27.5 reasons I coupon

10/366:  Sunday Coupons
“Sunday Coupons” by TeamJTX on Flickr

Yesterday, while my kids were at my parents’ house enjoying the pool, I took advantage and went to the grocery store. Of course, I took coupons.

I know coupons and those who use them are pretty trendy these days. And there’s a whole television show mostly dedicated to those who abuse these little papers in ways most of us just can’t understand (75 deodorants and you already have 125 at home?).

But I have to tell you, I love my coupons. And I’ve loved them a very long time. After a trip like yesterday, I really can’t understand why using coupons isn’t a universal practice. Coupons are money.

I think I use my coupons in a pretty normal way and yesterday’s trip is my type of awesome shopping trip– the variety is wide and the savings substantial. I bought:

10 Lunchables, 1 Bag of Celery, 2 Ben & Jerry Ice Creams, 1 Can of Baking Powder, 2.5 pounds of Grapes, 2 bags of New England Coffee, 1 Bunch of Organic Rosemary, 1 Pint of Grape Tomatoes, 1 Onion, 1 Bag of Red Potatoes, 1 Pack of Bacon, 2.25 Pounds of Bananas, 2 Cans of Tomato Sauce, 2 Boxes of Baking Soda, 1.35 Pounds of Plums, 3 Lemons, 2 Bottles of Ocean Spray Juice Blends, 1 Box of Honey Nut Cheerios, 1 Box of Lucky Charms, 1 Box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, 2 Boxes of Fiber One Chewy Bars, 2 Sure Deodorants, 1 Degree Deodorant (for Friend), 1 Dozen Organic Eggs, 2 4-packs of Mandarin Orange fruit cups packed in water, 2 Packs of Yoplait Granola Parfaits, 2 Almond Breeze Milks, 2 Packs of Yoplait Fiber One Yogurts, 1 Bottle of Fabuloso cleaner, and 2 Bottles of Palmolive.

I spent $88.27. I saved $77.13 or 47%. What you need to know is $27.50 of my savings were in clipped coupons. I don’t know about you, but $27.50 towards feeding my family and keeping my home clean(ish) is a good deal. None of the items I bought were things I bought solely because I had coupons. I needed and/or wanted everything here.

I know a bunch of you are probably cringing at some of the food I have listed here but you should know this isn’t because I coupon, it’s just the way I shop. I am not a health nut. I also absolutely hate being in the kitchen which reflects in my tendencies to shop for convenience foods. I hate shopping the perimeter of the supermarket. I do what I can where I can and don’t beat myself up for the rest.

The Lunchables, for instance, are the perfect example of this. I had no coupons for those. But my kids like them, the Deli had a huge line, and the ham they eat wasn’t on sale this week. I would’ve easily spent $10 on one pound of the ham alone. So, I said “Screw it” and bought the ten Lunchables at $1 each.

As for time and effort, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t count the amount of time I’m actually in the grocery store because I’m spending that time there whether I have coupons or not. I don’t always have the time to go to the grocery store once a week or more, although I wish I did because I’d save more money. I definitely don’t have the time to go to more than one supermarket a week. I also tend to be faster in a store when I coupon because I have an awesome list and ONLY stick to the list.

It’s hard for me to gauge the amount of time I actually spend a week clipping coupons because right now I’m in the process of transitioning into a binder. This is taking me forever because I have almost a year’s worth of coupon inserts saved and many are doubled thanks to my awesome Mom. In the past week or so, I’ve easily clipped over 400 coupons and I have more to go. I’ll probably time myself when I do yesterday’s bountiful bunch but I have a hunch it’s about one hour and I do it when it’s nice and quiet and the children are sleeping. That much time is for one of those weeks that has a ton of inserts like yesterday’s paper did. Not all weeks have so many coupons.

If you’d like to maybe try using coupons effectively, here are my suggestions.

