Posts Tagged ‘Money saving tips’

I’ve recently started to clip coupons in an effort to save money on our groceries and toiletries. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about tricks I’d gathered from other bloggers about how to be coupon savvy. Since then, I’ve learned a few more tips to maximize savings through coupons.

As a recap, here are the tips from the first post (where each is explained in detail):

  • Coupon stack
  • Give up brand loyalty
  • Shop for bargains, not items
  • Shop at multiple stores
  • Make multiple purchases at the same store

Here are some more tips that I’ve recently learned, followed by their full explanation:

  • Let others do the work for you
  • Shop when other people don’t
  • Shop the same store at the same time each week

A. Let others do the work for you. I’ve been getting coupons from the Sunday paper for several weeks now. I have amassed a lot of coupons and it’s hard for me to keep them straight (serious couponers have sophisticated sorting systems, but I’m not yet sophisticated — in many ways!). But it turns out that I don’t really have to be so organized because there are lots and lots of people who blog about coupon savings (for example, see here, here, and here). These people are the really serious couponers, and they do the work for me. They write posts each week about the best deals at the major drugstores and grocery stores. So, for example, CVS drugstore changes their weekly deals beginning on Sundays. By Friday or Saturday of each week, the serious coupon bloggers have learned what items CVS will be offering for sale for the coming week, and have posted about the best deals — the ways to stack coupons by combining manufacturers’ coupons with items on sale or items that offer ExtraCare Bucks. These bloggers detail the source of the coupon to use to get the deal, and if available, they’ll even link to a coupon you can print online. Here’s a small example of a CVS deal for this week as posted on Frugal Coupon Living:

Old Spice or Gillette Body Wash – 10 to 18 oz $4 (get $4 ECBs) Limit 2
B1G1 Gillette or Old Spice P&G 5/2
= $4 MONEYMAKER wyb 2 with B1G1 coupon

Here’s what the above deal means in non-experienced-couponers’ language: CVS has Old Spice and Gillette Body Wash on sale for $4. If you buy one of these, you’ll get $4 ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs) back; but you’re limited to purchasing two body washes. The next line details the coupon to use: a buy-one-get-one-free (B1G1) coupon on Gillette or Old Spice from the Proctor & Gamble (P&G) coupon insert from the May 2nd Sunday paper. The third line details the savings: you’ll essentially be up $4 (MONEYMAKER) when you buy (wyb) two with the buy-one-get-one-free (B1G1) coupon. (Frankly, even if you don’t have a B1G1 coupon, this is still a good deal — buy a body wash for $4 and get back $4 ECBs to use on another purchase).
Now that I know about these serious coupon bloggers, I search their sites for the biggest store deals each week. These are deals for things that I can get for free (or close to it) or for items that will pay me back (the “moneymakers” like the Gillette deal above).

On Saturday night, I reviewed the CVS deals posted by the bloggers and went looking for the corresponding coupons I had. Luckily for me, I had the Old Spice/Gillette Body Wash coupon. While we don’t normally use body wash, if it is free or if CVS is essentially going to pay me to buy it, then I’ll buy the body wash, water it down, and use it as hand soap (or I could always donate toiletries to a local homeless shelter). In my online search for CVS deals, I found that I also had another coupon for cereal that I could use in conjunction with a sale at CVS. Finally, I wrote down a list of the deals I was going to get at CVS the next morning so that I wouldn’t get confused once I got there.

Here’s the step-by-step of what I did yesterday at CVS so you can get a sense of how I maximized some deals:

1. Scanned my ExtraCare card when I entered the store. I received 5 coupons which, although I didn’t use them yesterday, I’ve put aside for another time.
2. Bought two Gillette Body Washes using my B1G1 coupon. The retail price for each was $4.99; CVS was offering the body wash on sale for $4 and offering $4 in ExtraCare Bucks for each. The cashier rang up the items and the pre-tax total came to $8. I gave her my B1G1 coupon which, it turned out, was based on the retail price ($4.99) rather than the $4 sale price. So $4.99 was taken off my bill, making my pre-tax total $3.01. The cashier gave me my receipt which had my $8 in ECBs coupon at the bottom.
3. I went shopping for several items. First, I picked up some dental floss that was selling for $1.99 with $2 back in ECBs. Second, I had a coupon for $2.50 off $12 worth of CVS brand items, so I picked up the following:

  • 2 CVS pantiliners on sale from 2 for $1.49 to 2 for $.99
  • 1 package of CVS wet wipes (which, by the way, are the best wet wipes around) for $4.99 (on sale from $6.99)
  • 2 bars of CVS bar soap (knock-off of Cetaphil bar soap) for $3.79 each

I took my items to the cashier and the total came to $15.55. Then I handed the cashier the $2.50 coupon as well as the $8 ECBs I earned from the Gillette body wash. The final pre-tax total was $5.05. But, the dental floss gave me an additional $2 ECBs.
4. Then I completed a third transaction. Kellogg’s cereal was on sale from $4.49 to $1.66 a box. I had a coupon for $1 off 2 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal, which brought my pre-tax total down to $2.32 for both boxes of cereal. I then gave the cashier my $2 ECBs I had just earned from the dental floss, so I ended up paying $.32 for the cereal (before tax). (I hadn’t gone in to CVS knowing about the dental floss deal; I just found it while I was there. Had I known about the deal, I would have bought the dental floss with the Gillette body wash, received my $10 ECBs in one transaction, and then just bought the rest of my items in a second transaction rather than having to complete three transactions.)

Here are the items that earned me money: 

I paid $5 for these three items and earned $10 in ECBs

My $10 in ECBs (plus CVS sales and my two additional coupons) got me these seven items for $3.38:

Had I bought all of these items at their original retail price, I would have paid $35.02. Instead, my entire visit to CVS cost me $8.38 plus tax (which represents a 76% savings).

In addition to the weekly deals that coupon bloggers post, CVS also does the work for me to find special deals. Their weekly flier, which is included in the Sunday paper, not only lists their sale items for the week, but also lists which of their sale items have corresponding coupons in that Sunday’s paper. For these items, there’s a little black icon next to the sale item in the flier which depicts a pair of scissors and says “coupons in Sunday’s paper.” Couldn’t be simpler.

I’ve been consulting the coupon bloggers for weekly CVS deals for several weeks now, but I only just realized that there are also coupon bloggers who post the best coupon deals for my local grocery store. I found them yesterday by googling, “Harris Teeter coupon 5/19” (Harris Teeter changes their weekly specials on Wednesday of each week, so I knew the latest deals began on May 19th). Google returned several hits of coupon blog posts for current Harris Teeter deals (like this and this; if you’re near a Harris Teeter, both of these sites show some items you can get for free along with a link to printable coupons for those items). To find deals at the stores where you normally shop, just do a similar Google search for bloggers writing about those stores. I’ve routinely seen posts about weekly specials at Target, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens, just to name a few.

B. Shop when other people don’t. As a novice coupon user, at times I get confused by deals, especially when I’m trying to stack store coupons with manufacturer coupons. Store salespeople are very knowledgeable about coupons and, in my experience, are happy to help clear up confusion. I shop at odd times rather than during busy periods so that if I have a question or if I want to make multiple purchase transactions during a single visit, they will help me and not get annoyed.

C. Shop the same store at the same time each week. This tip goes hand-in-hand with shopping when other people don’t. I try to go to CVS first thing Sunday mornings. I’ve been doing this for several weeks now. I started going on Sunday mornings because it was convenient for me and I knew the store wouldn’t be crowded. An unexpected benefit of shopping on the same day and time each week is that the same salesperson is always working. She now knows me and we’ve developed a friendly relationship. She knows I’m trying to save money with coupons and has started pointing out deals to me or offering tips on how best to maximize the coupons issued by CVS. Frankly, who better to offer tips about the CVS deals than the cashiers? They see people successfully saving money all the time. Also, cashiers have the ability to override the register; that is, if a coupon doesn’t scan properly, the cashier has the ability to enter the discount manually. This happened to me twice yesterday and both times the cashier pleasantly gave me the discount herself. Though I’m sure she would have done this for any customer, she seemed particularly nice about it because we now have this friendly relationship. I, in turn, helped her out because she was trying to train a new cashier and needed someone to act as a “guinea pig” customer. I was more than happy to oblige because I got to hear her explain coupon stacking to the cashier trainee, which was certainly beneficial to me.

