Thursday, January 6, 2011

get more, spend less v1.0

(How much do you think I spent on all of these groceries yesterday? Keep reading til the end and I'll tell ya...)

23. Do not use a credit card at all for the entire year. - 6 months down!

Since my last post was about losing weight (probably the #1 most popular New Years resolution there is) I figured I might as well follow that up with a post about what is probably the second most popular New Years resolution...and that is, saving money/getting out of debt.

Now at some point I'll give you a more detailed post about why #23 came to be on my list, but for now I'll let you know that since my 30 Before 30 list has been created, I have, in fact, been credit card free.  And bottom line, there are two ways to pay off debt...either make more money, or spend less money.  I've been trying to work on both. :) Over the past year and half I've become incredibly frugal and have learned tons of tips about how to spend less money on every day things.  I talk about it pretty frequently with my friends because it's become second nature to me.  Last week a new show premiered on TLC called "Extreme Couponing."  A few friends and I got engaged in conversation via my Facebook status about couponing and I mentioned writing a blog post about it.

So here it is. :)

Now before you get all excited that I'm going to explain the secret to getting $1,345,234.38 worth of groceries for $1.56, I've gotta let you know...I'm not extreme and I can't do that.  Certainly not to the level of the folks on that show (who, by the way, were prepping to be on the show and purposely trying to make their haul the biggest and most ridiculous).  There is a fine line between couponing/stockpiling and hoarding.  I'm not an extreme couponor, I'm an everyday couponor.

The cool thing is, couponing and bargain hunting ties directly into my #23 on my list.  By spending less money and saving more money I have been able pay my existing credit card debt down much faster AND eliminate the need to charge stuff in the first place since I have more savings available.

And so I remain credit card free!

There is no secret trick.  Just like the key to losing weight is to eat less and exercise more, the key to getting out of debt is to spend less and save/pay off more.  That's it.

There's so much spinning in my brain about this topic cause I've learned so much, that I kinda don't know where to I think I'll probably have to do this in several blog posts....maybe a once a month post kind of thing?  Each focusing on different ways to get the most bang for your buck.  For this month I'm going to focus on a couple of the common excuses I hear for why people DON'T coupon or bargain hunt...and some of the myths out there.  I'm going to use a few shopping trips I made this past week to illustrate my examples.

Alright, class is in session! :)

Myth #1: Buying in bulk saves more than couponing.

I'm going to start with this one because its one that I truly believed for a long, long time!  There definitely is a time and place for buying in bulk, and it CAN save you money in the long run...I myself still maintain a BJ's Wholesale Club membership because I think there are lots of great deals I can get there.  But not everything is better in bulk.  In fact, I can often get better deals on non-bulk items because my coupons make a larger impact.  To explain this better, I'll use an example of  paper towels and toilet paper.  I used to ALWAYS buy these items in bulk because 1: they wouldn't go bad and 2: I'm going to use it all up eventually, why not buy it for cheaper in larger quantities?  

The answer is, because it's not always cheaper.

To illustrate:

Last week at Target, Scott toilet paper 4 packs were on sale for $3.99. The larger, bulk version was $17.99 for a 24 pack.  That means if you buy the 24 pack, you're gonna pay about $0.75/roll.  If you buy the 4 pack, you'll pay about $1/roll.  Obviously it looks like the bulk version is the better deal....

Enter coupons...

There was a Scott manufacturer's coupon available to print on the Internet.  Simultaneously, Target had a store coupon for Scott toilet paper on their website that week as well.  Most stores will allow you to "stack" a manufacturer's coupon on top of a store coupon.  That means two coupons could be used for one item.  Here are crappy cell phone pics of the manufacturer's coupons and the store coupons I printed:

I could print these coupons two times from one computer.  I have a laptop and a desktop in my house so I printed out 4 copies all together.  With the coupons added the purchase price for the 4 pack of toilet paper goes from $3.99 to $0.99.   This takes the cost from $1/roll to $0.25/roll.  Pretty sweet deal.  Here's my receipt proof:

 Total price paid with tax?  $4.44.  Total saved with coupons?  $12.00
(PS - I know it says VISA's my debit card, not a credit card.) ;)

Myth #2: Buying generic is always cheaper than buying name brand.
Using the same example above, when I price matched the Target Up& Up brand toilet paper, a 24 pack was selling for $11.99 or about $0.50/roll.  While this is still cheaper than the $0.75/roll you'd pay if you were buying name brand in bulk, it doesn't compare to the $0.25/roll you can get for name brand when using coupons.