  • Before you subscribe to a newspaper or go buy them, ask your neighbors/friends/co-workers/family you’re comfortable with and see often (once a week) if they get the Sunday paper and if they do, if they use the coupons. If they don’t, ask if they wouldn’t mind giving them to you. Free coupons are the best coupons. If  no one convenient has them, buy the paper or subscribe.
  • OK, save yourself the trouble and get a binder (they’re on sale right now with back to school clearances and stuff) and get some trading card holders. I didn’t use this system but now that I do I feel like a moron for not using it before. Don’t risk feeling like a moron. To give you a perspective on how many trading card holders you’ll need, I’m currently using about 45 pages one-sided. But, again, I’m using several months’ worth of inserts. You can probably do perfectly well with 10 to 20 pages. Sharon just set hers up and it took her only 45 minutes from start to finish (including clipping the actual coupons).
  • Every time you get a bunch of coupon inserts, take the time to go through them and clip the coupons for things you use regularly or would like to try. If you really don’t care about the brand, then make sure you clip all of the different coupons for the same type of thing so you have more opportunities to match coupons to a sale. If you’re brand loyal, the amount of time spent clipping will be cut but so will the amount of savings. It’s still worth doing! Clip them, sort them, and put them in their handy organizers.
  • Every time you have to go shopping, make a list of everything you need. Then, check the insert to see what, if any of it, is on sale, And finally, check your coupon binder to see what you have coupons for. You can do a happy dance if you have coupons for items that are also on sale because that’s where the magic happens.
  • When I head into the store, I have a very nice list organized by section and I have all of my coupons pulled and ready in a little coupon carrier I have. I actually only use two pockets in it– the one in front is for the coupons I’m turning over at the cashier and the other one is for the coupons I ended up not using for one reason or another. I have not yet taken my binder with me because I feel this would lead me to spend more time in the store and possibly to impulse buys.
  • At the register, I put all of the items that don’t have a coupon at the front, and the ones that do at the back. When it’s my turn, I explain to the cashier “All items behind such and such have coupons. Should I give them to you all at the end or would you like me to pair them up with the items?” Nine times out of ten their eyes light up with my suggestion and ask if I could please match them that would be awesome. So, I go and start matching. Now do you see why I put all of the non-coupon items up front? Buys me some time!

If you really want to get into the groove of coupons, you can use a website like SouthernSavers. It tracks all of the sales and matches coupons for you. It also highlights which items are REALLY cheap and so you might want to try and stock up on those a bit more than usual if it happens to be something you use often.

The reason you stock up when it’s on sale really low is because you don’t want to pay full-price for the item when you run out. Yes, you’ll be paying full-price for some items when you start using coupons but eventually, the number of items you pay full price for get smaller and smaller. On my list, only five items were full-price items. Everything else was either on sale, had at least one coupon, or was on sale and had at least one coupon.

I believe using coupons is like anything else. If you go into it with a bad attitude, you’re not going to get much out of it. But, if you’re willing to learn something and take the time to keep at it, I think you’ll be very pleased with the results.

Recently, GRS did an Ask the Readers post with the question: How much do you spend on food? The couple asking was spending $750 a month– for just two adults. JD’s answer wasn’t far off either. I was shocked.

On average, I spend $615 a month on food– and that includes dining out and other convenience eating I do. My average bill at a grocery store is only $255 a month and that includes all the cleaning products and things like that. Did I mention I have three kids?

So there you go; yesterday it was a savings of $27.50 but over a year, it’s much more. And it’s just too much for me to simply dismiss it as not for me without giving it a real solid try. If you’re pressed for money, I suggest you do too. It’s essentially extra income that’s not taxable!


Ten Challenges to Stimulate Your Savings

Frugality - Penny Pinching
“Frugality” by Living Studios

Whatever the reason, and there are so many, sometimes we need to come up with some extra cash or at the very least, scale back some expenses. To this end, people embark on Fiscal or Spending Challenges. They all work in generally the same way—reduce spending in a particular fashion for a set number of days. At the end, put whatever savings you get (no matter how small) into a savings account of your choice. Here are ten different challenges you can try.

1 ) Dining Out Challenge

Sit-down meals, take-out and delivery, or fast food all take a larger toll on our funds than eating from our home. For a mild challenge, aim to eliminate one category of convenience eating for one week—for example, no fast food. If you’re looking for extreme changes, eliminate at least two, if not all three, of these categories for one month.

