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4 Steps to Better Consignment Sale Shopping

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4 Steps to Better Consignment Sale Shopping

I may not know much about shopping garage sales, but I’m a pro when it comes to shopping consignment events to save on clothing, toys and gear for my kiddos.

Think of consignment events like one big garage sale – parents collect items that their kids no longer need or use, then clean them up and set prices, and finally bring them to be sold along with lots of other items in one big sale.

Finding a Consignment Event

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The first step in shopping consignment events is figuring out where and when a sale is taking place near you. Just Between Friends is the largest consignment event franchise in the U.S. so you’ll most likely find an upcoming sale near you when you search their website, but you’ll likely find other events near you by performing a simple search online.

If you live in the Puget Sound area, we’ve already compiled a list of Puget Sound Consignment Events that you can reference, but if you live elsewhere just do a search for “[your area] + consignment events” to pull up a list.

If you have the time and energy, I recommend shopping multiple sales in your area to save throughout the year.

Preparing for the Sale

The #1 tip I have for shopping consignment events is this: know exactly what you’re looking for before you go to the sale. It’s very easy to walk into an event and be totally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of items available, but if you go in with an idea (even a quick list) you’ll be much more focused.

Before I shop a consignment event, I assess my kids’ current clothing needs. For example, I might jot down that I need a swimsuit, swim shoes and summer dresses for my older daughter (age 3) as well as play clothes for my son (age 5).

It’s also very important to know your sizes. I like to buy a little big, but not too big, to make sure I have enough to keep my kiddos clothed and covered before the next sale comes around (I usually shop two or three sales per year). If you’re planning to buy shoes, trace your kids’ feet and cut them out – the tracings, not your kids’ feet :) – and bring those with you so you don’t have to remember if Little Susie is a size 7 or a size 8 right now.

Don’t forget that these sales often have bigger-ticket items, too. I’ve gotten highchairs, bouncers, and larger gear for my kids at previous sales with very little trouble.

Researching the Sale

Before you shop, be sure to check the dates and times of the sale. You might need to pay admission the first day or two, and later days of the sale may have items marked down by 50%. Check the event’s website for full details.

If you’re gung-ho, consider presales. These are special events just for new moms, volunteers, consignors, etc. that give you early access to the full collection. To be honest, I’ve never shopped one of these presales because a) I simply just haven’t needed that much stuff and b) I’ve gotten so many good deals by shopping the last day of the sale that I haven’t felt the need to shop early. But that’s just me.

Also be sure you know what form of payment the sale accepts (larger sales will accept credit/debit cards as well as cash).

Shopping the Sale

If a particular sale you’re shopping is charging admission fees, use a coupon if they have them! Just Between Friends in my area always charges $2 for admission on the first day of the sale, but everybody and their mother seems to have free admission coupons to give out so I never pay for that. Check the event’s website, their Facebook page, ask around, etc. to see if there’s a discount available.

JBF half price day

I said this before, but it’s a worth another mention: shop half off or discount days near the end of the sale if you’re not desperate to get a particular item. I’ve still found many, many good deals by shopping on these dates.

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Easy Way to Open a Coconut | The Coupon Project

Easy Way to Cut a Coconut

Easy Way to Open a Coconut | The Coupon Project

Easy Way to Open a Coconut | The Coupon Project

While shopping at Grocery Outlet a couple weeks ago, my son begged me for a coconut. He wanted to drink the coconut water and see what’s inside. As I like to encourage adventurous produce eating, I decided, let’s go for it. Now, I can’t say I recall ever buying a whole coconut with the shell before. It’s intimidated me. I’m mostly afraid I’m going to need some sort of power tools to break it open and then I’m going to injure myself and/or make a mess.

If that describes you? It’s time to conquer your coconut fears! I discovered an easy, non-dangerous way of cutting coconuts so now you, too, can enjoy fresh coconut water and coconut meat for your raw, vegan, Paleo, gluten-free, or any kind of diet really! A huge thank you to Healthful Pursuit for inspiration for today’s post.

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Step one. Take a sharp knife and put a little pressure on each of the three spots on the top of the coconut until you find the “softest” one. When you find this, go ahead and gently make a hole. I found it helped to use a sharp knife to start the hole, and then finish the hole with the long, skinny part of a meat thermometer. A skewer or other long skinny kitchen tool may work too. So turns out you don’t need a drill, machete, ice pick or other dangerous tool to crack open your coconut!

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Use Clothespins to Keep Coupons Tidy

How to keep coupons tidy while shopping

Use Clothespins to Keep Coupons Tidy

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Over the weekend, I had a rather unfortunate coupon experience – maybe this has happened to you before? I had just spent the morning clipping and sorting my coupons (admittedly, there was a backlog), and I was excited to hit up Fred Meyer for a couple deals readers had been telling me about. I find all the deals I had wanted and get to the checkout counter – and half my coupons were missing! Including (4) $3-off-1 Bic razor coupons and a FREE Good Belly Catalina coupon (up to $4 off). Seriously. If I was going to lose half of my coupons, why’d they have to be the good ones?!