So that’s it for my newest tips on how to be coupon-smart. But what about you — are any of you experienced coupon users? Are any of you just starting out like me? Or, do some of you completely hate coupons (in which case, thanks for reading this crazy long blog post — you must really be Yikes Money fans!)?


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Many years ago I routinely clipped coupons, but over time I found that I wasn’t really saving any money. Instead, I fell into a trap wherein I’d buy an item just because I had a coupon for it. Sometimes I’d buy things I wouldn’t ordinarily purchase and didn’t really need. Other times I’d buy something I needed, like toilet paper, but would buy the name brand I had the coupon for even if the store brand without a coupon was less expensive.

With our new budget, however, I’m particularly interested in saving money on our groceries and toiletries. So I’ve been looking for tips online about how to maximize the use of coupons. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Coupon stack. Coupon stacking refers to using manufacturers’ coupons in conjunction with store discounts. When coupons are released by manufacturers, stores often follow suit by discounting the same item. Experienced couponers don’t use their valuable manufacturers’ coupons without additional discounts from the store. Manufacturers’ coupons are usually good for about 4-6 weeks. Grocery stores and drug stores offer discounts on items for one week and will rotate their discounts about every six weeks. If you have a coupon for an item that isn’t currently on sale at the store, wait to use your manufacturers’ coupon until it is on sale.
  2. Give up brand loyalty. If Colgate toothpaste is on sale and you have a coupon for it but you normally use Crest, well, buy Colgate. This makes sense to me, of course, but there are some products I’m not willing to give up because I love them. Below I detail how I broke this rule during my recent trip to CVS (although I still managed to get a pretty good deal).
  3. Shop for bargains, not items. By reviewing the coupons you have in conjunction with store discounts, choose to purchase items because they’re bargains, not necessarily because you need them at the moment. This is a tough idea for me because we are trying to live on a weekly budget. Why would I buy toilet paper this week if I don’t currently need it? The answer is because for items that will necessarily be needed and used at some point – like toilet paper – buy it when there is a bargain and stock up.
  4. Shop at multiple stores. To get the best bargains, it may be necessary to shop at multiple stores. For me, I do this sparingly because I just don’t have the time to drive to several different stores to do my shopping. That being said, I do routinely go to the grocery store for food items and the drugstore for toiletries in the course of a week. Also, I sometimes will go to our big chain grocery store followed by a trip to Trader Joe’s a few days later. I could easily plan better to save more by shopping for specific sale items at the different stores.
  5. Make multiple purchases at the same store. I address this money-saving technique below as I recount my recent trip to CVS pharmacy.

Putting My Coupons in Action

Using the tips above, I decided to see whether I could score some good deals using coupons. Mark bought a Sunday paper for $2.00 just so we could get the coupon inserts (I think if you’re really savvy, you could get the inserts for free by going to your local library and ask for them from one of the several Sunday papers they get). The Sunday paper also had the CVS flyer that lists the in-store sale items for the week.

CVS offers a free discount program called “Extra Care” which works in the same manner as grocery store customer discount cards. My Extra Care card hangs on my key chain and the teller scans it when I pay for my items. CVS only offers discounts to Extra Care members. CVS also offers Extra Care Bucks (called by experienced couponers “ECBs”) to members. ECBs can be used on anything in the store. An example of an ECB deal might be something like this: buy Dove liquid soap on sale from $4 to $3 and earn $1 ECB. That means that a shopper will pay $3 for the soap and the receipt will show an additional coupon for $1 Extra Care Buck to be used on the next purchase.

