Sunday, October 21, 2012

How to Organize and Save Money with Coupons the Normal Way

Let me give you a little background information: I save money using coupons. And not in a crazy way either.  I don't hoard toothpaste, it doesn't take me hours to shop, I don't steal coupons from recycling bins, I don't leave the shelves empty and, this is important, I never get $300 worth of stuff for thirteen cents. Ever.

But I do save money as in put in in the bank and leave it alone. I do have a nice supply of necessities on hand and I'm able to give plenty to the school food bank fundraiser. Here's my tips for organizing coupons and saving in a nice, normal way.

Keeping up with the Coupons.  In order for couponing to be effective and easy to maintain, you have to store them in a way that is easy for you to understand and in a way that makes you actually want to stick with it. Only you can determine what method works best for you. For me, it was this large, heavy duty file card box made from thick and translucent plastic. It worked like a charm for more than two decades (that's college, single life, married and two babies. Whew! I guess it had a long life!) When it finally died, I switched to an old fashioned, but small, photo album. Like my wonderful box, it's divided into categories that make sense to me: dairy, dinner, pets, baby, snacks, cleaner, medicine, you get the idea.

Be Reasonable.  Know your reasonable expectations of what you will use in a timely fashion and only keep those coupons. I have been known to go online and print coupons for products that don't get purchased frequently. I still don't know what possessed me to acquire seven coupons which expired in a month for bug bite ointment. I wasted time, newspapers, and  printer ink and paper for coupons I couldn't possibly use for a product I probably wouldn't need that much of.I don't need a year's supply of mustard so I don't need to scrounge up ten extra sets of coupons. Maybe one or three will do just fine. The more you overdue it, the less likely you can maintain it.

Maintenance Schedule.  Just because coupon clipping and organizing is an ongoing thing doesn't mean it's painful or time consuming. Get into a rhythm of setting aside a few minutes to remove expired coupons and clipping/filing new ones. I tend to sort/toss mine while we're sitting at the kitchen table doing homework: I'm doing what I need but it isn't difficult, so I can easily put it down and help someone conjugate a verb.  I sometimes do the clipping when I'm catching up on the weather report. If it's taking too long, you need to simplify your plan. You literally only need a few minutes.

Get your Game(plan) On.   Look at the list of things you need to shop for and compare it to your store's circular. Next, match up your coupons. There's no need for trickery or trying to double stack your coupons. Simply buy what you have to, using sales and coupons to lower the price. If your coupon container is small, go ahead and take it to the store with you. Maybe you'll find a great bargain. Just be courteous of the shoppers around you and don't block the aisle looking for an obsure cream of tartar coupon.

Put that Back!  If you love So Yummy! Haggus Soup then, by all means, buy some. But if not, don't waste money getting a cart full. If you won't eat it, you haven't saved money. The only exception is if you want to try something and the coupon makes the product ridiculously cheap. I do that all the time for new products when the coupon and introductory price make something financially attractive. But a whole cart full? I guarantee this will be the one time you hate it and then you're stuck.

 People turn against coupons because they see the near-psychotic appearance/attitude of the coupon hoarders. It doen't have to be like that. A little goes a long way. Slow and steady savings is the way to achieve coupon success.

Happy Clipping!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How To Pay For Christmas......Start Now.

As you carve your jack o'lantern and decide what costume to wear to the annual Rock Star Halloween Ball, now is a good time to start preparing for Christmas. Oh yes, I did. I said it out loud.  "But, I'm too busy with all the fun things you can do in Autumn," you say. "I don't have time to worry about Christmas."  So, let me ask you something. Do you have time to be stressed and broke? Becaue that's exactly what's going to happen if you don't prepare.

Not to worry. It isn't painful and the earlier you start the easier it is. Whether you are fully prepared or just slightly so, either way you're going to be so glad you started early. Here's some of the ways I ease into the holiday season:

Let's Eat!   Stores are already stocking the shelves for all that holiday cooking, so don't wait until you need it: start buying now.  Here's some some basics that you can get now: flour, sugar, vanilla, cake mixes, frosting, frozen vegetables, cookie dough, sprinkles, wine, brownie mixes, exotic dried spices, broth, canned goods.  One or two items per week won't break the bank and when the time comes, you're ready. I am stocking everything you can think of because Hubby always likes to tell me about the holiday work brunch he needs a casserole for and he needs it tomorrow morning. Or the kids bring home a note wanting cookie/brownie donations. Tomorrow. Are they conspiring with their dad? Just wondering.

Keep the Change.  Yes, it's old fashioned, but set aside your change and any stray dollar bills until the holidays. You'll be surprised at how much you accumulate in the next few weeks. Use it for some stocking stuffers or perhaps give it to a bell ringer.

That's a Wrap.  You should definitely make gifts look special but that doesn't mean you have to spend most of the weekend trying to win the award for Most Glitter on a Gift. We tend to choose a single color for our wrapping paper (red, green, gold, brown craft paper, whatever) and all the gifts for one side of the family has red decorations/bows, while the gifts for the other side of the family might have green. It's easy to gather them all up when we go visit.  The bows and ribbons are often replaced with a special bow and ornament for the recipient. Lovely, quick, easy. As a bonus, the unified look under the tree is classic.

Dimes Make Dollars.  Now is the perfect time to start cashing in those points on credit cards and websites. I let my points accumulate all year and they are perfect for shopping online. I'm also accumulating some dollars-off coupons to help pay for some little gifts like stocking stuffers. There are a great many things you can purchase early in the season. Search for online codes and any deals stores may have.

Making a List, Checking it Twice.  Whether it's on your smart phone or in a little notebook, make a list of all your gift ideas. I have a small list of everyone and ideas by each name. That could include sizes, hobbies, budget. Just anything that helps make it easy for me. If I buy something, it is on the same list so I won't be rushing around trying to buy the perfect thing when I already have one. Don't laugh, it happens.

Repeat Performance.  If your mom loved the exotic alpaca yarn you gave her last year, she might secretly hope to get some more this year. It's perfectly acceptable to have repeat gifts as long as the recipient doesn't mind. Another option is giving the same gift to everyone. We live in a great neighborhood with the most delightful neighbors and one of our traditions is to exchange gifts. They are usually simple things like a poinsettia or homemade jam. We give everyone the same gift because it's less complicated as well as less time consuming. Last year we took wire baskets lined with holiday tissue and filled them with organic pears, figs and a wedge of aged cheese. Wrapped in cellophane with a gigantic bow, they looked decadent. And we had great fun putting them in a wagon and delivering them door to door. Here's the thing: The baskets were purchased around October on clearance and the fruit came from a boutique grocer using some points I cashed in for a gift card that I used to pay for the purchase. The cellophane and the ribbon were clearance items too. The price for five gifts? Next to nothing. The warm fuzzy feeling? Immeasurable.

Think Ahead.  Don't you just love that green bean casserole? Me neither. But I do love green beans and they will be on sale soon. Skip the casserole and stock up. Every time you're at the store just pick up one or two items for Christmas: tape, a bag of chocolate chips, some stocking stuffers. a few holiday candles. And think ahead. A lot of what you need for the holidays can be used after.

The most important thing is to start early, buy a little, buy often and keep track of it.

If you want to get even further ahead of the holiday rush, try doing what my friend Deneen does. As she crosses an item off her list, she wraps and labels it, putting it aside in a safe place (her secret place is the attic.)  She even fills the stockings the same way. Little by little and whether you get it all done or not, any step you make is progress and will reduce your stress.