2 ) Clothing Ban

You know you don’t need any new clothes when you have mountains of laundry and your family is still able to easily put together complete and tasteful outfits from your closets and drawers. Put the freeze on spending—no clothes, shoes, or accessories for one month. If you want to make this challenge a bit tougher, get rid of one article of clothing for every day of the challenge. If you’re able to sell at least some of the clothes you unload, you’re really amping up your savings.

3 ) Stick to the List Challenge

If your weakness is being lured away from your shopping list, this might be the challenge for you. Write up a list before you get to the market and don’t let anything else in your basket. When you go pump gas, leave the drink in the fridge. When the mission is to find the perfect shoes for the interview, forget the cute sandals and the perfectly priced dress. For a mild challenge, aim to ban all impulse buys for just one week. If you really want a shot at curing this practice, aim for at least 30 days.

4 ) Plastic Freeze

If swiping your debit card is making your funds too easy to get to, put the booger on ice. Go cash-only for a week or even a whole month. Online purchases count as credit card swipes. Paying your bills from your account don’t.

5 ) Say No to the Store

It seems everyone I talk to has a store that is their weak spot. Something about it wreaks havoc on your mental wiring and suddenly Wants and Needs are all in the same pile. For me, it’s Target. Maybe for you, it’s Amazon, the thrift store, e-Bay, CVS, or the convenience store. Whatever your Store, skip it for a month and see just how much of a drain it is on your wallet.

6 ) Limited Spending Challenge

This is one of the more common financial challenges. It’s highly customizable and is often an eye-opening experience on just how low you can go. If you’ve been tracking your spending, figure out what your average spending on non-bills is, either weekly or monthly, and challenge yourself to reduce that by a certain percentage. Go for a quick and easy 10% or get drastic with 50%.

If you’re not tracking your spending, this just might be the reason you start as it was for me. Figure out the amount you think you spend monthly on your bills. Subtract it from the amount you think you receive a month. And then commit to living on only a percentage of what’s leftover.

(Income – Bills) / Percentage of your choice = Spending Challenge Amount

7 ) Complete Fiscal Fast

Seven Days. Zero Dollars. It is that simply difficult. You can’t stock up before you start, except gas. Take your wallet from 60 mph to 0 and keep it idling for seven days. Half Dozen Daily is getting ready to embark on one. Think you can do it?

8 ) No-Spend Days 

Seven straight days is definitely challenging. For some people, it’s even impossible. For this challenge, pick a target number of no spend days for a month. Taking a cue from the Complete Fiscal Fast, seven is a good way to start. Can you take it higher?

9 ) Coupon Challenge

The only challenge that requires preparation a month ahead whether or not you’re new to couponing. For newbies, take advantage of the preceding challenge month to stock up on coupons by buying the Sunday paper every week, asking friends for their discards, printing coupons online, and collecting those little blinkies in the supermarket. Track your grocery and drugstore spending and what your average savings, if any, are without coupons. Finally, visit couponing websites to educate yourself on how couponing works.

If you use coupons now but think you can do better, save your receipts from your shopping the month leading up to the challenge. At the end, figure out what your average savings are currently and challenge yourself to increase them by a certain percentage next month. Generally, the higher you are, the harder it is to keep going so keep that in mind. It is truly a challenge to average savings above even 50% (it CAN be done).

When the month of your challenge starts, get your coupon on. Make sure, like the previous month, you’re tracking your average savings and see what the difference is at month-end.

10 ) Power Down Challenge

Can you say no to electricity for seven nights? In this challenge, your family unplugs every night, at the same time, for seven nights. Candles and battery-operated devices are acceptable but you can’t recharge until the power comes back on. This challenge has a two-fold benefit. One, it will surely help reduce your utility bill while quite possibly pointing out power leeching devices and habits in your home. Two, it’s a great way to test your family’s Disaster Readiness level. Having experienced hurricanes myself, including Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992, I know how important Disaster Readiness is, and how easily it’s forgotten.

