And now for a post about saving money. Because the loot we save on food = more money to spend on paint & projects. I figured since I recently divulged my 2011 goal to figure out coupons and save more money this year, I should share a little coupon-related update for anyone else who’s as desperate to turn paper clippings into dolla dolla bills as I am. So here it is:
I saved $53 at the grocery store!!! Coupons really do work!!!!
Pardon all the shouting. I’m just really excited. I am definitely far from an “expert” on the subject (I just started trying to navigate the crazy coupon world a few weeks back) but here’s what I learned in the simplest of terms. Because I was a coupon dummy. Still kind of am. So I need things to be explained to me slowly. Preferably with lots of pictures and in a soothing and nurturing tone. Yup, I’m high maintenance like that.
Tip Numero Uno: You save the most money when your store (we shop at Kroger) matches coupons (ours does up to 50 cents) and when you can use a manufacturer’s coupon (like the ones you find in the paper or online) combined with store coupons or sales. For example, if Kroger has organic milk marked down by $1 and I have a manufacturers coupon for 50 cents off and Kroger matches that, a gallon of organic milk that’s normally $3 will only be $1 (because I’d score $2.00 off thanks to the store’s $1 off sale and the matched fifty cent coupon).
Not bad right? That stuff really adds up when you’re shopping for a fair amount of things (which has always been the way John & I do it, we usually do one major shopping trip every 2-3 weeks). It keeps us from spending a lot of money on impulse buys (which would occur more frequently and cost us more money if we hit the store more often for smaller trips). But I’m rambling. Back to more of my novice coupon tips.
Tip Numero Dos: If you use coupons for things you don’t eat (or just get stuff because it’s on sale) you’re still losing money, wasting time, and giving up valuable space in your house that could better be used to store other things. So even if that bag of chips is 40 cents, if you don’t normally buy chips but get all crazy at the idea of big savings you’re on a slippery coupon slope. My big rule is that I only clip (or print) coupons for things that our family already eats or would like to try. We prefer organic produce and organic dairy along with basics like pasta, bread, cereal, granola, etc. It’s not always as easy to find coupons for those things, but they do exist! And thanks to Kroger (where we have a Kroger savings card, which also offers occasional discounts on those items when you scan the card at the register) we’ve been able to save a substantial amount of money. Our last trip was our best savings ever (did I mentioned we saved $53?!!!!! oh I did. sorry, I’m just excited).
Along with picking up the Sunday paper for the bevy of coupons hiding inside (along with a Kroger weekly sale flier), here are some of the online stops that I make to find coupons that I can print or even load directly onto my Kroger card (how Minority Report is that?!).
- This is my favorite coupon site. I click the Kroger tab and the Target tab to see what’s going on (they have other stores in case you’re not a Kroger person)
- This is where I go within that site to load things onto my Kroger card
- I also check out this site for printable coupons
- And this one
- And this one
- This site is nice because it has links to a few of my favorites (some of them already listed above) in one spot
- I also drop by this site just to see what’s going on there
- And this one
- And this one
- And this one
Resist the urge to get overwhelmed though! I probably get 90% of my coupons from the top four bullets above, so there’s no need to go crazy and bookmark a million sites like I did. I just had to experiment with a bunch of them to find my favorites (aka: those top four).
Other than those two tips above, there really isn’t one big trick that helped me save tons of money. I just clipped coupons on and off for two weeks (just for things we actually need/use/eat), wrote our shopping list carefully (being sure to note how many of each item we needed for the maximum savings) and even loaded some coupons onto my Kroger card online before going into the store (thanks to this site). We spent around $160 for 2-3 weeks worth of groceries for John, Clara, and I (we walked out with over nine giant reusable bags full of stuff, and according to the receipt we purchased 77 items). And we saved $53! And that was on things like two four-packs of organic baby yogurt for Clara, two half-gallons of organic milk, organic eggs, organic produce like bananas & avocados & and peppers, and basics like whole wheat bread, wheat pasta, granola bars, cereal (and goodies like dark chocolate and ice cream). It felt so good! Here are a few more specific examples of exactly how our coupons combined with an in-store sale to save us the most money:
- We got two YoBaby Organic Yogurt 4-Packs, which were originally selling for $2.69 (which calculates to a total of $5.38). But Kroger had them marked down for 60 cents off each one (bringing each one down to $2.09) and then we had a “buy one 4-pack, get the second one free” coupon from the manufacturer, which made our total for both 4-packs just $2.09 (for a savings of $3.29).
- We got an 8 oz bag of Gorton’s grilled shrimp that was originally $5.99. But Kroger was having a special $3 off promotion so it was only $2.99. And we had a manufacturers coupon for $1 off which means that our bag of shrimp cost just $1.99 (for a savings of $4).
