May 24, 2011

On Finances: Me & The Coupon Craze

The rising costs of living, the lack of growth in M’s job industry, and a long list of much wanted (and a few needed) home improvement projects have M and I looking for ways to “tighten our belts” and spend less.

A quick look at our family budget reveals that we are spending $75.00 to $100.00 a week on groceries. As a family of 3, the grocery budget seemed extremely high, and so I began looking for ways to cut the costs.

Turning to my trusty friend Google, I soon found a plethora of sites promoting “Couponing” as the way to reduce the grocery budget.
Moreover, Facebook was swamped with everyone sharing their great deals – people are buying 5, 6, even 10 newspapers just for the coupons. The deals looked great, so I dug deeper.

My research reveled that there are deals to be had by couponing. But many of the deals were for items that M and I don’t like, don’t use, or simply don’t want in our home. I thought couponing would not work for me – until M suggested that I “use what you can and forget the rest.”

I took his advice to heart, channeled my inner nerd, and created a coupon plan that works for me. I began by creating a list of all the items that are staples in our home – from the food we eat, to our toiletries. This list was put into an Excel spreadsheet where I added
columns to record the cost of each item at the 4 main stores in our hometown. To get the non-sale price for each item, I went to the stores with pen and paper in hand and wrote out the prices. (Yes, I got weird looks but I was okay with it). Once I had all of the data
input, I could then run a few formulas to calculate if the sale price of the item was really a good deal.

Next, I divided our grocery budget into 3 categories: Items for weekly menu, Staples, and Stockpile. For example, our menu this week includes steak fajitas, smothered chicken, and turkey burgers. A quick check of my fridge and pantry reveled that I need steak and chicken breasts to complete my weekly menu, so those items were put on my shopping list. Next, I saw that we were nearly out of milk, yogurt, romaine lettuce, and
cheese – items that we consider staples in our home – so those were added to the list. I then sat down with my sales papers, and the trusty Excel spreadsheet, to figure out which stores would give me the best deals. I quickly saw that ribeye steaks were on sale for $1.99 a pound and chicken breasts were on sale for $1.69 a pound. I roughly allocated a
third of our current grocery budget for the menu items, so I had $25.00 to purchase the meat. I spent $13.00 on steak (6.5 pounds) and $11 on chicken (6.5 pounds). Next, my food staples cost me $22.00. Assuming I was willing to spend the entire budgeted $75.00 – I was left with $29.00 to spend. My local grocery store had pork tenderloin on sale for
$2.50 a pound, so I purchased 5 pounds to put in my freezer. In total, I spent $58.00.

While the savings was not as tremendous as it could have been, I did save money. More importantly, I only purchased things I know I needed and would use. I am hoping that over time more of my budget can be devoted to stockpiling rather than purchasing to cook weekly meals.

So that’s how I am “couponing”? Do you coupon? If so, do you have any tips/tricks for? What about general budget cutting ideas?


Erica said...

Good for you! I always look at the circular and try to search for coupons online when I can...but I know I could do better! I actually think your grocery spending habits sound pretty darn good. I think I have a tendency to get out of control at the store :)

Kathie Brinkman said...

I applaud your positive attitude in being willing to put so much action into tightening up your financial belt. Having a teamwork attitude like that will help you and Mikey weather any $ storms that come your way over the next 60 years! I do not coupon because I generally buy all store brand or generics. But, here's a few of my hints from 25 years of grocery budgeting: decide on some budget # for groceries per week or per pay period and then stick to it. I budget $400 for groceries (which includes food, cleaning products, toiletries, dog food, paper goods) for 2 weeks ($200/week) for our family of 5--2 adults, 2 teens, 1 grade schooler, & 1 45 lb. dog. I get that $ out in CASH and put it in a grocery money pouch in my purse. Matt gets paid every other Friday so I do our first big shopping trip on his payday Friday for 2 weeks worth of needed non-perishables + 1st weeks worth of perishables. I plan out ahead of shopping what our dinner menu will be for the week. At this stage in our life we always have pizza on Fridays, spaghetti on Wed. night, and fish on Tuesday nights. For the other nights I plan meals around whatever I have in the cupboard and what is on sale at the store--but I choose this ahead of time! $200 of whatever $ is left over from that first trip goes into a envelope for the next weeks' groceries and whatever else is left is what I have for anything else that I need until the next Friday. This system really helps me shop wisely and use our goods in a non-wasteful way. Our kids get a full breakfast, packed lunch, snack and home cooked dinner every night with all the healthy food categories. I don't stockpile food that's on sale because I have found that I tend to use too much of it then--two cans instead of one, etc. I do buy ground turkey in bulk, cook it, portion it in 1 lb. amounts and freeze it. Most grocery stores cycle their sale items every 4-6 weeks so if I truly don't need an item, I can skip a sale and know it will come back around again. I rarely ever pay more than $2.50 per pound for anything. And the most important thing is I commit our budget to God and ask Him to bless our resources and supply our needs. And He's never failed me. He has often supernaturally ordained for items to be on sale just when I needed them. So, I've never really micromanaged this area of our lives; I've just tried to be a good steward of the $ we're given and to be resourceful with what's in my pantry. Also, I use grocery $ for any fast food purchases we are tempted to make--it is food and it is taking place of a home cooked meal. This habit keeps me on the straight and narrow. And, eating mac & cheese or tomato soup & tuna sandwiches every once in a while is NOT going to damage your child's health and it DOES NOT make you a bad homemaker & mom. We all need some cheap, quick go to foods from the pantry/freezer when needed. Hope this helps. Blessings to you on your continued journey.

Kathie Brinkman said...

One more hint (that I learned the hard way): don't cut out your husband's meat to save money! For the meal satisfaction quotient, your hubby needs to get 4-7 oz. of pure meat/protein. We gals can get buy with just a veggie salad for dinner, but most men can't. Just adding 1 boneless, skinless cooked chicken breast to his salad (or to an all vegie dinner) should keep him happy and prevent him from snacking his way through your pantry all the rest of the night! Cottage cheese is also VERY high in protein but per lb. cheap!