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!

image credit google images

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!

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Gluten Free Who? Thyroid What?? I need to do what?!

A little while back, I talked about the cranky old lady who kept asking me whenever she saw me how much weight I’ve lost after having the baby. Her greeting never included a hello- this (senile?)bitch would jump right into “So? Well how much weight have you lost??!”…I fought back by giving myself time to lose the weight patiently, trusting my body would do its job and that maybe being just 10 weeks post partum, it truly was too early to worry about it. I knew most moms drop the weight like a dirty shirt when they’re breastfeeding, and was slowly coming to grips with the fact that I’m not one of them. Fast forward to where we are today, Bella being six months old, and the question would kill me if she asked today. Because I haven’t lost one. single. pound. And its not without having tried and tried and tried.

I used to have a metabolism that not only hummed, it cranked. About a year before I was pregnant with Bella, you could easily find me awake in the kitchen at 3AM because I couldn’t sleep through my hungry, growling stomach. If I dared miss or delay ‘a feeding’, I’d spend the day battling low blood sugar bad enough I wouldn’t be able to see. To make matters worse, the low blood sugar would still sneak up behind me and take hold faster than I would realize, despite haven eaten recently, leaving me literally walking away mid conversation to get something to eat- quick! I was one of those people who had to keep snacks in the car lest I get hungry on that 15 minute ride to work in the morning. I couldn’t stand being in a grocery store or restaurant in the summer without a sweater (and sometimes a jacket on top too) because of the air conditioning. I needed to sleep all. the. time. (and still do). Seriously, I’m the only person I’ve ever come across that would say “I cant go out to breakfast until I have something to eat.” (Otherwise the wait for a meal would set me back for the entire day). It started when I was pregnant with Jax, almost six (!!) years ago. I would complain to the doctors about ridiculously low blood sugar and they told me to eat. Well, duh! If it was that easy! Thanks for making me feel like a crazy, pregnant, moron. (In my defense also, those doctors seem to have been the group that graduated with less than stellar grades, but lousy OB GYN’s don’t belong in this post). Yes, I’ve seen other doctors, My thyroid levels have come back borderline abnormal several times, but since apparently most doctors these days see ‘borderline’ as ‘untreatable’, I’m stuck feeling miserable. At least I could eat though, and I was spared the dread of going to my 10 year high school reunion overweight.

SO here I am, wishing I could have the overdrive metabolism of days past- because now my body is stuck in full reverse. My hair is falling out, my skin is on fire with flaky, dry patches of eczema, and on some days my energy level is low to the point it feels like I’m walking through waist deep water just to get up the stairs. And its all new issues since having Bella. Ugh. Cant someone fix this for me!? Well, since I’ve already seen doctors and the ones that I’ve seen were not keeping up with their research, which leaves them stumped and me without a solution, I’ll be seeing a chiropractor in a few weeks who specializes in natural medicine and particularly, autoimmune disorders and thyroid disorders. Having done my research (meaning having spent a bunch of time on Google, which means I could be an unofficial expert *not really*), hypothyroidism and gluten intolerances (and full blown Celiac Disease), go hand in hand. And to treat hypothyroidism, you have to cut out glutens… Doh. To add to the fun, the most common form of hypothyroidism, is an autoimmune disorder. Chris Kresser, L. Ac says “hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease in 90% of cases” and that “(o)ne of the biggest challenges facing those with hypothyroidism is that the standard of care for thyroid disorders in both conventional and alternative medicine is hopelessly inadequate.”
 

He goes on to say, “The link is so well-established that researchers suggest all people with AITD (autoimmune thyroid disorder) be screened for gluten intolerance, and vice versa. What explains the connection? It’s a case of mistaken identity. The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. This means if you have AITD and you eat foods containing gluten, your immune system will attack your thyroid. Even worse, the immune response to gluten can last up to 6 months each time you eat it. This explains why it is critical to eliminate gluten completely from your diet if you have AITD. There’s no “80/20″ rule when it comes to gluten. Being “mostly” gluten-free isn’t going to cut it. If you’re gluten intolerant, you have to be 100% gluten-free to prevent immune destruction of your thyroid.”