I lamented about my mishap on Facebook, and a very smart reader named Jean shared this with me:

I use wooden clothespins (the spring kind) to clip coupons right to the cart. They fit just right over the rungs where a child’s back would rest if they were in the cart. I use another one to clip my list to the cart. AND….I manage to jam my ink pen in the top of the clothes pin too…the part you pinch to open. You could really go crazy and use a third to move unused coupons over to its own used coupon pin if you wanted. I see all the young people using their smartphone to shop but I struggle with that. I have it set to “sleep” too soon and have to put my readers on and off too much etc

Well color me silly, but why haven’t I thought of this before?

I figured I can’t be the only one that sometimes struggles with keeping coupons organized while shopping (especially when you have kids in tow – HELLO?), so I’m happy to pass her tip along today! Friends don’t let friends lose high value coupons. Thanks, Jean!!

Does anyone else have a great tip for keeping your coupons organized while shopping? 

PS. Incidentally, yes, I did walk through the entire store and checked and re-checked my coupon binders for the missing coupons and alas, they never turned up. I called Customer Service the next morning and they were like, “hey! aren’t you that blogger that was posting about that on Facebook?” Well, um, yes…. that’d be me! ;)


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“I don’t get this couponing thing.”

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I got an email from Linda yesterday and I want to share it here, because I know some of you might be able to relate to how she’s feeling. Here’s an excerpt (with her permission, of course):

I see on Facebook or even when you watch extreme couponer, toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, cans of soup, frozen food items, etc., etc., etc.,

People show on Facebook a picture that they just went shopping and look at the deals they just got.  I look at it and my first reaction is that is great then I look closer and I am like where did they do this?  Where did they get those coupons, because I don’t have them, what am I missing in coupons?  I get the Sunday paper plus sometimes in the mail on Wednesday you get smart source.  I get papers at dollar tree and I have a friend that gives me theirs too.

I have my whole binder very organized and I feel that when I can only get great deals on laundry detergent what am I missing?  People getting single paper towels for .25 how?  Packages of toilet paper for a dollar?  No less they are name brands!  Tooth paste free!

I don’t get it.

Linda, I think there is a combination of things happening here, so let me separate them out.

Inaccurate and/or Misleading Information

Shows such as Extreme Couponing have sparked the curiosity of people who had no idea savings rates on groceries like that were possible. You definitely get a shock factor as coupon mavens leave a store with a haul worth hundreds having only paid pennies. However, these shows rarely explain exactly what is going on. This is a disservice for the people would benefit most by learning how couponing really works.

Consider:

I actually wrote a post not too long ago called “I Can’t Do it Like Extreme Couponing,” and I highly recommend you pop over there for additional thoughts I had on this very topic.

Blogs and websites (including this one!) also sometimes highlight an exceptional shopping trip to demonstrate the power of combining shopping and sales. But this should never be taken to mean that these are the kind of trips all couponers do all of the time. For most of us, that sort of crazed deal shopping is unrealistic and unsustainable. This is why I’ve made an effort to share some of my more realistic shopping trips as well as my best ones. Consider someone who loves fishing. They don’t take pictures of all the small fish they catch (or worse, the days they catch nothing). No, they proudly photograph themselves with the “big one” they caught. I truly think that’s what happens in the couponing world a fair amount of the time.

The Reality of Couponing

There is an elephant in the room that I don’t see many coupon bloggers addressing outright, but I’ll do so and get it out there.

It would appear that over the past few years some of the awesome sales, coupons, and offerings have declined. There could be a number of factors why this is the case (for instance, rising grocery costs, coupon fraud, etc.), but it definitely seems to be true. For instance, this year I failed to see a strong Quaker oatmeal sale in January as I have in years past. I’ve also noticed some coupons have been appearing less and less frequently in the inserts and online (Huggies coupons, anyone?). And more and more coupons are now adding stuff in the fine print that wasn’t there before (such as P&G’s “limit 4 like coupons” remark on their coupons). I also had a very candid conversation with a major food manufacturer last year who indicated to me that they have reduced offering coupons in direct response to their being misused.

I don’t say this to discourage you, but I feel it necessary to be honest that the coupon climate seems to have cooled off a bit over the last year or so and it’s good to go into this with a realistic expectation of how much you can save. If you’re working to eat more whole foods and produce or you have some other specialty diet, you probably need to lower that expectation even a bit more.

How you can improve your couponing

Given that, let me share some tips for improving your results with couponing (and doing so ethically and sensibly!):

  • Pay attention to drugstores like Rite Aid and Walgreens. Generally speaking, there are freebies nearly every week! If you’re not sure where to start, check out my blog each Friday night. We post coupon matchups here for both of those stores, showing you exactly where those freebies are. (And yes, we have shared FREE name-brand toothpaste many, many times on those posts.)
  • Find out who in your area doubles (if anyone). If you live in Western Washington, Albertsons is just about it. You can find freebies nearly every time Albertsons offers twice the value coupons.
  • Start following a few coupon blogs. You can follow them on Facebook, subscribe to them, or as I like to do – follow them in Google Reader! This way you can quickly search for deals that matter to you. I wrote a post once on how to find frugal blogs for your area or preferences.
  • Learn how store sales cycles work. I save more from following store sales versus using coupons.
  • Attend a coupon class. If you’re local – I have one May 30th! Any good coupon instructor should be able to walk you through the process of saving, step by step. It may be helpful to hear someone in person.
  • Start tracking your savings. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. For this reason, I encourage you to track your spending and savings for one month – see what coupons and store sales are actually saving you. You might be pleasantly surprised!

