the afternoon – but it seems like this shopping trip is taking a year-and-a-half and I don’t even have anything in my cart that I didn’t bring into the store with me.

We get through the store without any major mishaps, and after all of the trials and tribulations I feel like we should save about a hundred dollars in coupons. When the cashier hands me my receipt and tells me I’ve saved thirty dollars I just want to throw something or hit something or rip the huge pile of coupons up and scatter them across the floor.

Because I’ve just put in about 200 percent more effort than I normally would on a shopping trip – and for what? Thirty dollars? Really?

Next week I’m doing something I never thought I would. I’m going to a couponing class. Not only do I want to save money, but now I also feel like I have a vested interest. And I want to know the secret. I want to know how people can sustain the time it takes to clip coupons, save a ton of money, and not physically hurt someone in the process.

 


Where's My Cooler?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

 

I have a very vivid imagination, especially when it comes to memories from my youth. My dad loves to call me out when I embellish on events from my childhood. But there are a few memories I know to be true, because I have my mother and sister’s memories to back me up.

There is an infamous story about a family road trip to Disney World where my dad made our family or four share a breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s. I’m not sure if this was a dieting tactic (my dad’s always been big on watching weight) or a method for saving money, but I do know my dad has always been frugal.

My dad’s been the senior radiologist in a group of doctors for years, yet he still carries a cooler of Diet Coke around in his car.

Is this a little nerdy (and ironic considering his income)? Of course. But is this smart? Absolutely!

I waste sooooo much money at fast food restaurants. Today was no exception. I was out running errands all day, and I obviously couldn’t make my three-year-old go without food. I couldn’t go without eating either, so we ended-up having lunch and dinner at the drive-thru.

Now, even if I’d had a cooler in my car I wouldn’t have had time to pack lunch before we left the house this morning (late as usual.) But it would be smart of me to try to plan ahead and have sandwiches, fruit and snacks ready in my car for a day when I know we’re going to be gone from morning ‘til night.

I wish I knew how much money my dad’s saved over the years…just on Diet Cokes. (Whatever he’s saved, he’s spent tenfold feeding us as adults. My sister and I joke when we go to visit our dad because it seems we can’t finish breakfast before my dad starts asking us where we want to go eat dinner. I love that man!)

And while we still jokingly give my dad a hard time about that breakfast all those year ago, as the mother of a toddler myself I now know how frustrating it is to watch a child order a big meal only to eat a few bites before throwing it away.