There are DEFINITELY going to be times when the generic brand is the better deal....but if you're using coupons you're more likely to get coupons for name brands over generics.  Meaning at the end of the day, if you use coupons you can buy name brand items for less than what you'd spend on their generic counterpart.

Myth #3: Stores like CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens are so expensive! There's no way to get a good deal there.

Another one that I believed for a long time!  While, yes, most of the items in drugstores ARE more expensive than you should pay, the deals and sales that you can find can make up for that.  The key to being a really good deal hunter is to combine coupons with sales items with store rewards.  When you can double and triple up like that you can get so much more for your money.

Here's an example from this past week.  CVS had a free rewards program called "ExtraCare" that you can sign up for.  Every time you make a purchase, have them scan your card so you get the sale price and any rewards.  Easy enough, and I know most people have rewards cards for different stores they frequent.  You can get a lot more for your money when you start paying attention to what's on sale.

Last week I stopped into CVS to pick up some mascara.  I like to get make-up products from CVS because they have a policy that if you are not happy with a product you can return it for a full refund, no questions asked.  While I don't very often return stuff, I have had to in the past when a product just didn't work the way I expected it to, or wasn't the right color.  As soon as I walked into the store, I stopped here:

This is the price checker/coupon station.  All you have to do is scan your barcode, and if there are any coupons available they'll pop right out.  You can also use this machine to price check--which is very handy.  Today my coupon was $0.50 worth of ExtraCare Bucks...essentially "CVS money" that I can use toward anything in the store.


So I headed over to the make-up aisle and noticed this ad next to Revlon mascara:

I know it's hard to see, especially since I took this picture with my OLD crappy cell phone, but that yellow sale tag basically says, "Buy any 2 Revlon products and get $7 back in ExtraCare Bucks."  Kinda cool, but I really don't want to buy two...especially when the retail price is $9.89 a pop, and I don't have any Revlon coupons today. I DID have Cover Girl coupons, but decided not to use them....want to know WHY I didn't use them and opted for Revlon instead?  Take a closer look at the picture above and see if you can find the reason why...

Keep looking...

Do you see it?

Can you spot it?

Here, I'll help you out:

See it now? :)

That little pink sticker says, "Take 75% off of retail price."  And sure enough when I scanned that particular mascara under the price checker it was marked down from $9.89 to $2.47.  SCORE!  Now sometimes when you purchase items at a clearance or mark down price, you don't get the benefit of the other words, if I bought two Revlon products marked down to 75% off, I wouldn't be surprised if I DIDN'T get the $7 back in ExtraCare Bucks that was being advertised...the store can very easily say, "that doesn't apply to marked down items" and I get it, it's not a dealer breaker for me, cause I'm already getting a product on a great mark down.

But I decided to try my luck and bought one 75% off mascara and one 75% off eye shadow.  My receipt looked like this (don't forget, I scored a $0.50 off coupon when I first came in!):

Total price paid with tax? $3.55. Total saved? $0.50 coupon + $11.64 from clearance sale = $12.14


I got the $7 ExctaCare Bucks!  So essentially I bought two items, paid $3.55 and got back $7.00. Love it!! (Sidenote: that first pic was taken right now with my NEW AWESOME cell phone and the second was taken that day in the store with my OLD CRAPPY cell phone...big difference!!)

Now some days I'll take my money and run and some days I'll keep shopping around.  That particular day (fueled by the excitement of a free $7...) I decided to take a look around to see if there was anything else worth purchasing.  I decided to pick up another Revlon clearance product, some powder bronzer that was 75% off.  I also managed to find Dove hair mousse that was clearanced down to $1.24.  I had 2 Dove coupons that were "buy any 2 Dove products, get $1.50 off" so I bought 4.  With the combination of clearance sale + coupons I ended up buying them for $0.49 each instead of the retail price of $4.99.  That's a discount of 91%.  (Yes, I did that math cause I'm trying to prove a point). ;)  I also bought two tubes of Colgate toothpaste because it was on sale AND I had coupons AND there was an ExtraCard reward, and a bottle of Garnier Fructis conditioner clearanced down to $1.75 AAANNNNDDD to prove I'm not a total Scrooge I even let Sadie get some M&Ms.