Have you embarked on a financial challenge? What was your experience?

The latest reason I love couponing

Went to Publix last night to take advantage of the last day of last week’s sale (here Publix sales run Thursday to Wednesday unlike everywhere else because that’s how we do it down here). I paid $46.17 for $85.84 worth of stuff. Here’s how it broke down across the three categories I made purchases in (pre-tax because otherwise I get befuddled):

Food (Almond milk, sour cream, feta cheese, chuck patties, pita bread)

Cost: $21.34 Coupons & Sales: $4.18 Savings of 20%

Personal Care– Kids (Diapers, Wipes, Diaper Cream, Body Wash)

Cost: $46.46 Coupons & Sales: $20.99 Savings of 45%

Personal Care– Mine (Toothpaste, toothbrushes, facial tissues)

Cost: $9.89 Coupons & Sales: $9.45 Savings of 96%

Overall on my bill (with tax), I saved 46%. My receipt further explains I took advantage of $17.99 in store coupons (21%), $11.15 in vendor coupons (13%), and $10.53 in special prices (12%). I want to emphasize, these savings are in Florida which does not double coupons. If they did, my savings would have been even higher. Regardless, this trip goes to strengthen my assertion that coupon savings’ strength lies outside of Food especially if you’re not into really junky food and is still very much worth the time and effort (which incidentally is not much). This is especially important for those who place high value on high-quality foods (which in all honesty is not me, I’d say I’m in the moderate camp) because it’s the perfect example of the savvy money mentality to save where you can to splurge where you want.

P.S. When you do your shopping, and your bags are loaded, and you’ve paid, take your cart to an out of the way place by the exit (don’t block any passages) and look through your receipt carefully. Two weeks ago at Publix, the eggs were on sale ($2) but rang up at regular price ($2.59). I probably wouldn’t have done anything except I’d bought three dozen eggs for the baking marathon I went on. I went back to have it adusted and the lady gave me back the full value of the three dozen eggs. Why? To my surprise, their policy is if they charge you wrong, they refund the full amount of the item. So what I thought would be a savings of $1.77 (the difference in price) turned into a savings of $7.77. This week, I ignored my own advice and have overpaid in two separate instances and didn’t catch it until days later when I was entering my data in my price book. I lost $4.09. Oh and I forgot to use a coupon because I was on the phone at checkout losing another $1.25. My total loss for negligence this week? $5.34. Lesson learned? It’s important to be vigilant with your money, even in the little things because they add up fast and no one is going to watch out for your money any better than you are. 

Joyous News and Mindless Chatter

Divorce Cake
“Divorce Cake” by SamLevin on Flickr

Before I say absolutely anything else at all, let me announce I got the date for my final hearing for dissolution of marriage. I’ll be divorced on St. Patrick’s Day!

I am absolutely exuberant about this, I can’t even tell you. I just feel this unstoppable flood of relief that is impossible to describe. The best I can do is like there’s a bottle of MollyDooker Violinist wine flowing through my veins. Exuberance. Just pure, unadulterated exuberance. He had mentioned he’d have a good amount for me in child support but is now backpedaling. He will have absolutely nothing until the middle of the month…

It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over It’s almost over…

The letter states he doesn’t even have to show up at the hearing. I’m hoping it coincides with his first week at the new job so he really won’t feel motivated to go. But, enough of all of that stuff, let’s move on to something fun like budgets and crochet!

Yesterday was my trip to Publix to pick up some other groceries I was missing and to take advantage of some excellent, excellent savings and stocking opportunities. Canned tomatoes (4), soups (4), juice (4 bottles), shaving gel (2), bread (2), tortillas (1), tea (1), sugar (1), bagels (2), and I can’t find the receipt to tell you if that was it but either way, I paid $31.51 and saved $37.42. I absolutely LOVE saving more than I pay. By the way, I know that compared to those Extreme Couponing blogs and shows, this sounds meager but it is really difficult to do extremely extreme couponing in Florida and the main reason I can find is the stores here do not double coupons like they do in many other states. So, while in another state my 50 cent coupon is actually worth a dollar, here it’s just 50 cents. Florida stores are also pretty anti-coupon in general and you’ll find very few who accept competitor coupons for instance. Florida clerks generally cringe when they see big piles of coupons, almost always summon managers for printed coupons, etc. So, shaving 50% on my grocery bill or more is a huge win for me personally. And even though I say it again and again, if you want to really be even remotely successful with couponing, check out SouthernSavers. If you’re in a different region, do some searches because there are other websites like them. SouthernSavers is 100% free to use, easy, and is the major reason I am able to save so much money on groceries. They don’t endorse me or anything so there’s no bias in this wallet but they really do just provide a great service that I believe is extremely helpful.

