Extreme Couponing: Stockpiling and Menu Planning

Today at my Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group, we had some round table discussion about menu planning: Do you do it? Do you plan for one week or one month? What works for you?  The responses were all over the board.  Some gals are proud non-planners, some gals plan and shop for the whole month all at once, some plan for the week and make multiple trips to the store.

Before I tell you what I do, let me tell you what I USED to do before I discovered budgeting with cash and the art of extreme couponing.  These were my steps:

  1. Look through my recipes and decide what I want to make/eat.
  2. Write down a list of ingredients that I need.
  3. Go to the pantry/fridge to see if I already had a couple of things and cross those off my list.
  4. Go to Waremart/Winco and drop $200 on a huge basket of groceries.
  5. Go to Safeway (which is closer) to pick up emergency ingredients that I forgot to get the first time.  Pay with the Visa.
  6. Go to Safeway to pick up fresh milk, etc. for the second week.  Heavy on the etc. Pay with the Visa.
  7. Grab a pizza at Papa Murphy’s because I’m too lazy to cook and it’s only $10 anyway. Pay with the Visa.
  8. Grab Thai food on Saturday because it sounds good and we are driving by anyway. Pay with the Visa.
  9. Grab a burger after church because I just don’t feel like cooking. Pay with the Visa.
  10. Rinse and repeat.

Total spent on food for the month for our family of four:  Between $500 and $600, which included groceries, eating out, etc.  Of course, I thought I was only spending $400 a month at the grocery store, and that may have been true, but then when you factor in the eating out . . . well, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

After I discovered the cash envelope budgeting system and honed my skills of extreme couponing, my meal planning looks a bit different.

  1. Insert $50 cash into 4 different envelopes for a total of $200 for food for the month.
  2. Allow $10 for eating out.  We call it “date night”, but it is usually a trip to DQ with the boys.  Last week we went out to Chinese food, though, and used the $10 of date night money, $10 of leftover grocery money from that week, and $10 of my fun money to pay the bill with cash.  I freely borrow/steal from my other envelopes to make it work for us!  Some day, I will budget for eating out, but at this season in our lives, it is not a high enough priority.
  3. Look at the grocery store ad/coupon blogs to find out what in season produce and meat is on sale.  Figure out what I can get for super cheap/free so I can add it to my stockpile and start my shopping list.
  4. Check out my pantry/freezer/stockpile and plan a week’s worth of meals (dinner) from what I already have.
  5. Make a teensy, tiny list of ingredients that I might need for my week’s worth of meals.  Heavy on the perishables and produce.
  6. Go shopping and spend an average of about $25 on meat, produce, dairy and stockpile items.
  7. Perhaps go shopping again later in the week if our boys eat all the fruit or the coupon blogs post a great stockpile worthy deal.  They usually do.
  8. Relish the fact that I have money left in my weekly envelope to spend on a Dutch Bros. coffee, take my preschooler out to lunch, or buy that fancy flour or spice I’ve been wanting to try.  Sometimes I will roll the money into the following week, but I’m usually greedy and treat myself for a job well-done.  At least once a month, usually the week when the loved/hated $10/$50 Safeway coupon comes out, I buy a lot of meat.  On the months when the envelopes are empty and I still have 4 days to feed my family before we get paid again, we eat from the stockpile and don’t shop at all.

Yeah. That’s about it.

It’s important to remember:

The goal of extreme couponing is to build a stockpile. You determine the size of your stockpile.  For me, I won’t buy more than one year’s supply of any item, but most of my stockpile is eaten up in 3 month cycles that correlate to store sales cycles.  So, I might buy a year’s worth of oatmeal, but I’ll only buy 3 months worth of mayonnaise.  I must use the item that I stockpile.  No use buying something if you can’t eat it before the expiration date, right?

The goal of stockpiling is to buy at least three months worth of the the items you need for super cheap or free so that you don’t have to run out and pay full price when you need it.

But, of course, in order to effectively use your stockpile, you need to know what you have and you need to use it!

These days, I shop my pantry and my freezer first.  Then, I plan my meals accordingly.

Okay, sometimes I don’t plan my meals for the week.  And, you know what?  We survive.  I know that I can scrounge up a few last minute meals by visiting my freezer and my pantry.  No problem!