I want to stress here that coupons are only part of the savings equation. This is why I spend a lot of time talking about topics like gardening, buying food in bulk, making your own items from scratch, and meal planning. I also believe in a realistic, sensible approach to using coupons. My family of four spends $400/month now on groceries through the combination of strategies mentioned above.

Finally, I want you to know that there are a number of ways people approach couponing, and that’s OK! Many of my readers ONLY use coupons for health, beauty, and household items so they can free up their budgets for buying grass fed beef and organic produce. Others will do the crazy sales (such as Albertsons twice the value promotions) for their stock-up items and then fill in the rest the best they can. Others plan their meals around coupon deals, while others still will only use coupons in a blue moon instead opting to save money in other ways.

I would love for my coupon buds out there to offer some additional thoughts, encouragement, or advice for Linda. Do you feel that shows like Extreme Couponing (or even blogs) misrepresent how much coupons can really save you? How have you worked to improve your couponing?


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Chasing the deal: where do you draw the line?

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If you’ve used coupons for any length of time, you’ve inevitably had one or more of the following scenarios happen to you:

  • Went to the store to do a deal, found bare shelves.
  • Followed an unadvertised tip on a coupon blog, but your store didn’t have it.
  • Your cashier wouldn’t allow you to use the coupons indicated on a blog’s scenario.
  • Your store didn’t have the tearpad coupons you were hoping for.
  • Even after multiple visits with your raincheck, your store didn’t restock.
  • One of your $1 coupons didn’t scan and you didn’t realize it until you got home and read your receipt.

Why is it that these little bumps in the road can really get our goat if we let them? In fact, I’ve spent more time fretting about the one $1 coupon that didn’t scan than the $3 splurge impulse item I just bought at the store. But which really cost me more money?

I fell into this trap recently on a POM deal at Safeway. Of course, the free POM was out of stock, so I got my raincheck like a dutiful little couponer. I ended up making about 3 phone calls and 2 extra trips to redeem that raincheck and I never got my POM! In the meantime, the coupons expired. Talk about a waste of time! I should have known better, but there’s this urge to get a screaming deal that I have to keep in check. If you’ve been couponing, you might know the feeling….. how badly you want to leave the store with a $0 on your receipt and a bag full o’ freebies so you can come home, take a photo, and share it on Facebook. Silly, when you really stop and think about it. All that being said, I still have to work to stop, and carefully weigh the question “is this deal worth chasing?” before I pop in the car.

As we all know, time is money. On the course of my coupon journey, I’ve learned that my time is at least as valuable as my money (and some days, more!). So when I’m considering chasing a deal, I try to assess the risk versus benefit. Yes, this might sound a bit like I’m making an investment and not going shopping, but hang with me a moment….

  • Low Risk: based on experience the store should have plenty of stock, I have the coupons in hand, the transaction/scenario is straightforward, the store is within 3-5 miles driving radius. I may need to go to the store anyways for other items. The item is something my family regularly uses or needs.
  • Medium Risk: fair chance that the store has the stock I want, I have most (if not all) of the coupons I need, I’ve done similar transactions/scenarios successfully before, the store is close enough to me or where I’m going today. I’ve had a mix of successful and failed trips at this store before. Our family would benefit somewhat from having the item.
  • High Risk: deal reported as “unadvertised” or “your results may vary” on blogs, you need to gather the coupons from the store or other source that may not be reliable, store is inconveniently located to me. The item is hot, may be a money maker, and is something being shared across multiple national coupon blogs and forums. I’ve had prior disappointing trips at the store. The item isn’t something I’ve considered needing previously.
If you’re unsure of the risk, you can always do a couple things to clear it up! For instance, you could call the store and ask about the stock or clarify price points or coupon policies quickly over the phone. You could also engage coupon bloggers and/or their readers (social media sites particularly work well!) and see if the deal has worked for others before heading out yourself.

Now I don’t formally stop and go through this process every time I consider a deal, but these are definitely things I think about after many successful coupon shopping trips, and many wasted coupon shopping trips. By assessing risks and benefits and giving yourself permission to sit out deals when they don’t make sense, you could potentially spare yourself a lot of frustration and wasted time and gas.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you have a line you draw for yourself on deals you won’t pursue? Maybe it’s a certain store you avoid like the plague, a certain deal, or type of transaction? Do you set limits on yourself in other ways to guard your time while you snag up the deals?


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My Whirlwind Adventure at Seattle’s Vegfest

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My husband had to work for a few hours on Saturday, so I decided to take the kids out to Seattle’s VegFest while he worked.

Once at the Seattle Center, it took us a little while, but we did find the Exhibition Hall. The cost was $8 for me, and the kiddos were free. I thought it would be a good chance to check out some vegetarian and vegan companies since I’ve still not gone back to eating animal products and am seriously considering making a life change at this point in the game.

The place was VERY busy. In fact, as soon as we walked in, we found ourselves in a mess of a line (if you could even call it a line) for Odwalla bars and juices. Navigating it all with a stroller made it a bit more challenging. Navigating it all with two children fighting for turns in the stroller made it even more challenging.

I decided pretty quickly that this would not be a leisurely “get to know all these great companies and try to network with them” sort of a trip. It was just packed and loud and crazy. I quickly devised a plan to race through the place as fast as I could and get my money’s worth.

