Adventures in Savings: Couponing Thrills, Chills, and Epic Fails

Everyone likes to save a buck. Some people will go further than others while some just wish they could stretch their dollars further without doing more to get there. Let’s face it: life is expensive, without even thinking about throwing a family into the mix!

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Add the stress of stretching a budget over the needs (*and wants*) of an average family of three, four or five. Jax can put a serious crater dent in anyone’s budget, throwing things in your cart with abandon when you aren’t looking. And you may know all too well that if you aren’t mindful of spending straight from the start, babies can begin expensive and stay that way all through their childhood.

I decided the other day I am sick and tired of worrying about money. I have always been Sergeant Money, always responding with ‘how much is that going to cost me!?’, even before I would celebrate something exciting. Pennies are counted and recounted. Sometimes that’s a perfectly valid, healthy response! Its not a bad thing to be careful, but I’m human, have made mistakes, good and bad choices, and have bills to pay just like everybody else- and we’ve been stuck in this ‘half- life’ of not having our family and home all together. I live my life much better and more content with a mapped out budget, planned to a ‘t’ for what, when, and where to spend the dollars our family brings in and sends out. Lately, More Often Than Not, Occasionally, stress mounts and I inevitably end up angry and crying like a two year old’s tantrum, just to ‘make it work’ and to make it through the lists and budgets, only to start on ’empty’ all over again next week.

There will always be bills, there will always be things that come up, and pennies to pinch all across the board in family life. Someone very wise once told me that within reason, people with more money have the same types of problems and stress as people with less, the decimal point is just in a different place. Another person told me ‘the more money you have, the more you spend’. These pieces of advice put together an important lesson for those who wish to have more- there’s always the ‘if only we had a…’ thought process of not being happy with what you have and not making what you have work.

Fortunately, there are ways to make it work. One has become an interest of mine since I’ve been spending all this time at home with Jax and Bella lately.  There is a bandwagon of people out there whose mouths drool at the site of coupon flyers. They break into a cold sweat at the idea of missing out on a deal of free laundry detergent to add to their years’ worth already stashed away. They have to get their fix. With some years in retail tucked into my belt, I always swore it wouldn’t be for me. I’d watched TLC and seen the deals people get – hours of work earned them $1000 worth of product for pennies. Yeah right, I’d think. Sure, I’d use coupons here and there. A lot of times I’d forget. Other times I’d just skimp and get only the store brand and deal- some store brand items are great! Others, not so much. Now with my family finally edging even closer towards some semblance of normalcy, and being home with the littles day in and day out, I’m looking ever further to find ways to provide for my loved ones without breaking the bank or sacrificing quality. There is the logic that to go shopping means money is not being saved, but at some point, in the world we live in, we need things- and I refuse to choose between dog food or laundry detergent and a dinner just to stay on budget. Granted, there are people out there in the world who are faced with much greater troubles than a stay at home mom whose spreadsheet of budget categories may not be lining up too well, and wondering where it would be best to open a Roth IRA for her 401k rollover- but I’ll get to those issues later.

My first attempt at anything more than ordinary recreational coupon use last week resulted in an EPIC FAIL! I had it all planned out, the drugstore game was calling my name and my rookie self headed out to CVS with a good plan that fell flat when they were out of the BOGO (buy one get one free) item I was counting on. I ended up saving $16 and earned $8 in extra bucks towards another purchase, which I saved for later. I was in a hurry, my brain was overwhelmed, my skeptical loving sister was there, and the second I saw the BOGO was out, I was toast.

The rematch on Monday morning brought my retribution. I knew what I had missed on and why. I was armed with a huge deal at another store, and ready to roll. First up was CVS. My four transactions yielded a bounty including six laundry detergents, lotions, razors and replacement blades, colored lip balms, Eclipse gums, Altoids, and more. I saved a total of $81.72, earning Extra Bucks towards more products for free, including the six laundry detergents for $11. Next up, Target. We grabbed a couple treats for Jax- Jenga ($5 coupon), and two small Lego kits, more almost free razors,and grabbed some yogurt: purchase them for $2 ea, save $2 off two with Target coupon, add on another $1 off two coupon, and you’ve got yourself a deal. I did it twice. Total saved $16.01, small change in the couponing world, but to me, who a year ago would have shelled out for the same products, and may have even, ahem, paid with plastic out of convenience, that is HUGE savings. Finally, the big deal of the day: Petsmart. A place normally I wouldn’t even step foot in. But, they drew me in with their sale, and Science Diet had ridiculous amount of coupons. Bring it on: After $59.66 in sales savings, I had a whopping $79 in coupons. The total before savings and coupons? $183.92!! I saved an awesome 75% on enough cat and dog food for my mother to ask if the stash might outlast my cat, paying $45 out of pocket. The skilled couponer may possibly have avoided paying so much out of pocket, but I am pleased with the haul I made, 100% free or not.

Super Savings

It went so well I  looked into the flyer a bit more and went back again yesterday. After this, I will reduce my trips’ purchases to lessen my out of pocket costs even more. Purchasing certain items in one transaction earns $10 gift cards, so I took advantage, paid $59.25 out of pocket for $97.99 worth of product including toilet paper, dish detergent, and some snack foods like Planters Nuts and Indiana Popcorn (=addictive!). Okay, Stay with me here. With that transaction I earned 2 $10 gift cards, which I used with coupons to buy Tylenol Precise pain heat patches, Cold Calm, two Right Guard deodorants, and shave gel,  for nothing out of pocket!  Plus I earned more Extra Bucks to roll into three other transactions, each earning their own extra bucks. My plan was thwarted when we realized a special had run out on some shave gel freebies I was hoping to score, but overall the savings was still there.Trip two to CVS yielded me a bounty of $181.85 worth of products, for $68.50. The goal here will be to continue to get that out of pocket expense lower and lower and lower.

So all I can say is, I get it. I see the deals, and I want them. Why? Because I like to be able to provide us with basic needs like laundry detergent, and lotion for my alligator-like dry skin, without breaking the bank. I have goals and needs for other financial aspects for our family- a bigger emergency fund, a no-sweat bill paying system, to pay off any lingering debt (I’m one of the luckier people to have very little left on student loans- at least we have that going for us! But it will feel even better to make that number a ‘0″), and finally, a new- to- us second vehicle (and to pay CASH for it. YES, CASH.) Some things I’d honestly just like to be able to get my hands on without feeling guilty over what budget category I’m stretching too far, and I’d love to be able to include the many more activities a growing family faces for an active, healthy, and fun lifestyle without feeling like we’re getting bent over.

A wonderful opportunity also arises in this new ‘project’; the obvious surplus created with stockpiling from playing the coupon game will provide my family an even greater ability to give back. Remember I mentioned the families out there who are in dire straits when I’m researching 401k rollovers and Roth IRA’s? If you see me walking out of CVS with what looks like a year’s worth of Cheerios after a great BOGO, you might think back to my pledge here and now: I’m excited to use this new endeavor to be able to give back. I’ve always seen the empty bins waiting for donations for food and thought there must be some way I could help. I am a ‘look on the bright side’ kinda gal, Lately my gratitude for what we DO have has come to a head, and I’ve said a few prayers to find ways to make it through and have happily found answers (something I have never, ever, genuinely done before in my life), and I plan to pay it forward.

Want to see more deals? Send me your coupon flyers, those ones you throw out every Sunday. Always remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!