- We got a box of FiberOne Granola Bars that were originally $2.49. But Kroger had them on sale for $1.50 off (which made the box just 99 cents) and we had loaded a FiberOne e-coupon onto our Kroger card (thanks to this site) for 50 cents off, so we paid just 49 cents for the box of FiberOne granola bars.
Of course these are our best buys that we’re highlighting, so not everything that we purchased was that discounted. Not even close. So don’t get down on yourself if you save 20 cents here and 50 cents there. It all adds up! Just be sure you’re buying things that you actually like and eat, not just things that are on sale.
Oh and a few more couponing 101 tips that I picked up are:
- Just because something is 10/$10 doesn’t mean you have to buy ten items (it’s usually just labeled that way to get you to buy more).
- Resist the urge to buy the largest size of things that are on sale- often you save the highest percentage when you use a $1.00 off coupon on the $2.00 cereal box, not the supersized $4 one (this was the hardest principle for me to grasp at first since my instinct was that buying something huge saved me more money). Of course if the larger one is substantially less money per ounce and you have a use for a large amount of something, it could be worth the upgrade- but I was surprised how often I noticed them listed as the same price per ounce.
- Coupons are allegedly cyclical, meaning that most coupon pros claim that every six weeks the same items go on sale again. This theoretically means that if you have space to stock up on your favorite cereal when it’s on sale, you only have to buy enough to last you six weeks, and then the sale should pop up again (of course this isn’t to suggest that you should have a six week stockpile of every item, but it does reinforce the idea that you never have to buy 100 of something that’s “an amazing deal” because it’ll most likely be a great deal again in a little over a month).
Oh and here’s how I keep things organized. I have a clear plastic sleeve where I toss all of my coupons as I clip them throughout the 2-3 week span between major shopping trips, then before we go to Kroger I take out all the ones I won’t be using so it’s only full of coupons I’ll be “spending” and I slip my detailed shopping list in there with them (that way I know how many of something or what sized box I need to get to use my coupon without thumbing through all of them). When I get to the register I hand over my Kroger card for them to scan (for all uploaded discounts) and then I hand over my paper coupons as well. So far it seems to work.
So that’s my coupon update for ya. Happy snipping to one and all. And all you varsity coupon peeps better share your tips! I know I still have lots to learn!
Psst- All kids toys are not created equal. Check out what Clara got that looks so good we never want to tuck it out of sight (unlike 99% of her other toys).
Are you kidding? In this market? Of course not. We managed to sell it for around $5k more than we bought it for back in 2006 (in “the bubble”) and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we spent more than five grand on improvements (we estimate that we spent around $35K on new bathrooms, a new kitchen, new flooring, new windows, a new roof, a new patio, a paved driveway, and upgraded details like crown molding and wider doorways). This is where a “wop-wop” sound effect would come in handy.
But we’re sleeping like babies and are downright giddy about the sale of our house and the purchase of our new one. Why? We’re 100% convinced that the time was right and everything happened the way it was meant to. Are we crazy? Maybe. But here’s our thought process:
- Our monthly payment for the new house is $200 less than what we’ve been sending in for our old much smaller house thanks to historically low mortgage rates and a great deal on the new house (which we never could have afforded in a better market). More house in a better neighborhood for less money each month? Yes please.
- The unimproved houses in our old neighborhood (which look a lot like ours looked back when we purchased it) are selling for 30K, 40K, even 50K less than ours sold for. So not only were our projects fun and fun to enjoy while we lived there, they seemed to help our house retain its value and even improve upon it (even though we bought it when the market was amazing and we sold when the market was, uh, not).
- We got an offer within just a few days of being on MLS, so that’s a lot to be grateful for in this housing market.
Want more details? Sure. You know we like to talk…
We’re not house flippers, we’re house lovers (hence the blog name). We never moved into our old house intending to flip it or upgrade it for any other reason than to enjoy it and make it the perfect home for ourselves in the time that we spent there. And it was. So the fact that by doing those updates we were also able to keep the house from dropping a lot lower into a price range that actually may have made us cry ourselves to sleep at night really does feel like a blessing. And we can’t forget the inexpensive backyard wedding that we were able to host thanks to diverting our venue rental budget into a new paved driveway and cobblestone patio that were around long after our big day ended. Or the kitchen renovation that spawned a blog that spawned a business that now affords us the opportunity to both work at home with our spawn by our side (sorry for calling you “spawn” Clara- it’s a terribly un-ladylike word).