As for the samples? Pretty fantastic!

Here Piper samples a very tasty pink sprinkle donut – all vegan! She didn’t actually sample too many things, but my son on the other hand, has become quite the adventurous taste tester lately! He tried everything from cucumber pineapple juice to chickpea curry and lots of stuff in between. And he had a good attitude about it, too. (We’re still working on sister – but in the meantime, vegan donuts and ice cream samples it is!) There was also this AMAZING saffron pistachio smoothie stuff that I MUST find. So good….

At one point I was walking down an aisle with Indian food samples on one side and the Vitamix demonstration on the other and I realized I was sandwiched in. We were NOT moving. I should probably mention that I’m a bit claustrophobic. Crowds aren’t usually a trigger for me, but at that moment, I knew it was time to get out. Thank goodness for the kind lady who must have read the panic on my face! She leaned over and asked, “do you want me to get you out of here?” and I said, “yes, please!” and just like Moses’ staff, she parted the Red Sea of the VegFest craziness so my kids and I could make it out unscathed. (Thank you, kind lady!)

All told, we only spent an hour in there. I could’ve spent longer, but having the kids with made for a harried experience. (Those with small kids know what I mean.)

The best part was the coupon and sample loot I ended up with:

The So Delicious booklets were my favorite – they contain $8 in coupons each! I also found a RARE Daiya coupon. I do have a couple concerns about some of the coupons, though: 1) will I even FIND half of these items at stores near me? and 2) some of these companies are really small and may not be used to coupon campaigns. One coupon reads “store coupon” on it, when it’s clearly a manufacturer’s coupon. Another coupon had NO barcode, just a series of numbers for the cashier to key in. Could make for some spicy checkout experiences.

After we left my son insisted taking a picture by the Chinese lion statue. I told Piper to strike a pose.

And then of course, my kids got to walk back through the water fountains.

Because my kids were such sports, I took them for a treat at the Starbucks afterwards. We sat down so they could enjoy their snack. And then my daughter announces VERY loudly “I have to make a poop!” Few things strike fear into the heart of a mother quite like those words uttered in a public space. So it was a quick pack up the snack and hurry to make it to a restroom. After that little pit stop, I decided we’d had enough fun for one day and it was time to go pick up Daddy from the fire station.

It was then my daughter decides this was NOT how she wanted to spend her time in Seattle. Maybe she’d tried one too many healthy juices or granola bars, but she decided this was NOT a fun day. Her idea of a fun day would’ve consisted riding up and down the Space Needle at least a couple times and paying a visit to the Children’s Museum and then chasing pigeons around the fountain or something. I am sure I got more than a few looks as I pretty well ignored her little crying meltdown and worked our way to the car.

Oh, but not before I insisted we take a picture to commemorate Mommy’s bravery for hauling the two littles by herself to the Seattle Center, to a vegetarian festival, no less.

So would I go again? Probably, yes, but I wouldn’t bring the kids and I’d try to get an earlier start. Oh, and I’d bring my husband and make him drive. That drive to the I-5 entrance from the parking garage was torturous.

Incidentally, Terry was curious if the VegFest would basically be a bunch of hippies with dreadlocks banging on drums. I assured him that no, that’s the FolkLife Festival, which doesn’t happen until May. (I’m thinking I should just go ahead and mark my calendar for that now as vigorous drum beating would no doubt fall under Piper’s definition of a “fun day.”)

I’d love to hear from you. Did you go to VegFest this weekend? What other fun food festivals do you look forward to attending? Ever find some great coupons or samples at food festivals?


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Five Common Couponing Pitfalls and how to avoid them

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There’s a saying that goes something like this: “mistakes are our greatest teachers.”

As I was reflecting on my couponing journey a few days ago, it occurred to me that so much of what I do now that’s RIGHT was the direct result of getting it WRONG somewhere earlier along the way. It can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement of couponing that you miss the bigger picture – and the subtle pitfalls that’ll get you if you’re not paying attention. In an effort to amuse you spare you some of the same mistakes, I thought I’d share a few pitfalls I’ve encountered.

Pitfall #1: Overspending.

Sure those coupons save you money on this transaction or that shopping trip, but guess what happens if you don’t mind your overall grocery budget? Yes, you can overspend! This may seem counter intuitive, but it is entirely possible to spend more than you were before coupons if you don’t pay attention. You are particularly susceptible to this when just starting out, getting gung-ho about snatching up every deal and building your stockpile.

How to avoid this pitfall: Make sure you set and stick to your grocery budget! Consider using my free Savings Tracker to see exactly how much you spend and save in a given month. Try to focus most (if not all) of your shopping on one day a week, and limit the number of small deal gathering trips you do each week. Those $5 and $7 trips can really add up if you don’t pay attention.

Pitfall #2: Letting coupons tell you what to buy.

One of the advantages of using coupons is that you may get to try products you wouldn’t have otherwise – for free and sometimes, better than free. But be careful thinking that you must use every coupon. It’s not a deal if it’s going to sit in your pantry and no one in your family will touch it.

How to avoid this pitfall: Plan your meals weekly and look for stock-up deals that truly matter to you and your family. Don’t feel bad letting coupons expire – even high value coupons. You can share them with friends or send them to overseas military who can use them up to 6 months past expiration dates.