With the Sunday newspaper coupon inserts and the CVS flyer laid out on the dining room table, I followed rule #3 above and looked for bargains. First up, I reviewed the CVS flyer for items I knew we could use (either now or in the near future). Then I leafed through the coupon inserts to see if there were any matching coupons for those items. When I found those coupons, I cut them out.

At CVS stores there is a special red machine which scans items for a price check. If you scan your Extra Care card, it will automatically generate coupons for you. You can scan your card more than once; the machine will tell you when you’ve reached your coupon limit. I’d never noticed the machine when shopping at CVS before, but I learned about it while doing my “smart couponing” research. At our local CVS, the red scanning machine is located just to the side of the front registers.

So here is the play-by-play of my recent shopping trip to CVS.

From a previous trip to CVS, I had two coupons:

  • $2.50 off CVS brand items worth $12 or more
  • $1 Extra Care Buck

On the way into the store, I scanned my Extra Care card twice at the red scanner machine and got the following five coupons:

  • $2 off 2 bars of soap
  • $2 off $10 worth of CVS cosmetics
  • Buy 2 Hershey’s candy bars, get 1 free
  • $1 off 2 CVS brand Earth Essentials Cleaning products
  • $2.50 off CVS brand items worth $12 or more

Some of these coupons weren’t relevant to what I wanted to buy that day (and might never buy – I doubt I’ll use the CVS cosmetics coupon or the one for Hershey’s candy bars).

I went to the soap aisle and put the following things in my cart which we routinely use and were either out of or close to it:

CVS was offering a special: buy $20 of CVS brand facial cleansing/moisturizing products, get $5 ECBs.

I went to the register with my items and here’s how the cost broke down:

  • 2 bars of soap: $3.79 each
  • Liquid cleanser: $8.49
  • Moisturizing cream: $10.49

Total without tax: $26.56

Then I used three of the CVS coupons I mentioned above: $1.00 ECB, and the two coupons for $2.50 off CVS brand items worth $12 or more. I tried to use the coupon I had for $2 off 2 bars of soap, but the teller’s scanning machine rejected it (I guess I’d used my coupon limit; I can use that coupon another time).

Total without tax using the coupons: $20.56 (19% savings)

As an aside, the products above are the CVS version of Cetaphil products. I started using Cetaphil products over 15 years ago and I love them. They’re very gentle (the liquid soap is especially good as a body wash for babies and a facial cleanser for people with sensitive skin). As an extra aside, I’m actually not a big fan of antibacterial soaps which these bar soaps are, but CVS was out of the non-antibacterial-Cetaphil-knock-off bar soap. Anyhow, the CVS versions of the Cetaphil products are just as good and about 2/3 the price. But, I broke coupon rule #2 above – don’t be loyal to a particular brand. Had I been willing to purchase any soap and moisturizer, I would have saved a lot more money.

The bottom of my receipt from this transaction had my $5 ECB coupon for spending over $20 in CVS products, so following rule #6 — make multiple purchase transactions at the same store –I tore off my $5 coupon and went shopping for a few more items at CVS. It was time to put rule #1 — coupon stack — to work.

Here’s what I bought:

I had manufacturers’ coupons from the Sunday paper for all of these items and CVS was offering additional discounts on all of them. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Oil of Olay facial moisturizer: $8.99 original price, $2.00 off using CVS discount, and $2.00 off using manufacturer’s coupon. Final cost: $4.99 (44% savings)
  • Nivea shower gel: $6.00 original price, $1.11 off using CVS discount, and $4.00 off using manufacturer’s coupon. Final cost: $0.88 (85% savings)
  • Tampax tampons: $3.79 original price, $0.82 off using CVS discount, and $1.00 off using manufacturer’s coupon. Final cost: $1.97 (48% savings)
  • Always pads: $3.79 original price, $0.82 off using CVS discount, and $1.00 off using manufacturer’s coupon. Final cost: $1.97 (48% savings)

Subtotal: $9.81

Then I gave the teller my $5 ECBs coupon that I had earned in my first transaction.

Final total (without tax): $4.81.

Had I bought all of these items at their original price, the total would have been $22.57. This represents a 79% savings.