Plus, it’s easy for us to see the rewards that the new house holds. After all, we’re not just sellers in this buyers’ market – we’re buyers too. And boy is it a sweet time to buy. We’ve scored our new larger house in a nicer neighborhood at a serious discount (we paid over 40K less than it was valued five years ago). Plus since interest rates are awesomely low we’re potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the term of the loan. And since we had some nice equity in our old house to roll over into the purchase of the new one (and thanks to that lower interest rate) that’s how we got to that lower monthly mortgage payment that we mentioned above.
Plus we figure that when/if the market recovers in who-knows-how-long, there are greater rewards to be had on our new house than if we had waited around to sell our old one (which might have gone for more money in a few years, but at that point our new house might have been waaaay out of our price range just like it was five years ago when the market was doing gangbusters). And of course we can’t ignore the most important facts: that this new house satisfies our passion for DIY, offers more room for our family to grow, and helps fuel our business. Which is really the day to day stuff that helps with the whole sleeping at night thing.
But let’s revisit that whole 35K spent on improvements, only 5K of which we actually made back in the sale price. The good news is that it’s not like our improvements didn’t serve us at all. Similar houses in our old neighborhood are now selling for muuuuuch less than ours did because they don’t have any of the updates that ours has. In fact a similar ranch on our old street (only about three houses away) that’s notably bigger than ours sold this summer for 50K less (!!!) than our house did. Which makes us feel incredibly good about the improvements that we made to set our former casa apart so that it would not only hold its value but would even creep up 5K since the good ol’ days of the bubble. So although on paper it might look like we lost 30K based on what we paid, how much we put into it, and how much we sold it for- we like to look at it like this: by making the improvements that we did, not only did our old house not drop 50K in value in this bum economy, it also slightly improved by 5K. Call it looking through rose colored glasses if you’d like, but thinking about it that way really helps keep things in perspective.
Oh and here’s another interesting house-for-sale point that our lender made. He has noticed that what homeowners aren’t getting back financially from their improvements, they’re getting back in sale speed. For example, a buyer might not pay much more for your house because it has granite counters, but you’ll get an offer a lot faster than a similar house down the street that’s sporting laminate. And that has certainly been our experience. We were on MLS for 2 days before getting an offer while a similar larger house down the road is going on four months without a bite. And it’s listed for $30k less!
Do we wish the market were better? Sure. But we’ve got zero regrets. Some may accuse us of seeing the glass as half full (and we definitely don’t think everyone would make the choice to sell at this time), but these are just a few reasons why we’re so glad to be in our new house just in time for Clara’s first Christmas. Speaking of which, we’ve got some boxes to unpack…
Q: You guys are so good with money I wondered if you’d consider sharing some of the ways you kept from bleeding money once you had Clara. I’ve heard that having a baby and buying all the baby stuff can set you back a few years’ worth of savings and I’m scared! But I’m sure you have figured out a few ways to be frugal without skipping a beat when it comes to providing everything that Clara needs. As you love to say, do tell! – Megan
A: The good news is that we actually expected that having a baby (and setting up the house for one) would be a lot pricier than it actually was. Of course every parent’s experience is different (especially when it comes to how many hand-me-downs you might get lucky enough to inherit, or how many registry items you’ll be fortunate enough to receive) but after lots of expert-mom-&-dad-interviewing we definitively concluded that we didn’t need every baby gadget on the market. Not even close. And with a little bit of strategy you can hopefully figure out what you really need, what you can skip, and what you’ll likely receive from others (so you don’t end up with too much of one thing and not enough of another). Of course parenting is an extremely personal thing, and what works for us won’t necessarily work for everyone, but here’s the rundown of all the things that we did to save money without sacrificing an ounce of fun or comfort for Clara.
We Resisted The Baby Clothing Draw- We heard time and time again from pro moms & dads (we’re talking 3+ kids) that clothing is such an easy thing to go overboard on and that many (many) friends and relatives will buy you cute outfits of all sizes- so many that there’s little need to stock up for yourself. Of course we couldn’t resist a few adorable outlet onesies (or this cute 4th of July outfit from Old Navy) but for the most part we tried insanely hard to dodge the baby shopping spree bullet. And all that willpower was worth it. Those expert parents were 100% correct. Clara ended up with more outfits than Mariah Carey thanks to hand-me-downs from relatives and an astronomical amount of adorable clothing from generous friends and family members who wanted to welcome her to the world. Seriously, the girl’s clothing cup runneth over.