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“HELP! My coupon binder was stolen!”

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Last night, reader Anita left this message on The Coupon Project Facebook wall:

The ULTIMATE tragedy has struck…. My coupon binder was stolen out of my vehicle on Friday. And Yes, i actually cried over it! What is this world coming to? I’ve couponed for 3 years and never leave my home without my 3″ overflowing binder. I had to pay full price on everything I purchased this weekend – that was painful. I’m so bummed and lost without it. Any suggestions on how to rebuild? Better yet, anyone have any inserts from the last couple of weeks?
The Coupon Project- What would you do if your binder was stolen?

Anita, let me offer my condolences! Putting a coupon binder together requires a lot of time, care, and love. I imagine part of your upset wasn’t that you just had the coupons stolen – but that the work you’ve done to carefully save your family money was taken away. Your tears are understandable.

I wanted to share this in a post today because unfortunately, I’ve heard of this happening before. I have a few ideas for rebuilding your binder, but I also wanted to give readers who have “been there, done that” a chance to offer their tips and advice, too. (And maybe a virtual hug!)

Rebuilding your Binder

Tip #1. Buy something cute. If I were to lose my binder, I’d definitely be upset. So in order to look for the silver lining, I’d look for a new binder in a bright color or fun pattern. Something that would lift my spirits, or give me a positive new outlook. This is an opportunity to start fresh, so give yourself something pleasant to look at. I’m afraid if I bought the same kind of  binder, I’d be feeling even more the weight of having to start all over. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune – consider Target (which usually has sales & coupons) – or a store like Fred Meyer. If you’re a Rewards customer, you likely just got a 40% off any one stationery item in the mail!

Tip #2. Build a “wish list” of coupons. I would also begin to think – what are the coupons I frequently reach for in my binder? The ones that make a dent in my budget? Write them down! Instead of feeling like you have to come up with a binder full of coupons overnight, consider the ones you most need/want – right now. Then begin to tackle your list. Some ideas for getting the coupons you need, fast:

  • Phone or write the manufacturers. Explain that your insert coupons were stolen and that you love their products and are missing their coupons the most. Can they help you?
  • Visit the manufacturers’ websites and/or try to locate printable coupons via a coupon database, such as the one at HotCouponworld. Try to fill in the gaps of insert coupons with great printables.
  • Ask your couponing friends & family! Remember, you might have better luck if you can be specific in what coupons you are looking for.

Tip #3. Shop at stores that offer low prices. Until your coupon binder is back up and running, why not take it as an opportunity to put your super shopper skills to the test? Check out a new store or two! I’d wholeheartedly recommend Grocery Outlet, for starters. They offer fabulous prices, plus they don’t take coupons – so you won’t feel like you’re missing out! Another store worth checking out is WinCo Foods for their bulk foods section.

Readers who have been through this before – what advice or encouragement would you offer? And if you’d like to reach out to Anita, you can find her message at The Coupon Project Facebook wall


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Finding your stores’ “hot spots”

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One of the benefits of shopping at the same stores frequently is you can begin to notice trends such as when items may go on clearance and where they are put in the store.

My QFC has a “discontinued/manager’s special” shelf near the dairy section. While there tonight, I scored big. Check out what I found:

The large cans of fruit cocktail were just $0.59 each (regularly $1.13). It looked like perhaps it was on sale because the “Healthy Kids” variety had been discontinued. Who knows? I also found a nice jar of canned mangoes for $1.29 and the smaller canned peaches were $0.49 each, half off as well!

A few notes about shopping in clearance:

  • Identify where your store(s) tend to put clearance. I usually find them on a back shelf, towards the back of the store. I have an Albertsons that likes to put clearance in shopping carts down the freezer aisle. My Fred Meyer often intersperses clearance items throughout each department, so I’ve come to learn where the bedroom clearance section generally is, and where I might find wicker baskets on clearance.
  • Identify when your store(s) tend to put items on clearance. Did you watch last week’s webcast? Christy shared that Target has a definite rhythm to how they clearance departments. If you note a particularly hot clearance sale, pay attention to the time of year. Sometimes you can identify a trend and be prepared for the next year! Never hesitate to ask your cashier or store manager for information, too.
  • Pay attention to expiration dates. On the cans I purchased tonight, some will expire in May of this year, so I didn’t go hog wild. Others were good through 2014.
  • Remember your coupons! In many cases you can use coupons on clearance items! This includes many Groupon offers for retail stores, too!
  • Plan ahead using seasonal clearance. Many of you took advantage of Christmas clearance sales and will be more than prepared for next year’s holiday season (which always comes around faster than you realize!). Last year I found Easter egg kits for $0.19, so I picked up a couple. You can also carry this principle to clothes and gift buying.
What other tips do you have for identifying clearance sales or markdowns at your store? Find any great scores yourself recently? Share!

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Greet your houseguests with stockpile goodies!

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My mother-in-law is coming to visit with us starting tomorrow and as I was cleaning the bathroom, I suddenly got an idea!

You know how when you stay at a hotel, they have items in the bathroom to make your stay a bit more comfortable – lotions, shampoo, soap? I thought, hey – why not do the same thing for my mother-in-law with some items from my stockpile? Check out what I put together:

The box I had from a gift I’ve received (yeah, I have no shame), and many of the items pictured were pennies, free, or better than free with sales and coupons! I love how couponing can help you make someone else’s day brighter without breaking the bank! The blanket I’d picked up from Fred Meyer’s Black Friday sale for just $3.99.