There was another purchase yesterday and that was at Michael’s for a couple of crochet hooks at $4.26 total. This leaves me with $485.77 on the expanded budget but only $335.77 on the reduced one. These were for the project I’ve decided to make my goddaughter for her birthday and I was unsure which size would work better, so I went with two, used a 40% off coupon for one, and that was that. It is really hard to go into Michael’s and keep your eyes on the prize by the way. At least, for me. I don’t know what it is about that store but wow. It doesn’t help the yarn stuff is all the way at the back which forces you to walk past aisle after aisle of things. Anyways, I got home and began this cowl after Tami said so. I have never witnessed a person wearing a cowl that is not part of their shirt. At least, I haven’t noticed. This is Florida after all so things that are meant to warm you up aren’t exactly in abundance but I think the cowl is much more than a warming device—it’s an accessory! And I am loving it. It’s a bit stiffer than I’d envisioned and I mostly blame the yarn—two strands of Impeccable by Loops & Threads, a 100% acrylic yarn that has some great colors and solid texture. The rest of the blame falls on the hook. The pattern called for a 10.00mm (N) hook so imagine my bafflement when I got to the hooks at Michael’s and found the N hooks were 9.00mm and the P hooks were 10.00mm. That’s why I bought both and because I tend to crochet loosely (ha I’m a loose hooker omg I crack myself up) I went with the smaller hook. May have been a mistake going for the smaller hook for once.  I’d imagined something slightly drapier but this is really pleasing me either way. I’m pretty sure at the rate I’m going I’ll be ready for another FO Friday tomorrow.

By the way, mark your calendars for Knit & Crochet Blog Week March 28 – April 3. I will be participating so if you’re allergic to yarny goodness, you may want to steer clear. Although, I seriously doubt I will only be sticking to all things yarny because we all know, this Mutant has commitment issues. I’m disloyal (Fantastic Mr. Fox reference in my brain, what about yours?). And if you’re totally into all things yarn, strongly consider joining in the fun. I missed out last year but they racked up over 200 participants!   

Hmm I completely lost my train of thought…

Oh well, here’s a song that totally my vibe today to make up for the sudden and abrupt blank stare you’re getting.

Oh, I remember now! Remind me to tell you about the nice yarn lover that sat next to me on the train today and about Hoarders.

Finances of Food Challenge: Grocery Trip #1

Last night, I went to Publix for my first grocery trip during the Finances of Food challenge I embarked on yesterday. I think I did very well picking up $121.12 worth of food for only $62.36– almost a 50% discount. I think this challenge may help me create my own grocery book as well. I logged in everything I purchased and discounts that applied to each item, added tax, and figured out the actual cost per item. In this case, my grocery store trip looked like this:

Item  Price   Add’l Disc  Tax Qty  Total   Actual Cost Per Item  Savings
Almond Breeze Milk  $  2.99  $           1.10 0 2  $    4.88  $            2.44 18%
Breakstone Sour Cream 16 oz  $  1.00  $                –   0 1  $    1.00  $            1.00 0%
Coffee Mate Creamer  $  1.25  $           1.50 0 2  $    1.00  $            0.50 60%
Crisco Vegetable Oil  $  3.77  $           3.77 0 2  $    3.77  $            1.89 50%
Publix Egg Nog  $  1.99  $                –   0 1  $    1.99  $            1.99 0%
DelMonte Petite Tomatoes  $  1.57  $           1.57 0 2  $    1.57  $            0.79 50%
Capri Sun 10 Pk  $  2.00  $                –   0.22 2  $    4.22  $            2.11 0%
Cool Whip Topping  $  2.05  $           2.05 0 2  $    2.05  $            1.03 50%
Finish Quantum Dish Detergent  $  6.99  $           1.50 0.49 1  $    5.98  $            5.98 14%
Musselman Apple Sauce 6 Pk  $  2.33  $           2.33 0 2  $    2.33  $            1.17 50%
Squash Zucchini  $  1.51  $                –   0 1  $    1.51  $            1.51 0%
Yellow Squash  $  1.49  $                –   0 1  $    1.49  $            1.49 0%
Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes  $  4.37  $           4.37 0 2  $    4.37  $            2.19 50%
Baking Soda Arm & Hammer  $  0.59  $                –   0 1  $    0.59  $            0.59 0%
Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate  $  1.99  $           1.99 0 2  $    1.99  $            1.00 50%
Food For All Donation  $  1.00  $                –   0 1  $    1.00  $            1.00 0%
Baking Powder  $  0.97  $                –   0 1  $    0.97  $            0.97 0%
Birds Eye SteamFresh Veg  $  1.19  $           2.19 0 3  $    1.38  $            0.46 61%
Mahatma Jasmine Rice  $  2.49  $                –   0 1  $    2.49  $            2.49 0%
Philadelphia Cream Cheese  $  1.25  $                –   0 1  $    1.25  $            1.25 0%
Kraft Shredded Cheese  $  2.00  $           1.00 0 2  $    3.00  $            1.50 25%
Oranges  $  0.89  $                –   0 1.05  $    0.93  $            0.89 0%
Sweet Potatoes  $  0.39  $                –   0 1.79  $    0.70  $            0.39 0%
Red Seedless Grapes  $  1.49  $                –   0 2.31  $    3.44  $            1.49 0%
Tollhouse Cookies  $  3.49  $           5.49 0 2  $    1.49  $            0.75 79%
Cranberries  $  2.99  $           2.99 0 2  $    2.99  $            1.50 50%
Cranberries  $  2.99  $           2.99 0 2  $    2.99  $            1.50 50%
Bananas  $  0.69  $                –   0 1.86  $    1.28  $            0.69 0%
Potatoes Idaho, 5 lb bag  $  1.99  $           1.00 0 1  $    0.99  $            0.99 50%
Eggland’s Best Eggs  $  3.71  $                –   0 1  $    3.71  $            3.71 0%
Publix Coupon  $      –    $           5.00 0 1  $  (5.00)    
TOTAL          $  62.36    

Believe me when I tell you it looks much prettier in Excel. Twelve of my thirty items were at least 50% percent off and the $5 0ff $50 Publix coupon really kicked me into gear. On the receipt, it breaks down my savings this way: $43.42 in Store Savings (weekly ad sales basically) and $15.34 in coupons for a total of $58.76 in savings for about two hours’ worth of work which included making the list, cutting coupons, shopping, and putting everything away. $29.38 an hour? That’s more than I make at my job before taxes. So, yes please.

Now comes the hard part for me personally– actually using all the food I bought.

Finances of Food

In one year, I’ve gained about 15 pounds, 10 of which I put on since April. Where last October I was looking pretty impressive in a bikini, this year I’ve gone soft around the middle, upper, and lower. What happened? One, I stopped working out. Literally. I just quit cold turkey and dropped it like a bad habit. Why is it easy to drop good habits and hard to drop bad habits? Our programming makes no sense some times.

But the other thing that happened, and the one that I’m convinced is responsible for about 75% of the weight gain, is my eating habits went to complete hell. I stopped taking lunches to work, I cut back big time on the amount of times I cooked at home, and what did that lead to? An increase in convenience eating– fast food, restaurants, delivery, frozen, processed, and boxed. My guess is that when I stopped working out, I lost a lot of energy and that black hole sucked up my household energy specifically– my house is messy and so’s my body.