So to recap, here's what I bought in Transaction #2:
  • M&Ms
  • Revlon bronzer
  • (2) Colgate toothpastes
  • (4) Dove hair mousse
  • (1) Garnier Fructis conditioner
Here's my receipt:

Total price paid with tax? $6.19. Total saved? $12.00 from coupons + $30.25 from sale items = $42.45

Don't believe me?  It says so right here:

Oh, and not to mention I got another $2 worth of these:


So in two transactions, I spent out of pocket $9.74 for what WOULD'VE cost me $54.59 at full retail price.

And THAT is why I don't pay retail!

Myth #4: I don't have time to plan every single item I purchase...sometimes I just need to run into the store and pick up a few things!! I wouldn't be able to use coupons in situations like that.

Okay, here's a PRIME EXAMPLE of how you really can use coupons just about all the time, as long as you take a teeny tiny bit of time to cut them or print them out and have them available to yourself.  So yesterday on my way home from work after I picked up Sadira from daycare I realized there was no milk in the house.  So against my better judgement I went to the grocery store after work on a weeknight---something I would typically NEVER do.  It was 6pm on a Wednesday, and apparently everyone in the city of Baltimore likes to shop at MY neighborhood grocery store during evening hours, cause it's always a mad house after work, plus I was tired and wanted to get home and Sadira was tired and hungry which led to her being cranky.

I think the Baltimore Ravens should award ME the Ed Block Courage Award next year for THAT feat of bravery.

So anyway, I only really NEEDED two things, but since Brian had done the grocery shopping for me the week before I still had plenty of room in my weekly grocery budget to pick up a few more things.  I'm not going to go through each and every item that I bought, but I will highlight a few things...Just a reminder, this shopping trip was not planned out ahead of time.  There were only two things I was going in there for and that was milk and a rotisserie chicken.  I had my coupons with me (they're pretty much always in my purse) and as we walked through the store I picked up a few extra items that we could use or were short on, or were such a good deal they were worth stockpiling.

Here are a few of the deals I snagged:
  • Hunts canned tomato sauce was on sale 10 for $10.  I can use this stuff as a base for my own tomato sauce or my chili.  I had three coupons for Hunts that were "buy 2 get $1.50 off." If I would've had five of that coupon I would've only paid $0.25 per can!  But I didn't, I had three.  So I got $4.50 off 10, and ended up getting 10 for $5.50 or $0.55 per can.  Good deal.
  • All Yoplait yogurts were on sale AND I had coupons, so I got Sadira her GoGurts (if you freeze them she thinks they're popsicles!) and Yoplait Chocolate Whips for me (if you freeze them I think they're ice cream!)
  • Rotisserie chicken was marked down to $3.99 from $4.99 and a 6 pack of Jiffy corn muffins was on sale for $2.09.  My friend Lindsey (shout out Lindz!) just recently shared an awesome recipe that basically made three separate dinner ideas (with leftovers!) for just around $20, and these were the two ingredients I needed to try it out this week.  Maybe if she gives me permission I'll share that recipe on my blog too. ;)
  • Campbells chunky chicken noodle soup was on sale 2/$3 and I had two coupons for $0.50 off.  My grocery store doubles coupons that are under a dollar, so I ended up getting $2 off which brought the price to 2/$1.
  • And, I let Sadira pick out Valentines for her friends. :)
Here were all of my purchases from that trip to the grocery store:

Total before coupons? $47.59.  Total after coupons? $21.38.  Savings of $26.21 or 55%.

Here's one last one...

Myth #5: I enjoy shopping for fun!  If I'm couponing and bargain hunting, I won't be able to impulse buy anymore...and I like that!

I'll be honest, as crazy as this argument sounds, it was actually one of the reasons I didn't want to start being more frugal.  I didn't want to feel "guilty" if I bought something at full price.  Impulse buys were one of the reasons I got into debt in the first place, so obviously I like to shop!  But I've learned that by being a better, smarter shopper, I not only get more for my money and spend less, but I get more satisfaction in the purchases I make.  I don't feel guilty later on, by thinking, "I really shouldn't have bought that...I really shouldn't have spent the money..."  I know that I'm in the process of eliminating my debt AND building my savings, so now I don't feel the burden of guilt when I do splurge and buy something fun.

Being a more conscientious shopper has spilled over into all areas of spending for me.  I price match now, I compare deals, I wait for a better deal or a better time of year to buy, if necessary.  I see what I can get used or "freecycled" before spending the cash to get something brand new.  All of these tricks still allow me to "enjoy" shopping but without the guilt that comes afterwards.