I then just included a simple card to tie it all together! (And of course, I cleaned the bathroom, which is always a bonus around here.)

I thought I’d share this idea with you in case you have out-of-town guests you are entertaining!


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Progress report: my bread making skills are improving!

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If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I’ve struggled with making food with yeast.

I wrote about my best attempt in 2010 in a post entitled Yeast: My Nemesis no More.

This bread worked…sort of. But it was a bit dense and flat.

Even if yeast wasn’t entirely my nemesis, it was still a bit of a bother.

You might recall my dismal attempt this fall to make French Bread.

What I ended up with was a paddle without the holes.

Well, I was out of bread this weekend and I was inspired by reader Amanda’s clear instructions on how to make Amish bread. I took a deep breath and gave it a go.

Ready to see how I did, on my third try making bread by hand?

Yeah, I impressed myself. It actually looked mostly like bread this time! And it smelled…delicious!

It even sliced mostly like sandwich bread…

And I was even able to turn it into a grilled cheese sandwich for my daughter! It’s actually very tasty bread!

I learned a few things through following Amanda’s MOST helpful instructions and on this latest try, but the most important being this:

GIVE IT TIME. I think this is the key! In the past, I’d read and followed the instructions to a T. So if it said, let the dough rise for an hour, I’d give it exactly that amount of time. Worry more about how the dough is looking than what the recipe says. For this bread, I found I actually needed to give it a full two hours for the first rise. I think I needed to have given it another 15-20 minutes to rise in the loaf pan and it would’ve been perfect.

I’m certain that with another 2-3 tries I’ll have this bread making skill finally under my belt!

Is there a recipe that you’ve been working to master? Do you make your own bread from scratch like this?


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Allrecipes

20 Meals I like to make from my pantry

Allrecipes

We’ve been eating from our pantry a lot recently. When it really comes down to it, chances are there is something for dinner! I thought I’d get a post going sharing some of the meals I’ve discovered I can make on the fly, with very few ingredients. These aren’t recipes per se, but meal ideas to get you going! (But if I’ve previously shared a recipe, I’ve linked to that.)

The idea here is to be deliberate in your planning. Have you ever taken the time out to assess what’s in your pantry and what meals you might easily be able to make at a moment’s notice?

Spaghetti
Pasta + Sauce + Hamburger (or not)

Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese
Elbow Pasta + Cheddar + Butter + Milk
(I like to broil once assembled for a nicely browned top)

Chicken Parmasan
Chicken Breast + Egg + Breadcrumbs + Parmasan + Sauce

Meatballs
Hamburger + Breadcrumbs + Minced Garlic + Egg + Salt/Pepper
(These can then be used for spaghetti, or sweet ‘n sour meatballs, or sandwiches)

Meatloaf
Hamburger + Dried Onion Soup Mix + Ketchup + Egg

Barbecue Chicken
Chicken Breast + Prepared Barbecue sauce + Bread/rolls/potatoes
(I boil the chicken, then shred, and add sauce)

Chili
Canned tomatoes + Canned beans + onion + garlic + cumin + chili seasoning + hamburger or chicken + any other veggies I have
(Here’s a recipe I made for chicken chili – so good!)

Breakfast Casserole
Eggs + Sausage/bacon + Bread + Cheese
(I’ve written about this delicious dinner before!)

Breakfast for Dinner
Eggs + Toast + Fruit

Stir Fry
Veggies + Meat on hand + sesame oil + soy sauce + cashews

Soup & Sandwiches
Bread + Cheese + Tomato Soup (or canned chili, cream soups, or whatever’s on hand)

Sausage and Potatoes
Rope Sausage + Potatoes + Milk + Butter + Sour Cream
(I like stocking up and freezing the Hillshire Farm sausage when it goes on sale!)

Roast Chicken
Whole fryer + onion + celery + salt/pepper/basil
(Here’s how I make roast chicken and then soup with the leftovers)

Quesadillas
Tortillas + Cheese + anything we have on hand that would work – tomatoes, chilis, diced chicken + salsa

Taco Casserole
Tortilla Chips + Hamburger + Taco Seasoning + Sour Cream + Cheese + Tomatoes

Chicken Fajitas
Chicken Breast + Cumin + Lime + Garlic + Peppers + Onion + Tortillas

Hamburgers
Hamburger or Ground Turkey + Cheese + Buns/Bread

Homemade Chicken Nuggets/Strips
Chicken + Egg + Honey + Crushed Cereal (such as Rice Krispies) + Breadcrumbs + Salt/Pepper
(I actually do have a recipe posted for this!)

Stuffed Chicken
Chicken + Cheese + Ham + Egg + Breadcrumbs + Butter

Shepherd’s Pie
Ground meat + potatoes + broth + sour cream + lots of veggies (carrots, onions, peppers)

Bonus idea – 
Eat something from the freezer!

Two Resources that have helped with meal planning

There are a couple other resources that have helped in the meal planning department:

1) Create a family recipe book (mine is pictured above). In this book I’ve made a list of some of our favorite recipes, recipes from friends, print outs from magazines and cooking sites. The idea is that this book would contain your most cooked recipes to help on those weekends when you’re sitting down to plan your menu for the week.