As you may know if you read me often, I’m currently the world’s biggest advocate of tracking expenses AND I think you should hammer out your own method instead of relying on some fancy ready-made thing. So I have a massive and awesome, perhaps massively awesome even, workbook on Excel that I track my spending, create flexible budgets in, even create savings goals with. It is the awesome. Yesterday, I decided I want to create a food-related goal to add to my list because I keep telling myself, “I have got to change my eating habits!” but never do anything because I am a royal screw-up without goals. Today, I used the aforementioned Massively Awesome Excel Workbook to help me construct this very important goal. How? I took my data from the past four months, not including November which is still in progress though I really wanted to, and extrapolated all of my food-related expenses. Then, I tallied up two things: the number of times I spent money on food and how much I spent on food. I did this for three categories– Fast Food, Restaurants, and Groceries. When I did this for July, August, September, and October, I also threw in an average. I came out with this:

So pretty. Well class, what do we see about MutantSupermodel’s eating habits? One, I should point out that July was the Spending Diet month which explains the drop in numbers across the board. But, because it was much more ideal behavior on my part than the other three months, I wanted to include it to help me achieve an average. Now, the scary stuff. On average, I spend more at fast food places and restaurants than I do on groceries. And I definitely visit those other places a heck of a lot more frequently. As a matter of fact, I went ahead and compared Groceries directly to Eating Out and this is what I found:

See, that is a problem. On average, I go out to eat four times as often as I visit the grocery store. In October, I spent nearly double dining out than on groceries. As a matter of fact, when I look at my totals, I find that on average, I spend 45% of my food money on groceries and 55% on eating out. Quite frankly, it has to stop. So, how do I train myself to get this under control?

First, I saw in the recent issue of All You magazine, the results of a Grocery Challenge they hosted. I am new to this magazine (coupon city!) so I had no idea this was going on, but it was an interesting read given my food dilemma. There’s basically one rule- Spend no more than $25 per person in your family a week for four weeks. There are four people in my family which gives me $100 a week. If you look at my grocery spending, you can see that isn’t even a question for me. But that’s because I’m spending it on other food options instead. If I said no more than $25 per person per week though, I have a little work to do. There were 17 full weeks from July through October. I spent an average of $126.73 on food each week. Here is what I’m proposing then.

From today, Monday, November 22, 2010 to Monday, January 31, 2011 (ten weeks), I will challenge myself to spend no more than $100 a week on food. Furthermore, I will challenge myself to change the average split between groceries and eating out to 65% and 35% respectively. I want you to know, I just winced. And for extra giggles, I’ll be tracking my weight somehow just to see if I find a correlation between the two. Because I love experimenting on myself, didn’t you know?

Obstacles I see in the future? Time and energy. I’m a single mom of three for one but also, as much as my mother is the Domestic Diva, I am not. And as much as I would love to be, I have never been able to get excited about preparing fresh and healthy meals or maintaining a neat and lovely home. Ok, that’s not completely true. I do, but in very short bursts. Wish me luck and if you’ve made this sort of change in your life or if you live this life regularly, please share some tips, advice, suggestions, etc. I’ve got the grocery shopping with coupons thing pretty mastered, but it’s mainly the kitchen that daunts me.

Coupons 101: Save an average of 73% at Publix this week

A lot of people react to my receipts from drugstores and grocery stores, not because they’re astronomically high but because they’re insanely low compared to the amount of stuff I’m lugging out of the store. Take for example yesterday’s shopping trip to Publix where I paid $39 for $101 worth of groceries. That’s a savings of $62 or 61%. Everyone wants to know how I do it and yet when I tell them I use SouthernSavers they look so disappointed or they even visit the site and tell me they just don’t get it. So, here’s a great way to start saving money right now at the grocery store, snatch up Buy 1 Get 1 Free items. Right there, you’ve slashed your bill down to 50% savings and you’ve done nothing but shop the aisles.