Now, truth be told, I don’t normally buy shower gel (we routinely use the bar soaps and liquid soap I bought in the first transaction instead). But, we’re out of liquid hand soap. Since I got the Nivea shower gel for just $0.88, this is substantially cheaper than buying the same amount of liquid hand soap. I’ll just refill our old hand soap dispensers with the Nivea shower gel instead.

Here’s the final cost-savings tally of my trip to CVS:

Total (before tax) on all merchandise before using coupons and CVS Extra Care discounts: $49.13

Total (before tax) on all merchandise after using coupons and CVS Extra Care discounts: $25.37

Total savings: $23.76 (48% savings)

While I’m very happy with this result, I should tell you that this amount of savings is nothing compared to what experienced couponers can save. There are some people who are so sophisticated at this that they can walk out of stores paying next to nothing for a large amount of items. Oh well, there’s a learning curve to being coupon-smart, and I’m definitely still learning.

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We’re lucky that our town has an excellent public library.  Well, I’m told it’s excellent.   The truth is that until recently, I had scarcely ventured beyond the mystery section.  Between my job and Charlie, I have little time for reading.  If by the time I get Charlie to bed I’m awake enough to read, then I almost invariably opt for a very light mystery–something that requires little attention beyond plot.  Just the other day I finished the last book I had checked out of the library and knew that, with Charlie being sick, I wouldn’t get to the library to check out anything new.  So, I begged Mark to let me borrow one of his TWO copies of the murder mystery The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by his favorite author, Michael Chabon.  Uh, that’s the PULITZER PRIZE WINNING Michael Chabon.  Mark was reluctant to let me borrow it because he knows all too well that I usually end up falling asleep on top of whatever book I’ve brought to bed with me and he feared that I might end up ruining the book, but he nevertheless eventually gave in.  And, he deserves some major kudos because a couple of days later he asked me how I was enjoying the book and when I said, “I could do with a little more mystery and a little less literature,” he didn’t utter one disparaging remark about me.

Anyhow, recently I’ve started exploring the children’s section of our great library because Charlie has finally decided that occasionally a book is good enough to sit still for.  Have I mentioned that his energy level is off the charts?  The other thing that Charlie has recently discovered is cartoons, and not a moment too soon is all I can say.  Mark and I have been chasing this kid around for 3 years and the least he can do for us is watch a little TV once in awhile.  And, finally, now he does.  He usually stands about 4 feet in front of the TV jumping up and down, dancing, and giggling which is pretty cool for us because it means he’s occupied AND he’s expending energy.

So, in our expeditions to the library we discovered that our library rents DVDs, including children’s cartoons, for FREE! Isn’t that great?  DVDs of some of Charlie’s favorite cartoons can run about $15-$20 each and there’s no telling how long his interest in any DVD will last.  Consequently, renting them from the library is perfect.  Now, if only they had a DVD of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

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Every Friday (and sometimes Saturday) Mark takes Charlie to a local gymnastics studio for “open gym.”  Open gym is free play for any kid whose parents fork over the $10 an hour they charge.  $10 an hour is kind of a lot in our opinions, but this gymnastics studio is such a fantastic place for Charlie to play because he can almost literally climb the walls, jump off, and be in no danger of breaking any bones.  He does the same thing in our house but since our walls and floors aren’t padded we’re a little nervous when he makes his flying leaps off the furniture.

The last time we went to the gym I asked whether they offered discounts for frequent gym-goers.  Guess what?  They do.  You can buy hours in bulk at a discount–5 hours for $45 ($9/hr) or 10 hours for $80 ($8/hr).  Mark bought the $80 card which is well worth the initial outlay for us considering he always takes Charlie at least once a week.   We’re so happy that maybe we’ll join Charlie in jumping off the furniture.

