Monday, January 25, 2010

Clipped by Coupons

My first foray into the coupon savings world was, ah, well, er, -- interesting.

I was dying to leave the small town pickings in Greenville and go to the Metroplex, sure to get a deal and better access to cool “big city” goods, right? Just 25 miles down the road to Rockwall. Heck. If I save 60% on groceries, the $8 in gas, should be well spent.

I chose Kroger because I called ahead and found that every day was triple or double coupon day! Wow. I called every Brookshire in a 50 mile radius, but nooooooooo, they do not double or triple coupons. I should make my gas money back with the double and triple coupon savings alone.

The coupons are triple up to 35 cents and double up to 50 cents. Not bad. That translates into $1.05 or $1. “So long” Brookshires in Greenville, “Hello” Kroger in Rockwall! I even signed up for free to get my Kroger card for additional savings. Yay, me.

But wait, there’s more. Target had my Tide laundry detergent on sale for $17.99 (reg. 21.99 I noticed while I was there). Even better and I’m combining the trip so I’m beaming, because I have now made the trip totally worth the drive.

After clipping my coupons while watching Martha Stewart at lunch, I feel pretty stoked about multi-tasking and I’m certainly not wasting my time watching TV! I’m physically cutting coupons (saving money), eating at home (saving money) and mentally standing next to Martha planting that rhodendrum or cooking with guest chef Emeril and cataloging all the handmade Christmas presents I’m gonna make next year (saving even more money!). That’s a ton of savings going on in one hour!

I studied this coupon stuff ahead of time and learned that planning the menu helps make you buy what you need and keeps you on track. I took stock of what I had on hand already and made “The List” for items I still needed to complete the menus.

With The List in hand and the coupons in my purse, I head to Rockwall, set to buy $150 worth of groceries for $80. I knew I wasn’t as seasoned as the legendary Coupon Mom Stephanie Nelson who could buy $150 worth of groceries for less than $45, so I was prepared to not do as well. I’ll improve as I get this down. But I was prepared for mild coupon savings extravaganza.

Arrival at Kroger was like the first time I walked into the Redwood Forest or New York City. My jaw dropped and I just stood there slowly turning around taking in the tall trees/building/shelves. Anyone caring to notice, would have thought I was a hick and had never been to the city before. Kroger actually had a Sushi section. I’m in heaven. I stroked the edge of the bar to make sure it was real and wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth. Then I spotted the olive bar! Oh, dear. I read every name of all 10 olive selections. I’ll never get out of here in one piece. Yum.

Don’t get me wrong. I get out plenty. But when I was employed, grocery shopping was the worst chore I had. I did not want to spend one more minute in there than absolutely necessary. I was working, so cost was not necessarily a priority. Get what you need, get out. That was my motto. Besides, we usually ate out. I certainly didn’t drive to the swanky grocery stores 25 miles away!

Kroger had about 6 aisles dedicated to wine. Wow, an actual selection. I hyperventilated over some of the labels (I love the designs and typography and sometimes the cleverness of the names). Hence, the reason I bought a merlot named “Mad Housewife.” I even loved the picture on the front of the bottle. A retro looking woman in her late 20s, maybe early 30s. She was classed up and sophisticated with bakelite and faux bead bracelets, a pink frock and pearls. (I love pearls, but that’s another story.) It was humorous, clever, and the teaser on the back was amusing. Besides, it was merlot. What’s not to like? I don’t care for light, fruity wines, but this “Mad Housewife” was literally speaking to me -- and it was just $6.

Now it was time to buckle down and get serious about what was on The List. I spent about 4 hours perusing the aisles and inspecting all the cool stuff. I began to notice that I usually had to buy two or three items to get the coupon discount. Okay, I’ll have enough for two weeks instead of one I reasoned. I ended up deciding against some of my coupon purchases because the coupons would still be good for the next shopping trip and I won’t need them right away. Good thinking on my part. Less cost, less space for the stashed items.

I’m at the checkout lane and it’s my turn to go through the register. I’m excited and I can’t wait to see how well I’ve done.

I had the exact coupons in hand for the items I was purchasing. Now keep in mind, I wasn’t only buying items that had coupons, but I was buying what was needed to fulfill the menu items and utilizing some of the items that had coupons. I still needed things like milk and chicken, but didn’t have a coupon for those. Stephanie Nelson did it, but somehow I failed to find those at this point!

Total of the groceries was $189.51. Well, okay. I got some stuff I didn’t need and weren’t on the list, like the wine. But here come the coupons. Drumroll, please. I saved a total of $7.79, hardly the incredible savings I was looking for. And if you take into account, the fact that I had to drive 25 miles one way to get there, well, it takes me back to about even.. Well, I noticed that the Kroger card saved me some on the actual purchase of items without the coupons, so surely that made up for it. Oh, and the $4 I saved on the Tide will help. I’ll have to figure this out when I get home.

The drive home was not the victory dance I had hoped. Something went wrong, terribly wrong.

Here’s a few lessons I learned from this initial shopping experience. I’m sure I will learn more and get better at it as I get the process down:

1. You’ve got to learn and know the prices of items you buy regularly. I had never paid attention to the cost of items much before now. Take the Tide for instance. I thought because it was $21.99 at Target (in Rockwall), that the $17.99 was a great deal. I save $4. Reality is, I check my local Walmart and the same size of Tide was regularly $17.49. I would have saved money shopping in Greenville and didn’t have to drive 25 miles to do it. Keep a price list. I have started mine in a spreadsheet so I would have really known that Tide for $17.99 was not such a deal. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I still had a full bottle at home already. I am tripping over the new bottle now! I’d like to know if there is a better way to keep this info updated and handy while shopping. Have you discovered a good price list strategy?