This is where people get really frustrated with me because chances are you don’t need any or even many of the Buy 1 Get 1 Free items right now. Buy them anyways because they’re not going on sale again for about six weeks. That right there is the single biggest change you need to make if you want to start saving money at the grocery or drug stores. Stop making your shopping lists based off what you need and start buying what’s on sale– especially what’s really reduced AND you can get coupons for. Then you store it and it’s already there when you do end up needing it. Not only that but at savings of at least 60% and sometimes even free, you can justify buying things that you might have classified as treats in your family– ice cream, air fresheners, cookies, frozen pizzas, waffles, organic products (YES they go on sale too!), whatever else it is you’ve walked past the aisle and said “No I really can’t justify spending money on that right now.”

Now when you start making the transition to coupon and sales-oriented savings, you’re likely going to have needs to fill right away. If you need it, get it. At the very least TRY and find a coupon for it so you’re not paying the complete full price and check the circulars to all the stores just to be sure it’s not on sale anywhere. Since I started, I haven’t really run into anything like that. I’ve pretty much been able to put off buying it until it went on sale but that’s because I don’t generally wait until I have absolutely nothing to hit the stores.

Anything else? Always aim for a savings of at least 50%. With that in mind, here are some deals at Publix (in South Florida, Publix sales run Thursday to Wednesday) this week that highlight that principle. I’ve gone ahead and added the ones that have matching, printable coupons and will show you what kind of savings you’re talking about that way. If you don’t need these right now, but you do use them, buy them. Don’t wait. You’re not likely to find these savings again for about a month. By the way, the great thing about Buy 1 Get 1 Free Deals is when you get your hands on printable coupons that take a certain dollar amount off one item. Why? Because you can use one coupon for each item. This significantly raises savings.

Buy 1 Get 1 FREE

  • Fresh Express Salad Blend (Reg, Price $3.99)
    • Note: The coupon for this is not printable, it’s a store coupon. Publix has free magazines you can subscribe to. Sometimes, you can find them in the store too. For this one, you’re looking for the Family Style magazine at the front of the store with all their other promo materials. In there you’ll get a coupon for $1 off two bags. Things brings you to paying $2.99 which is a savings of 62.5%
  • Oscar Mayer Beef Franks (Reg. Price $3.99)
  • Kellogg’s Special K or Low Fat Granola (sizes vary, Reg. Price $3.99)
  • Musselmann’s Apple Sauce 6 pack (Reg. Price $2.33)
    • Another store coupon. Go to the front and look for a booklet called “Smart Summer Savings”. Inside, you’ll find a coupon for 75 cents off 1. Get two fliers, get two coupons. You pay 83 cents for a savings of 82%
  • Crystal Light Drink Mix (Reg. Price $3.99)
  • Smart Balance Milk, Half Gallon (Reg. Price $3.59)
    • Print this coupon for $2 off twice and pay NOTHING. Free milk!
  • Weight Watchers Smart Ones Desserts (Reg. Price $2.59)
    • For this one, you have two options. 1) Buy 10 and use this coupon for $3 off. You pay $9.95 and save 62%. 2) Buy 8 and use this coupon for $2 off. You pay $9.36 and save 55%
  • Yoplait Trix or Kids Yogurt (Reg. Price $2.79)
  • Softsoap or Irish Spring Body Wash (Reg. Price $3.99)
  • Lysol Bathroom Cleaner or Mildew Remover (Reg. Price $3.69)

One last deal worth mentioning is not exactly a Publix Buy 1 Get 1 Free but is too good to pass on anyways. Ready? Here we go.

  • Philadelphia Cream Cheese (12 oz) is on sale for $3.19. Buy TWO. Use this coupon (Buy 1 Get 1 Free). Print this coupon twice for $1 off each. Go to the front of the store and find a YELLOW flyer that has coupons. In it, there’s a $1 off coupon for this item as well. You pay 19 cents and save 97%

Buy everything on this list and your average savings will be 73% Happy Shopping and Happy Saving!

Note: SouthernSavers is my resource for couponing. They do the hard work of matching sales to coupons. But since so many of you have recently asked me about couponing and would like to just jump in without buying the newspaper, I figured I’d highlight some of the deals you can do with just online coupons and maximum returns. If you are intrigued by what you learn here, I suggest going to their website. It’s user-friendly, the tutorials are great, and the guides are helpful.