However, I hate the last minute running around trying to figure out what to feed the family, so I’ve been following a general schedule that goes something like this:

  • Meatless Monday: Usually a pasta dish (could be spaghetti with meat), or possibly a bean dish or lentil hash.
  • Taco Tuesday: Typically something Mexican: tacos, enchiladas, baked burrito, etc.
  • Wing Wednesday: Typically a chicken dish.
  • Thursday: Usually a soup of some sort or another crock-pot meal.
  • Friday: Pizza night!  I make homemade pizza and the toppings vary.  Sometimes it’s BBQ Chicken (with all kinds of stuff hidden inside – veggies, beans, etc) and sometimes it is Greek with feta sauce, spinach and chicken.  We love Hawaiian and Veggie pizza is a hit, too!  The boys are never picky and always love it.
  • Saturday: Whatever night.  I fix whatever.  I don’t know.  I usually call my in-laws hoping that they will invite us up for dinner.  Yeah, I’m THAT kind of daughter-in-law!  :)
  • Sunday: Lunch is usually leftovers, but lately I’ve been tossing a couple of frozen portions of soup in the crockpot and starting bread in the breadmaker before we head off to church. Oh, the wonderful smells that greet us!

Breakfast is usually cereal, oatmeal or fruit.  Lunch for me and Cole is usually sandwiches, quesadillas or leftovers.  Mitch usually skips his lunch because he’s too busy to stop working (insane!), but some days he has a standing lunch appointment or he will come home for lunch.  Grant takes his lunch which always consists of a sandwich (meat and cheese or jam), a fruit (usually pear sauce!), a drink (water with a Kool-Aid fizzer that I stocked up on when it was free), and a treat (usually a fruit snack or Hershey bar).  If we are out of sandwich bread for Grant’s lunch, we’ll do homemade “lunchables” consisting of crackers, cheese and meat.  Sometimes he gets a “wrap” instead.  He’s flexible!

And, that is how I stockpile and meal plan.  Do any of the rest of you have a meal planning “schedule” that you try to follow?  Do you have any tips for us?

By the way, one of the biggest reasons reluctant couponers give me for NOT stockpiling is that they don’t have room.  I hope to do a blog post about “finding” room for your stockpile.  Feel free to send me pictures of your unusual stockpile spaces!!

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius: How to organize all of your coupon blogs

As I mentioned previously, I don’t reinvent the wheel and pour over grocery store and drug store ads to help me find the best deals to add to my stockpile.  Instead, I read several couponing blogs that match up sale prices and manufacturer and store coupons and tell me exactly how a scenario will work, then I just do what they tell me to do.

I have quite a few coupon blogs that I keep up with (along with my digiscrap blogs, friend blogs, cooking blogs, decorating blogs, etc.), and to the casual computer user it might seem overwhelming.

However, I use Google Reader to help me keep it all straight!

I’m so excited that my friend, fellow digi designer, and fellow couponer, Pamela Donnis is helping me out with this next very important step to help you as you begin your journey into extreme couponing.

Maybe now you are at the point where you really want to go for this couponing thing and you’ve even started to look for coupon blogs that match up stores in your area but are not sure what to do next. Believe me, I’ve been there, and will be the first to admit it CAN get overwhelming. Let me share with you how I keep things organized as I prepare for my shopping trips.

Read more over at Keeping Life Creative! And, thank you, Pamela, for attacking Google Reader for me!

Hey, by the way, are you subscribed to my blog, yet?

You Don’t Have to be a Genius: Let me introduce you to Coupon Blogs!

I’m kinda having fun with this little series!  Plus, it’s pretty low pressure for me because as I’ve mentioned before, this is NOT a coupon blog.  I’m just a regular mom with a super tight budget who started out wanting to be a good steward and ended up obsessed with couponing.  Not like a weird obsession, though.  A good obsession.  Not crazy cheap.  I mean, I did buy Tillamook at full price the other day (cringe!), but I have had to bite my tongue when two different friends were telling me about their great cereal scores (for over $1 a box! Yikes!).

Okay, so I’m a little weird.

And, although I am a smart little cookie (ahem!), I will be the first to tell you:

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A GENIUS TO BE AN EXTREME COUPONER! (Yes, I just yelled that in your face.  So sorry.  Too much coffee, I think.)