We Registered For The Biggies- We crossed our fingers that friends and family members would go in on some of the larger items on our registry together, so we resisted the urge to scan every cute onesie, sleeper, book, and stuffed animal that we saw in the hopes that we’d receive more “needs” than “wants,” which are always higher up on the priority list. Amazingly, we got our Ergo carrier, our swing, our stroller, our car seat and our Angelcare Monitor from our registry! Seriously, we could not have been more thrilled. So our tip would be to register for big things because you’ll inevitably get clothes and books and toys anyway- but it feels amazing to check the big expensive things off your list. And you’ll think of all your generous friends and family members who came together to get those necessities for you every time you use that stroller or that car seat (we do!). See which specific stroller and other items we chose for Clara by perusing this post.
We Accepted Hand Me Downs (With Caution)- There definitely aren’t any shortage of baby toys and gear to be seen at Babies R Us or Buy Buy Baby, but what surprised us most was how many friends and family members came out of the woodwork to offer us Bumbos, Boppys, and bouncy seats galore! In fact, our tip would be to see what hand-me-downs might present themselves (before registering for things or buying them for yourself) since that’s a super easy way to save some major moolah. But our second tip would be to use restraint when it comes to accepting freebies from those kind friends and relatives (to avoid having a house full of every single contraption imaginable with no room for the actual baby!). While we were offered many amazing items, we thought long and hard about what would most likely work for our lifestyle and reminded ourselves that we could always request things after Clara came home if the need for them later arose. In the end, aside from hand me down clothing, we only accepted one hand-me-down sling (which Clara loves by the way), one gently used Boppy (so convenient), one nearly-new Bumbo (where Clara loves to sit and “read”) and a doorway jumper (check out how much she adores that here). And those four items alone would have set us back over $150, so we’re glad to have them!
We Bucked Conventional Baby Gear- One way to keep our small house from getting overrun with baby stuff and to keep money in our pockets was to go back to interviewing those expert moms and dads about what they learned that they could live without. Time and time again they told us that big expensive highchairs were no more effective than a smaller (and much cheaper!) booster seat with a tray. Duly noted. We also heard that investing in one do-it-all stroller was a lot more space efficient and cost effective than getting a string of strollers for each stage of baby development. These two tips alone saved us at least two to four hundred bucks (!) because they enabled us to confidently pick up a $25 booster seat and a single one-size-fits-all stroller that will last until Clara is done with it (which we were lucky enough to receive as a gift from our registry). See which specific stroller and other items we chose for Clara by perusing this post.
We Saved Every Penny With Clara’s Name On It- We set up a 529 fund within two weeks of taking Clara home from the hospital and we’ve diligently been investing every single welcome-to-the-world check that she’s received. We’ve also decided that we’ll save a set amount of money each month for her there, which will help to pay for her education after years of tax-free interest collecting.
We Returned The Surplus- We learned that to best provide for Clara without breaking the bank we couldn’t be shy about returning extra clothes and repeat toys and books that we received for necessities like wipes and disposable diapers (before Clara was big enough to fit into her cloth dipes). We learned that diapers and wipes are two things that are rarely given as gifts but you use them the most so they’re super high on the necessity list! We also considered the season of clothes that we received before removing the tags. For example, summer dresses labeled “six months” won’t be useful to Clara since she’ll be six months old in the dead of winter- so we exchanged them for some heavier clothing that she’ll really get some use out of).
We Try Before We Buy- We weren’t sure if the small travel swing that we received from our registry would be enough since we heard that some babies just go ga-ga for bouncy seats. So we borrowed one from a friend only to learn that Clara was not interested (as in she cried immediately upon being placed in the thing). Thank goodness we tried it before we sprung for one! And for those who might not have items as readily available from friends and family members, don’t forget that sources like freecycle.org, craigslist.org and even local thrift stores are a great way to score something that’s gently used for a lot less.
We Skipped The Bassinet- Of course this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but thanks to a tiny bedroom that wouldn’t safely accommodate any type of bassinet and a nursery that’s located extremely close by (just six steps from our bed) Clara has been sleeping in her crib since day one (well, technically day four since we were in the hospital for days one through three). We even snapped this picture of her at her first “bedtime” after we took her home. They grow up so fast (sniffle).
Thanks to this crib-only phenomenon, we were able to save the cash that would have been put towards a bassinet and save the room that we would have devoted to storing it after she later transitioned to her crib. And we don’t know if it’s a coincidence but she’s a phenomenal sleeper. She slept through the night as soon as we were allowed to let her, at about 4 weeks, and currently sleeps 9+ hours straight (last night was an all time record from 9:30pm to 8:30am). We definitely believe that we just got lucky and ended up with a sleepy baby, but it also might help that she doesn’t get awakened by lights going on and off, parental tossing and turning, or Burger’s snoring since she has her own little haven across the hall.