And if there is something I really really want and it's full price, as long as I have the cash, I BUY IT!  Take for example, my cell phone that I just bought this week.  My old cell phone is a total piece of junk.  It's three years old, and with the exception of making outbound calls, it does little else.  I can't even get inbound calls on that phone anymore because the front keypad is a mess. I really can't upgrade it because it's on my dad's account and without getting into a whole discussion of current family issues, I'll just suffice it to say I can't make any improvements or change anything about my phone or service without my dad being involved in the process....and that's not going to happen.

So I decided I'd had enough! I wanted a phone that could text without shutting down/restarting mid text.  I wanted a phone that could receive incoming calls without hanging up on the caller. And I wanted a phone with a data plan for crying out loud!! It's it too much to ask to want Internet on my phone?  I didn't think so.

So I looked into the options and asked around for opinions.  I decided to go with a Virgin Mobile plan, which is month to month, not contract, so I COULD cancel anytime if I wanted.  For $25/month I get unlimited texts, unlimited data and web and 300 minutes.  I could upgrade to a $40 or $60 plan for more (or unlimited) minutes, but I decided against it since I really hate talking on the phone anyway.  I'd much rather text.  Plus, if I really DID need to make a lengthy phone call I could always just call someone back on my crappy old phone since I still have that service through my dad. 

Now the phone I wanted was $249.99.  That's the price. No negotiating. The end.  There's no contract, so there's no way to get the phone cheaper, which is fine, I understand.  I could've searched around for a used phone, but I didn't want that.  I wanted a new one all for me.  Call it a well thought out impulse buy, if you will. 

It just so happens that last year this time I had made a New Years resolution about saving money. I was just getting into couponing and bargain shopping and I decided that all of the money I "saved" from each shopping trip I would put into a separate savings account and save up for the year.  That worked pretty well until around April when I got really good and was saving more money than I could reasonably afford to put into the account.  So I stopped.  But up until that point I had over $600 that I had managed to save up, JUST from money I saved from couponing.

So I decided to treat myself this year for last year's hard work.  With tax, the cost of my phone came to $264.99.  I set up a new Virgin Mobile account with service for $25/month plus $5/month for phone insurance.  By the end of the day I was so happy with my service and new features that I called Virgin Mobile and asked if there was anyway I could prepay for the year.  They said yes, and I prepaid for my service for all of 2011.  The cost of a year's worth of service + the cost of my phone was almost EXACTLY the amount I had saved in my separate savings account from last year.  So although I have a new phone and a new plan, I have no new monthly expense for the year.


All that to say, I still get the things I want even if they're full price or a "splurge."  I've just enabled myself be able to use my REAL money to pay for them, instead of a credit card's FAKE money.

Not to mention, I still make random trips to Target for no reason and buy things I don't need, but want.  The difference is, in the past I would've used a credit card for my impromptu purchase, and now I use cash I actually have.  In the past I would've left Target spending no less than $100 on stuff I couldn't remember the next day, and now my frugality keeps me in check.  Just take a look at my impulse Target run this week:

Yes you're reading correctly!

(I just want to say, for anyone interested in learning how to work the "drug store game" and essentially sometimes "make money" off of your purchases, all you need to do it Google "CVS 101" or "Walgreens 101" or "CVS'ing."  There are so so so many websites out there than can explain it way better than I and even present all of the match ups for the week.  One of my favorite sites is Money Saving Mom and if you click on "Store Deals" it will list all of the match ups, the way the rewards programs work, and what that individual store's coupon policy is.

Also, as I've already said I could go on for days about ways to shop better and save money.  While I maintain this blog for my own personal project, I really enjoy sharing money saving info and tips with others.  So if there is a particular question you have about couponing, or want to know more about where to find coupons, how to stockpile, how I organize my coupons, how I find deals, etc., please mention it in the comments section on this blog and I'll try to tailor my next posts around any questions people have.)


Stefanie said...

HOw in the world you manage to do this with your child along for the ride is beyond me. I can't find the brain cells to think that much in the store WITH my child. Props to you, momma!

Megan said...

you are my new idol....and I now have a new hobby while at home with the kids :)

Misty said...

Can you come live with me and do my shopping? :)

Anonymous said...

Haha, I was going to ask the same question Misty did!

Personal shopper please! :)

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog today through another blog I looked at, and I'm so glad! I love reading about the deals you snag and all the other misc. things you blog about :)
Good luck with your 30! :)

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