Let’s recap:

  1. You really don’t have to be a genius.  However, you are one smart cookie, too, so stop short-changing yourself. You’re driving me nuts.  If you can read this blog, you can save hundreds of dollars a month off your grocery bill.
  2. It might take a couple of months until you know what you are doing and are in the groove and stop buying junk.  I cut my grocery budget down from $400 a month (family of 4) to $200 a month in about 3 months.  These days, it’s probably even less than that because I use the money from my grocery envelope to buy socks and underwear, Dutch Bros coffee runs, a birthday present for a little friend, toiletries, etc.  I’m not just buying groceries, but I do sincerely TRY to keep my hands out of that envelope while I pass Dutch Bros . . .
  3. And, if you are serious about wanting to learn how to become an extreme couponer, stop asking me to teach you.  Go straight to the experts. Stop messing around wishing you could “figure it out” and give yourself some credit.  I’m not going to wave my little wand over your head and poof you into an extreme couponer. You can learn how to coupon.  No one sat me down to explain what to do to get a good deal.  I had to read the 10 Days series all by myself.  (This is tough love time for some of you!  You know who you are!)

Let me tell you my secret to finding out what is on sale at a stock-up price, what I can get for free, and what is a good deal for my family. Okay, fine, it’s not a secret.  I’ll tell anyone who asks how I “figure it all out” that I do NOT figure it all out.

I depend on coupon blogs.

What is a coupon blog? Coupon blogs are run by a lady or team of ladies who have a passion for helping others to be good stewards of their resources and save money in the most flexible area of everyone’s budget: the groceries.  These ladies work very hard, scouring the grocery ads to find the best sales and come up with scenarios that help the average couponer like me to save the most money.  They tell you what Sunday insert to find the coupon in or they link you up to the online printable.  They tell you what combination of items you need to buy, and what your total out of pocket (OOP) expense will be so that you can plan wisely.  Many tell you when they find a “stock-up price” so that you can be sure to purchase enough of the item to get to the next sale cycle to prevent you from having to run out and pay full price if you run out.  Oh, and they will even tell you what the sale cycles are!

Many coupon blogs post store deals for several stores in your area, and most will share information with each other to make sure no one misses anything.  It’s a very cooperative group!

My tips:

  • Read the comments under the weekly match-up post for your store.  Most of the time, readers will share sales and match-ups that they found while shopping, and everyone is very willing to share information.
  • Do you have a question about how something works? Ask in the comments. Some kind reader will jump in and explain what a Catalina is or how doublers work or how to get an ecoupon loaded to your card.  Just ask!
  • Go to a couple of different blogs. I have about 5 blogs that I read to find the best deals at my local Safeway store.  I can’t just depend on one, because sometimes ads and coupons are regional.  OR, maybe one of the coupon blogger’s kids is sick and she can’t get to posting the deals that week.  There are many reasons why I look at several different blogs to find the best match-ups for a single store!  Don’t rely on just one, or you might miss out on a great deal!
  • Use affiliate links. The ladies that run these coupon blogs are MOMS.  Most of them are stay-at-home moms.  And, they don’t really get paid to post the deals.  They are sharing information with us out of a passion to help others, and for that I am extremely grateful.  When they link up to a printable coupon on sites like coupons.com (and a few others), they will get paid a teeny-tiny fraction of the value of the internet printable when you print it using their link.  It isn’t a lot, and they are NOT getting rich off of you, but if they can make $30 a month by having their readers print coupons using their links, then that is $30 more than they were earning, right?  Please support them!  Other ways to support: Advertise your etsy store on their site (at a very reasonable price), purchase a Groupon, Tippr, Gevalia Coffee, Shop at Home or any number of other affiliate programs by clicking on their link!  ALSO, share their blog with friends.  The more visits they have, the more money they have the opportunity to make.  Again, no one is getting rich, but wouldn’t you like to say thank you to those ladies who work so hard for us?
  • Be nice. I have read some nasty comments under posts on coupon blogs that just make me want (1) stick a pin in someone’s eye, or (2) go hug that poor coupon blogger who is being absolutely blasted because her math is 5¢ off or because she posted about a “gray” area of couponing.  And, yes.  There are gray areas of couponing.  They are called Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) scenarios because they may not work for you, but they do work for some people depending on how strictly a store or cashier interprets a written or unwritten policy.  They are not unethical scenarios, however the blogger’s ethics are called into question.  Would you take a peelie coupon off of a product that that you will buy but you want to wait for a sale/stock-up price?  I would, and I have and I will do it again.  I once took a couple of coupons off of a couple of packages of parmesan cheese that I found at a store during the hot summer months.  When I got back to Dallas, I went to my store and used the coupons to purchase some parmesan cheese, then I raced home to put them in my refrigerator.  Did I use the coupon as intended?  Yes, I did.  And, in the process I saved my family from gross, melted, moldy cheese (or what would have happened if I had purchased the packages that had the peelies on them in the first place and then stored them in my hot car while running errands for a couple of hours).  I mention this because THIS is the kind of thing that coupon bloggers get bugged about.  BE NICE.  These ladies are human.