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Ok.  I may be cheap, but contrary to how it appears I am not really having chicken broth for dinner.  Instead, I’m making chicken broth to use in other recipes.  So, I told you how two days ago I bought a roasted garlic chicken from our local grocery store.  I’ve used it in different recipes for the past two nights.  Tonight, I took the remaining meat off the chicken and put it aside (I’ll be using it in one final recipe tomorrow).  When all the meat is off the chicken, it’s ready to be put into a big pot for chicken broth.  Though I’ve been making chicken broth for years, I don’t follow any real recipe.  Instead, I just use what I have on hand and go from there.  But, here’s what I did tonight:

Chicken Broth

1 cooked chicken, all the meat removed

1-2 carrots (with green tops, if you have them) or a handful of baby carrots

1-2 stalks of celery (if you have the inner pieces of celery with the leaves they’re the best ones to use)

1 yellow onion, cut in half with the skin left on (wash it to remove any dirt)

1 bay leaf

5-6 fresh sage leaves

1 6-8″ rosemary branch

salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients into a medium to large pan.  Cover with cold water.  Bring just to a boil, reduce heat, cover (allowing for a little steam to escape), and simmer about an hour.  Let cool slightly and pour broth into a large bowl, using a colander to catch the veggies and chicken.  Add salt and pepper to the broth, to taste (although I usually skip this step because I figure that I’ll be using salt and pepper in whatever recipe I add the chicken broth to).  Cool in the refrigerator and skim off any fat that accumulates at the surface.

I grow rosemary and sage in our yard, so that’s why I always use those herbs in the broth.  However, depending on the season, I also often have thyme and Italian parsley.  If I have those on hand, they go into the pot too.  I always use onion, carrot and celery, but I have also used the tough ends from asparagus too.

If I’m not planning on using the chicken broth in a recipe for the next few days then I pour it into containers and put it in the freezer.   Ice cube trays work great for this.  Our trays make about 1 oz ice cubes, so I know that if a recipe calls for 1 cup of chicken broth then I just need to use 8 ice cubes.

The tally:

I can’t really figure this one out accurately, but I’ll do my best.

The chicken was $4.99, but since I used (or will use) all the meat in other recipes, I’m not sure I really have to tally the chicken carcass.  But, I will nonetheless.  Let’s call it $.50.

Veggies (onion, carrot, celery): How about $1.00?  I think that’s being generous though.

1 bay leaf: $.05, again this is a total guess but the point is that it’s not much.

rosemary and thyme: FREE since I grow them in the garden.

salt and pepper: $.01, if that.

Grand total: $1.56

That’s pretty good considering this made about 64 oz of chicken broth.  At the grocery store the cost of a 32 oz box of chicken broth is $2.99.  And, the best thing about this is that chicken broth is an ingredient in so many inexpensive recipes (such as soups, pastas, and flavoring for rice) that it’s great to know I always have some ready and waiting in the freezer.

Ok, so I can’t claim that this is a Charlie-approved-recipe (I can’t think of a single thing he’ll eat that I make with chicken broth), but it turns out that Jake and Lucy, our beloved dogs, LOVE chicken broth ice cubes. They’re fantastic–and cheap–doggy treats!  And who could resist these two faces?

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Keep the change

My mom gave Mark a piggy bank for Christmas.  She didn’t know about our plans to create this budget.  Instead, I think, the gift was motivated by visits to our house where she always finds change lying around in random places.  In fact, once when she and my sister were visiting they were so appalled by the mess in our car (uh, we have a 3-year-old–isn’t it normal to have kids’ CDs tossed about and Cheerios littering the floor?) that they had it professionally cleaned.  In exchange for this nice gesture, my mom and sister made us give them all the change that they had picked up in the various crevices in the car.  I think they ended up winning out on the deal–the money came to some staggering amount.

Anyhow, I digress.  Now Mark has a designated place for his change and when the piggy bank gets full he and Charlie take it to our credit union which has a change counting machine in the lobby.  For credit union customers, the machine is free (unlike the grocery store which charges $.07 for every dollar it counts).  Charlie has a blast pouring the change into the machine (he also likes dropping the coins into the piggy bank), and Mark likes taking the little slip of paper detailing the sum total of our change to the teller and exchanging it for paper bills (which he then adds to his weekly kitty).

Yup, we have big love for the piggy bank.

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