Furthermore, the symptoms of both thyroid disorders and gluten sensitivities, intolerances, and full- blown “dont touch me with that gluten molecule” issues all mimic each other, especially when someone with gluten issues has ‘silent symptoms’- meaning they experience sluggishness, feel cold, have rashes and itchy dry skin,

 

Okay. So I read information like this about a week ago and have been milling it around in my head trying to come to terms with it. “An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Up to 60 percent of these people are unaware of their condition. One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. Levothyroxine, a synthetic form of thyroid hormone, is the 4th highest selling drug in the U.S. 13 of the top 50 selling drugs are either directly or indirectly related to hypothyroidism. The number of people suffering from thyroid disorders continues to rise each year.”

Got it. I totally get it. All these hypothyroid articles were written about me. Yes, I get it. But Really?? What about my undying love for crusty, artisan style bread? What about the wonderful pizza Dean made which I devoured the other night having full knowledge the research says I wont be able to do that anymore?

And for ultimate insult added to injury, my beloved vanilla Coffee-Mate coffee creamer, with its lame vanilla flavoring, is probably off the list of foods I’ll be able to eat. I’ll get over it, eventually, since its not good for me at all anyways, but come on. The discovery of gluten sensitivities has achieved something no diet has ever accomplished with me before: STOPPING ME FROM having my vanilla flavored coffee. Damn the people that started sourcing vanilla flavor from barley. Damn them! (And if anyone knows for sure its Gluten Free let me know. I checked the website and it just lists artificial flavorings so I’ve said screw it. Its probably better for me NOT to be consuming that crap anyways.)

 

In the great words of my mom, when I was talking to her about all this hootenany, “well, now

you cant even have a beer!!” Thanks mom!

I’ve always understood how serious it is to avoid glutens for those with Celiac Disease. I get it. I just never thought I’d have to deal with it. On top of that, I DO believe some people say they need to eat gluten free because they think they are on a diet. I know these people arent really gluten free- eaters though because I would watch them devour all sorts of foods without even a glance at the ingredients. Hello!?!? Its a way to drive me crazy. I know food allergies and sensitivities are REAL, and I am a firm believer that NUTRITION HEALS. But the people that waltz into a restaurant saying they require a gluten free meal but then order the soup of the day (thickened with a flour roux), the grilled chicken with vegetables (the chicken is injected with broth solution and then marinated in who knows what), and the vanilla ice cream and a brownie to share (again, the dreaded vanilla flavor, the brownie is just stupidly gluten unfriendly) are full of shit and always have been.  

The long and the short of it is that I’m gonna have to bite the bullet and stick to this. I made it through Day ONE fairly easily, and am on day two. Its easier said than done in a house full of pasta and wonderfully fluffy white bread just baked in the wood stove. This will have to be a learning process. But at this point, anything I can do to feel human again must be a step in the right direction. Have you dealt with gluten allergies?Thyroid disorders? Did your whole family have to go gluten free? What are your favorite resources? Stay tuned for more of yet another crazy chapter …

 

 

 

 

Holiday Wishlist

In the spirit of the holidays, I’m putting together my wishlist. I have a real list, mostly some easy things I really wish I was doing for myself since I became a mom of two. I also have an I-wish-this-was-real-List: the one I’ll fulfill myself once the Lottery Commission straightens themselves out and finally gives me my Jackpot (I’m patient but seriously, if I was running that place, I’d have won a long time ago. Really). I also have a list for Bella, since she’s four months old, I would be the one using the majority of things for her, so its really a natural extension of my list, right?