Okay, now that I have preached at you a little (Sorry.  I’m feeling feisty this morning!), let me share with you the coupon blogs that I subscribe to and regularly read:

Regional blogs –

  • Frugal Living NW – Because I live in the Northwest!  I love that the gals who post in the comments are shopping at the exact same stores that I shop at (in my little town or in Salem).  Angela (the gal who runs the site) actually came to my little town to do a coupon class.  It was AWESOME, and I still keep the notes in my coupon binder.  If you ever get a chance to attend one of her classes, DO IT.
  • The Krazy Coupon Lady – They are also located on the West Coast (Idaho and California, I think), and post many stores that I shop at or might shop at.  PLUS, they are THE place to go to learn everything you need to know about couponing.
  • Thrify NW Mom – Again, regional match-ups! I believe she is based out of Washington.
  • Happy Money Saver – This used to be called Fistful of Coupons, but she just had to change the name.  I believe she is based out of Eastern Washington (Tri-Cities??), and she has great match-ups for my stores.  I love her Golden Scissors contest!!  Very inspiring!
  • Abundant Food Savings – I don’t get this site, because there doesn’t appear to be any “community”” aspect to it (comments, etc.), but this gal finds hidden gems in coupon inserts.  VERY valuable.
  • Coupon Connections NW – I just discovered this site yesterday, but I am totally impressed.

National blogs –

  • Hip 2 Save – If you can get past ALL of the contests and lots of freebies, you will find some hidden gems.  Her Rite Aid match-ups are awesome, and she does a lot of national chain drug stores.  She has some fun videos, lots of great content for learning, and she is usually one of the first to post about high-value limited time coupons.
  • Money Saving Mom – LOVE the inspiring posts that are more about living a frugal lifestyle.  Crystal feeds her family for $40 a week and was my inspiration (along with Angela of Frugal Living NW) for cutting my grocery budget in half.  Crystal and her husband just bought their first house and paid cash for it!  Definitely a “must-subscribe.”

That’s really it!  I know it seems like a lot to keep up with, but it is really no problem at all because I subscribe to these blogs using Google Reader to quickly skim through the posts and skip over ones that don’t apply to me.  I’ll talk about Google Reader soon!

Okay, so what if you don’t live in the Northwest?  I know MOST of you do not, but I wanted you to see that there are a LOT of coupon blogs out there.  And, I can promise that there are a few in your area of the country that do match-ups for the stores that you shop at.

For starters, check out these resources and see if you can find blogs in your area:

Once you find a blog that match’s your store, check out who the blogger is saying thank you to.  Oftentimes, they will link you up to the other blogger.  Click on that link and see if the other blogger does a good job of matching up!!

And, that is how I “figure it out”:  I don’t reinvent the wheel. I let others do the work for me, and I say thank you by clicking their affiliate links and directing traffic to their blogs.

Next up:  Using Google Reader (your new best friend!)

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius: How I learned to be an extreme couponer

We have already established that you don’t have to be a genius to be an extreme couponer. But, thanks!

We all have the skills to do it.

It just takes commitment. You have to actually DO IT.  You can’t just cut a coupon and expect to save money.  It doesn’t work that way at all!

The night my friend Kristin revealed how little she spent on groceries (by extreme couponing) I was so intrigued that I immediately went home and started looking up the blogs she mentioned.  I remember that she talked about Hip 2 Save, Money Saving Mom, Frugal Living NW and The Krazy Coupon Lady, specifically.  SO, I started reading.  And reading.  And reading.

Thankfully, I started with The Krazy Coupon Lady and found their 10 Days to Become a KCL blog series.  It is a FREE blog series that is designed for the total newbie (or coupon virgin).  Needless to say, it didn’t take me 10 days to read it!  That night, I told my husband that I wanted to try couponing and stockpiling.  He was totally supportive (wonderful man!).  On Sunday, I bought 4 newspapers, and my journey began!