We Milked Mother Nature- I know that not everyone chooses- or is even physically able- to breastfeed, but I really hoped I could make it happen. So months before Clara was born I spent time reading up on the subject online and even took a free class at my local hospital so I’d have the best possible chance. Thankfully it worked out! And Clara and I very much enjoy that time together (every few hours during the day- she’s a hungry girl!). Not only is it some pretty great mommy-beanette time, it’s also a fantastic way to save about $140 a month (which is roughly the average cost of formula). We also plan to make as much of our own organic baby food as we can when the time comes. Should be interesting!
We Saved Our Butts (And Covered Clara’s) With Cloth Diapers- Read all about that decision (and how much we saved) right here. Oh and we switched detergents so there’s an update on that in the post as well.
We Pared Down- We actually bought a video monitor and also received the Angelcare monitor that we registered for, but we quickly realized that we only needed the Angelcare monitor and happily returned the $200 (!) video one since we could hear her so well thanks to the audio function of the other monitor (and the sound of her breathing was more assuring to us than squinting at the video monitor and trying to see her chest rise and fall (which was pretty much impossible). Of course some other parents love video monitors more, so it’s not really about one type being better than the other, the point is that we definitely didn’t need both! And after some great advice from John’s sister (master momma of three) I got a single breast pump instead of double pump to save over $200 (especially since two of my friends with a double one confessed that they usually only use one pump at a time anyway). Little adjustments like one monitor instead of two and a slight downgrade in the pump department happily didn’t interfere with our lifestyle at all, but these two changes alone kept $400 in our pockets!
We Bought Three Bottles- Yup, three. Not three of one size and three of the next size and a bunch of different nipples. Just three with newborn nipples. And sure enough we’ve only needed those three. In fact we probably could have gotten by with two. Since Clara’s on an 100% mommy’s milk diet, we just use bottles for the very rare occasions when I pump (which I only do when we’ll be traveling for hours in the car and want to avoid having to stop for a feeding). Of course those who don’t work from home may need a ton more bottles on hand, but the idea is to evaluate what you can skimp on and give it a try, even if it’s something else.
We Got Our Coupon On- This is a simple one. Never buy anything at Babies R Us or Buy Buy Baby without a coupon. Buy Buy Baby takes those ubiquitous Bed Bath & Beyond coupons (they’re owned by the same company) and Babies R Us usually has coupons circulating (we even got a $5 gift card by friending them on Facebook a while back). Plus nearly every time you buy something at Babies R Us you get a 20% off coupon for the next time you need something, so keep those close and use them for large items to save a bundle.
We Remembered That The Store Would Still Be There- One of the hardest urges to ignore is this one: “I should buy this now, even though the baby’s not here yet, just so I’m prepared.” The truth is that people come out of the woodwork after the baby’s born, so if you desperately need anything you’ll have a relative or friend who’d be happy to save you a trip to the store since you’re so obviously busy at home. And the odds are that for every 20 items that you resist getting beforehand, you might end up needing two or three of them after the fact. So you can see how it’ll save you money and sanity by fighting the urge to buy twenty things and just going back for the two or three that you actually need once you’re sure that you need them. We’re so glad we didn’t cave and register for/buy things like a pacifier case or a a wipe warmer since we have happily learned to live quite well without them (although some people find those items to be amazingly valuable and could easily have lived without other things). The stuff that you end up “needing” is different for every family, so just wait it out a bit to see what those things will be for you! In our house Burger is by far the most amusing “toy” around anyway… Clara can hang out next to him for hours.
So to sum things up we just tried to take it slow, resist the urge to buy every single baby item that we saw, tried as many things as we could before we bought them, accepted hand me downs (with restraint), and registered for the big stuff that we needed instead of the cute stuff that was in the “nice to have” category. We opted to get one stroller instead of three and also snagged a booster seat instead of a big pricey (and tough to store) highchair. And we realized we couldn’t avoid diapers but we found a way to make it more affordable (and, dare we say it, fun). Of course we’re only four months into parenthood so we’re hardly experts – especially on a subject that’s so subjective and personal – but those are a few of the approaches that worked for us. Now we’d love to know how you guys save money when it comes to kiddos. Do you DIY anything? Or forgo purchasing certain items that you’ve learned you don’t need? We’d love to hear what works for you.
Psst- Want to read our Save It series (about all things non-baby) from the very beginning? See how we save cash whenever we can here, here, and here. And for even more penny pinching ideas, visit our Projects page and scroll down to the Money Saving Tips category.
Pssssssst- Don’t forget to check out our weekly BabyCenter post right here, which is all about how the heck we sort, store, and keep baby clothes under control.