We’ll start with the Dream List, the stuff I’m not really asking for or going to get anytime soon, but it couldn’t hurt to at least write them down. Without further ado…
-a treadmill, elliptical trainer, spinning bike, or one of those treadclimber things. Or all of them. The baby weight’s gotta come off somehow and it is going to start snowing at some point. And don’t give me a gym membership unless you plan on watching the kids and getting Bella to take a bottle.
– I’m going to need a nice room for that equipment.
– Might as well make that a house, because the room would have to be attached to something. Nothing crazy, just something with a yard and not near loud, smelly neighbors. I’m all set with apartment living.
– A super nice, pillow top, king sized mattress, and boxspring,
– A nice computer, preferably a laptop, suited well for my digital photos. All my pictures are stored on their SD chips (compact but easy to lose). I’d love to be able to organize and edit them easier and even do little slideshows!
– Let’s throw in a nice digital SLR camera while we’re at it. Although my Blackberry takes okay-quality pictures…
– A bigger car. Silly me, Bella wasn’t on my radar when I traded the gas guzzling Yukon in for the cute little Impreza, which was ‘just enough’. Now we’re cramming all four of us into a car where Bella’s carseat base barely fits. Oops. We all make choices that end up not being the best I guess.
– Jax keeps asking if we can have a wedding. Like, he asks my grandmother if she’ll babysit him so his mommy and daddy can get married sometime, and then go on a honeymoon “someplace nice”. I’m all for us getting married, apparently our ability to plan really sucks! But by now its sort of a moot point, isn’t it? I’d feel awfully silly spending money like that for a dream wedding, especially since I’m wishing I could have a bigger car and a nice house. But then again, I do think every girl wants her dream day of being a princess, right? Right.
– While we’re on that subject, something sparkly wouldn’t hurt. Just no gold. I. Do. NOT. Like. Gold. (This ones next to impossible because I like to hold onto the money, and the money’s not going to me for something to wear on my hand. Nope.)

Okay. On to the REAL wishlist. This one’s far more realistic and what I’d really like. Since I fell into the ‘don’t do nice things for myself’ trap ages ago, and added two kiddos on top of that, I’m finding it super easy not to feel good about myself. SO, I’m making an early resolution for the new year of taking care of myself. From a parenting perspective, the kiddos DO always come first, BUT I need to be doing some things for me, to be a happy mommy/ wifey/ girlfriend. So here goes:
– some nice smelling perfume. Maybe a lotion, or something light. I can’t stand heavy scents but like something pretty.
– a great haircut. If I am trying to avoid the look of a frumpy lady with two little ones, my hair is NOT helping. Enough said.
– a REAL date night. We haven’t had a night out, just us, in maybe a year. Really!! And whoever offers to let us have a date night, it’d be awesome if you could miraculously get Bells to take a bottle. She’s not too interested in them at all, ugh.
– If the weather is at all cooperative, I would like to take a walk everyday. Especially cathartic would be to get time to take the dog out for a walk and to leave the baby at home, seeing as how strollers are tricky in the winter. Really, it’d be pretty awesome to get a nice walk outside everyday, with the baby or not. Lately I’ve really sucked about going on walks, and its not helping with my moods or that ever-stuck baby weight I keep wishing I’d drop.
– A 3 month subscription to Weight Watchers Online. You get the theme here, I’m sure.
– A nice workout outfit or two that will also be cold weather friendly. I have the jackets, but some new ‘activewear’ that’s slightly stylish would be cool.

That’s really it for me, so the rest is things for the little girl. If you don’t cloth diaper, you might not get what some things are, but trust me, they’re all good:
– a diaper sprayer. Really, just trust me on this.
– a gift certificate to Cotton Babies (www.cottonbabies.com). Their BumGenius are out in new colors I’d love to add to the stash (Mirror, Dazzle, Sassy, and Lovelace. Fun, right!?)
– Minky inserts (6 or 8 ) from Fuzzibunz (www.fuzzibunz.com). They’re awesome!
– Cloth Diaper friendly rash cream, like from Earth Mama Angel Baby or California Baby (regular creams cause repelling issues which equals wet baby leak mess). She doesn’t really get rashes, but every once in a while she wakes up with some redness and some cream could be handy.
– A Baltic amber teething necklace from Inspired by Finn.
– A couple fun toys for her. I’ve tried hard not to over-accumulate for the little girl, Jax always had so much stuff we barely used. So just a couple.

All in all, not too crazy of a wishlist. We may as well throw in that I wish Jax wasn’t asking for blasters and army men, but he’s drawn to them like its nobody’s business. So, with the exception of legos, let’s all try to give him some gifts that are crafty and fun to do activities, over more plastic he’ll just add to the pile and lose interest in five minutes later, mmmmkay? Mmkay.