The Krazy Coupon Lady (ladies, actually) have a hardcover book called Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey.  It is awesome, and it wonderful for someone who doesn’t want to sit in front of the computer all day to learn the tips and tricks of couponers.  Plus, you can pass it around and infect your friends with the coupon bug.  It’s always more fun to share your coupon brags with friends who understand!

SO, if you want to learn how to become an extreme couponer, visit KCL. Really.

Now that you know how to coupon, you have to actually put your knowledge into practice.  I don’t know about you, but I learn much better by DOING.  It’s time to grab your coupons and go to the store.

But wait!  What deal are you going to do?  You can’t just go to the store, with your children in tow, and pull out your little envelope of coupons searching for a good deal.  (Oh, heavens.  That stresses me out just to type that and imagine you in that state!)

You have to find a great scenario . . .

Next up: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Let me introduce you to Coupon Blogs!

You Don’t Have to be a Genius: My Journey to Extreme Couponer

You don’t have to be a genius to be an extreme couponer. You just have to DECIDE to do it, and then determine that you are going to give it your best shot for at least a month.

Why a month?  Well, YES, you can get savings on your very first shopping trip, however in a month’s time you can gather your Sunday inserts, read up on how to maximize savings, print the “hot” coupons for items that your family will definitely use, and then wait for the best sale price to come around.

The first month I started couponing (September 2009), I kept our grocery budget at $400, even though I knew that extreme couponers were spending WAY less than that.  I shopped the stock-up sales (according to the blogs I read), but I also had to feed my family!  For that first month, I continued to shop at Winco for the basics (it’s the only grocery store in my area with consistent super-low prices).  However, in that first month, I was able to stock up on lots of cereal, granola bars, frozen veggies and more from the high-end grocery stores that have gimmic sales (Safeway, Albertsons, etc.).  Guess what I didn’t have to buy in month 2?  I ended up with money leftover in my grocery envelope.

The second month, I had a coupon binder full of coupons that I had clipped from the Sunday papers I’d been buying.  I bought 4 papers per week (for 99¢ each) and now had a nice little stash.  NOW that I had the coupons, I was able to take advantage of more of the coupon match-ups that the coupon blogs were posting.  I had that particular RP (Red Plum) or SS (Smartsource) insert, so I had the appropriate MC (manufacturer’s coupon) to score the really sweet deal.  PLUS, I was getting better at spotting the good deal vs. the junk food (no one needs that many fruit snacks).  I bought bread, veggies, TONS of canned veggies, yogurt, soup, toilet paper, medicine, and more.  (OH, I can’t believe how much money I spent on deals back then!  LOL!)

My third month of couponing (November 2009), I realized that I was buying JUNK (fruit snacks, cookie dough, brownie mix, Pillsbury rolls, etc.) that I didn’t need to be buying.  I felt like I wasn’t being a good steward of the grocery budget or my new hobby skills.  I decided to cut my grocery budget in HALF. We went from $400/mo to $200/mo for a family of 4.

That fourth month, I was so excited to see if I could keep our budget to just $50 a week, but I was also pretty nervous, too.  It turns out that the first month of the $50 a week experiment, I came in under budget! THAT is when I knew that I could do it.  I could be an extreme couponer, who stocks up on non-perishables when they are at rock bottom prices, thereby freeing up my grocery budget for lots of meat, dairy and in-season produce.

In a little less than 4 months, I became quite adept at using coupons.  And, you can, too!!

Stay tuned to hear about how I learned the ins and outs of becoming an extreme couponer!

You Don’t Have to be a Genius to be a Couponer!

I hear it almost weekly:

  • “I wish I could use coupons, but I just don’t understand how you get those savings.”
  • “All of that math just confuses me.”
  • “I’m not smart enough to use coupons like that.”

And, my personal favorite:

  • Stunned look on face – “I don’t know how you figure that stuff out.  I’m confused just listening to you.”

No kidding!  I hear it all the time from my friends in real life, friends on facebook, and friends posting on my blog.  But, I’m here to say that you don’t have to be a genius to be a couponer! (But, thank you for the compliments!  LOL!)

  • If you can add and subtract, you can become an extreme couponer.
  • If you can read a blog, you can become an extreme couponer.
  • If you can use scissors, you can become an extreme couponer.
  • If you can click the print button with your mouse, you can become an extreme couponer.

You really can.  You just have to DECIDE to do it, and then determine that you are going to give it your best shot for at least a month.

Stay tuned to find out how I transformed from a coupon virgin to an extreme couponer.