2. Know if you have coupons that qualify for double or triple savings. I realized, after going through this exercise, that I only had one coupon that qualified for the double savings. All the other coupons were 55 cents or higher and didn’t qualify to be doubled or tripled. I could have gotten that same deal locally at Brookshires or Walmart!

3. Get what is on The List and stick to The List! The $6 wine was cute and funny. But it tasted terrible. I ended up with a $6 decoration (if I decide to keep it).

4. Don’t shop hungry. Everything looked so good. While I was able to refuse the sushi and olive bar, it was very difficult and I think it led to several other items purchased that weren’t necessarily on The List or needed.

5. Organize your coupons. I’ve got to find a way to keep from sorting, resorting and dropping coupons while I’m shopping. As I get more, it will get more cumbersome as expiration dates come into play. I haven’t figured this out yet, so if you have any ideas, I certainly welcome them.

6. Find a place to store the extra surplus. When you get a good deal, get lots of it. The one thing that was a good deal was 4 tubes of Crest for $5. I probably should have gotten more than the one set, but I was wondering where it was going to go before we used it all. I am open for creative options here. I already feel as if we are stuffed to the gills as it is. Where would you store 20 extra cans of soup, laundry detergent or toothpaste?

7. It’s definitely okay to clip the coupons while watching Martha Stewart or other TV show, just be sure to find out what they really are worth before you add them to The List or drive 25 miles to use them!

The good news about my shopping trip is that we are still stocked and I haven’t had to go to the grocery store in over a week! We did eat once. So the eating out habit is improving. It also looks like since I am only 1 day away from the 2-week mark since I went to the grocery store, the $189 of groceries will hold us up well for 2 weeks. We ate well and very little has gone to spoilage. I am very pleased with that!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Running Dry

A story I heard tonight has stuck in my crawl and I can’t seem to shake it out. It’s a story about one of the most tragic fires in this country and it took place in the town of Itasca, Texas, just before World War II. The tragic fire took the lives of 263 children in an unsprinklered school. Scarcely a family in town was not touched by this horrifying tragedy. The town went a number of years without school facilities, but as it began to grow and expand, a new school was built with a brand new sprinkler system, the best money could buy. Civic pride ran high. Honor students were selected to guide citizens and visitors on tours of the new facilities to show them the finest, the most advanced sprinkler system technology could supply. Never again would Itasca be visited by such a tragedy. Years later, as the town continued to grow, it was eventually necessary to enlarge the school -- and in adding a new wing, it was discovered that the wonderful and advanced sprinkler system the town had installed all those years ago to prevent another tragedy would have never worked had it been called upon. It had never been connected to the city’s water supply!

My heart immediately went out to all those families touched by the devastation and then quickly to all the rest who thought they were under the grand guise of safety with all those gleaming sprinkler heads poking through the ceilings of the classrooms. I imagined how the administrators and school board felt when they found out they had raised all that money, hired all the right people, planned and plotted and built what looked like a very fine place for their children to learn, only to discover that the very thing that would save them when fire came, had absolutely no way of getting to them. Even if the alarms were pulled properly, even if the fire department was called, there would be no water to drench the flames out.

So many times I find myself going through the routine of Sunday worship, small group and fellowship and all those other “proper” things Christians do, except many times, I forget to complete the connection to the main source. I forget to really connect with God and go one-on-one with Him to draw deeper from His power, His guidance and His friendship. Wow. I can do all the “right” things and allow myself to “run dry” when I need a good quenching!

My grandfather, C.W. Cox, was the music leader for a tiny little church at South Sulphur, just outside of Commerce, Texas, and loved the song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” And even though he is long since gone, he still ministers to me through this song.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Fortunately, I don’t need an engineer or team of city employees to hook me up. I don’t have to wait for the correct type of fitting or bolt to be ordered or applied. Most importantly, I don’t have to wait until I get everything right. I don’t have to wait until the dishes are washed, the laundry done, all the errands run. I have direct access to God via prayer now. I can connect directly to the main source now. I can do it now, in my jeans or my jammies. I don’t have to wait until I get the right outfit, or all my ducks in a row (and that’s a good thing in my case!). I don’t have to wait until I lose 10 pounds. I can do it now and I can do it often. Friends are better when they are frequently encountered. They get to know you better and you get to know them. What a friend I have in Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4-12

7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Coupon Klutz to Coupon Queen?

Since I quit my job, I have figured out that one thing I have the most opportunity to affect in terms of our budget is the weekly grocery bill. Every stay-at-home mom, housewife, ex-professional turned domestic diva and thrifty shopper swears by coupon clipping. I watched a video and news clips where Stephanie Nelson, a.k.a., the Coupon Mom saves 70% to 80% on her grocery bill by clipping coupons. Stephanie is a former businesswoman who needed to put her spreadsheet skills to work while she went home to take care of her family.

I liked the way she worked, so I will put my limited skills to the test tomorrow. I have made my menu (part of the success) for the next week, clipped my coupons and plotted my route. It may take me all day, but I'm gonna see if I can at least save something! Since we ate out so much while I was working, my first goal is to see if I can cut the previous budget in half right out of the gate!