2) Allrecipes.com. I mention this site a LOT and for good reason! You can search recipes by ingredients – did you know this? Simply input the ingredients you have (say, chicken and tomatoes), and you’ll find some inspiration!

Do you have any other “go to meals” you can make in a pinch from your pantry? Tips for making your own meals when you’re tempted to eat out or just phone the pizza guy?


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Six things we did to save on our Disney trip

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Of course the best way to save money on Disneyland is not going at all. Let’s face it: Disney is expensive. VERY expensive.

But for some of us? A trip to Disneyland is something worth saving and planning for. Disneyland has a very special place in my family’s history…

  • When my mom was a little girl, a nice man at Disneyland helped her onto the train. She later learned that it had been Walt Disney himself.
  • My first trip to Disneyland was during my mom’s pregnancy.
  • I have fond memories of Disneyland as a child – we always did it as a road trip.
  • My husband & I honeymooned in DisneyWorld in Orlando.
  • I completed the DisneyWorld Full Marathon in 2007 and my husband completed it in 2008 (I was pregnant with our daughter – and see the cycle continues).

Last month was our first trip taking the kids, and I wanted to share some ways we saved on our trip and some ideas for you, too.

#1 – We started planning early. We gave ourselves plenty of time to plan our trip. This meant we could focus on one thing at a time – first hotel, then airfare, and so on. Not only did this help us score deals, it gave us time to pay for it, too.

#2 – We did not stay in a Disney hotel. While I’m sure staying at a Disney hotel is a magical experience, I just couldn’t do the price! I ended up finding a fabulous deal on a local hotel through Living Social (watch the “Escapes” portion of the site). I estimate that we easily saved several hundred dollars by choosing this more affordable option. The hotel was also walking distance to the park.

Other ideas for saving on a hotel: watch Jetsetter. This is a daily deals travel site, and new customers get a FREE $25 credit. They offer some pretty competitive discounts on hotel and travel packages. And of course, I can always vouch for Hotwire. A couple of the nicest hotels I’ve EVER stayed at where found on Hotwire (and we did not pay top dollar, either!).

#3 – We bought our hopper passes at Fred Meyer. Not only were the passes slightly discounted over buying at the gate, we earned Rewards on them, too! From the research I did, you have to be really careful about any deal that looks too good to be true when it comes to Disney passes, such as buying from eBay or Craigslist. Mousesavers has some other information on saving on Disney passes, but I thought I was pretty clever with my Fred Meyer idea!

You can also buy Disney gift cards at your grocery store too! At Safeway and Fred Meyer you can actually earn gas savings with your loyalty cards.

#4 – We got $120 in FREE groceries with our airfare! Now this was a bit to sort through, but OH SO worth it! We knew we were going to be flying Southwest (we’d found the best deal there), so I ended up buying Southwest gift cards during an Albertsons gift card catalina promotion. The resulting purchase yielded me $120 in free groceries! I know that such a deal might not always be possible, but the idea here is to put your couponers’ hat on and get creative!

#5 – We didn’t rent a car. Since we knew we would only be visiting Disneyland, we decided we didn’t need a rental car. The shuttle fee still wasn’t cheap, but less than the cost of a rental car, gas, and parking.

#6 – We brought in some of our own snacks. You can bring a backpack into the park – so it made sense to me to bring some store bought water bottles and fruit snacks. i can’t even believe I’m admitting this, but I actually had saved a couple snacks from the plane! (Hey, they were perfectly fine, right?)

A final word. Now you might not entirely agree with me about this, but Disneyland is…well, Disneyland. We saved on the hotel, but we splurged on a character dining experience for our daughter. We didn’t rent a car, but we did let our kids pick out a couple special souvenirs. My husband and I went into it knowing that we would be spending some money, and we did. So this might not be the most frugal post I’ve ever written, but I also don’t want to misrepresent this and make it seem like “hey! you can do Disneyland for $50!” because I feel that would be a bit of… a fairy tale.

PS…I just have to share this because I thought it was so cool…but I ran into Crystal from Frugal Chic Living by the teacups in Fantasyland our first day there! It was actually my first time meeting her in real life. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get a picture, but you’ll have to take my word for it. (Crystal, maybe you can vouch for me if you’re reading this!)

Just prior to my trip, I posed the question on Facebook: “what are your best tips for saving on Disney?” and some of you had fabulous suggestions! I wanted to share a few of my favorites:

  • “Go to Vons.com and order groceries to be delivered to your hotel rm. like bottles of water, etc. They deliver for free if you have never used Safeway.com or Vons.com. Saved us a TON of $ since water is like $3 or $4 a bottle. We bought cereal and bread/sandwich items too. That way we only ate 1 real meal in the park” – Crystal
  • “We ate at Ihop more than once during their kids eat free times..” – Callie
  • “For snacks make sure you get the popcorn bucket because it has free refills and a souvenir container. Also, I pre-bought gift Disney store gift cards at Fred Meyers for my kids and then was also able to also get my points on the reward card so that was nice.” – Athena
  • “If you don’t mind sharing food, get the turkey legs! They are about $7, and a perfect meal for two, or a good sized snack for 3″ – Lyndsay
  • “For an evening break head to the California Lodge (Disney Hotel) for story time. Its free, and in front of the fire. Mom and dad can grab a drink (that parts not free) and you can all relax for a while in a cozy atmosphere (and your kids are the perfect age for the stories). Have a great time!” – Sia
  • “Also, t-shirts and things are very expensive inside the park, so buy some Disney paraphernalia beforehand and give to them while you are down there-way cheaper and kids don’t know the difference!” – Lindsay
  • “Do you have an iPhone or a Droid? The MouseWait app is an absolute must for accurate wait times” – Amy (not money saving, but TIME saving, yes!)
  • “Go online to the Orange county visitors page. We were able to print coupons for other restaurants” – Andrea (my note: also check your hotel’s brochure display. As we were checking out, I found at least two coupons we COULD’ve used – one for a free appetizer at Rainforest cafe. DOH!)
What other tips would you have for saving at Disney? Are you planning a trip yourself? 

UPDATED: We’re now planning a 2013 Trip to Walt Disney World! You might want to read these posts:


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Costco

FAQ: Is Costco cheaper than coupons?

Costco

I get many emails in my inbox everyday from you – and I’m frequently behind in getting everyone an answer. That being said, there are some questions that come up again and again. So every day through Friday, I’m going to be tackling a different FAQ.

Today’s question: Isn’t Costco a better deal in the long run than coupons?

My short answer: no.

By paying attention to store sales cycles and deals on Amazon, you can almost always best the prices you find at Costco. (And without having to pay a $50 annual fee!)

Some people may guffaw at this, so let me give you a real life example. Diapers. It seems people always think buying diapers at Costco is such a deal. Perhaps it’s because they come in a big box and you have to have an exclusive membership to shop there, so you think you’re getting a killer deal.

So here is Huggies Snug and Dry, Size 4 diapers according to Costco.com (and I know this price is consistent with what I’ve seen in stores before, too).

What you always want to pay attention to is unit price. In this instance, each diaper is $0.20.

I decided to compare this to the price on Amazon today (11/3 is the day I wrote this post).

Check it out: the diapers there (same brand, same size 4) are $0.19 each when you join Amazon Mom (free) and sign up for the Subscribe & Save service (which is a no obligation service). Plus, free shipping and no driving or membership fee for you!

I still think this isn’t a stellar deal, because I’ve seen diaper deals at the drugstores for as low as $0.10 a diaper. When you see a deal like that, you stock up. But at least this simple example illustrates that one can best Costco’s prices without too much effort.

But Costco Gives you Coupons!

To clear the matter up, Costco does not accept manufacturer coupons that you clip from the Sunday paper or print from a site like Coupons.com. However, once a quarter they will send a book of manufacturer coupons that you can redeem at their store.

So every now and then, I’ll have someone say “aha! see? Costco does take coupons!”

Hold the phone, Charlie.

Remember that the secret to couponing success is combining coupons on sale items. This means being able to shop around for the best deal to use your coupons on. When Costco issues you coupons for their products, they are controlling the show. They can change the price on those items to compensate for the coupon, should they choose.

Let me say this. I have left stores like Alberstons, Fred Meyer, and WinCo with a cart full of food for $20 or less many a time. I’ve never achieved this on a Costco shopping trip.

Costco is a Marketing Machine

I’ve written this before, and I think it’s worth saying again. Costco knows what they are doing.

Consider this. When you walk into Costco what is the first thing you see? Electronics. Now most of us aren’t going to buy a brand new TV on a whim, but chances are, you’ll take note of those TVs.

And while you don’t have $500 to blow on an unplanned purchase, you’ll next encounter other, much less expensive treats. In fact, the only way you can get to the grocery section is by walking through seasonal, books, toys, clothes, or other such temptations. These may be harder to resist.

So how is one to survive? I do have a few tips.

If you must shop at Costco, have a plan!

I know that in spite of what I say, some of you just like shopping at Costco, and I’m not about to tell you to close your membership. Heck, our family has a membership so you may on rare occasion even see my husband or I in there.

So here is my best advice about shopping Costco and avoiding coming home $200 poorer.

  1. Shop without a cart. This is perhaps the best advice I can offer. Bigger carts mean more room to put stuff in. Just go in an out for the baby formula or muffins you stopped in for.
  2. Shop with cash and a plan. Leave the credit card at home!
  3. Shop with limited time. You don’t want to browse at Costco. That’s like playing with fire. Stop in when you know you only have 20 minutes until your dental appointment. Make trips to Costco quick.
  4. Watch unit prices. As mentioned above, do break down the unit prices.
  5. Do not follow the path of the store! Do your best to not follow the path through the store that Costco has cleverly made for you. As soon as you go in, make a beeline for the groceries, avoiding the books, movie, and seasonal sections at all costs. If needed, wear horse blinders.
  6. Try Cash & Carry. This is a great alternative to Costco, if you have one in your area. They offer many of the same items, prices, and quantities as Costco and without a membership fee. While it is geared for businesses, I’ve confirmed with them that consumers can shop there as well. Please note that you can’t use personal checks there.

Concluding Remarks

You know what I find the most humorous? People often poo-poo couponers for buying 20 cans of soup at a time at the grocery store. This is surely hoarding, right? And yet, another shopper will stock up on 20 cans of the same soup and pay 50% more at Costco, but somehow this is considered smart shopping. This makes no sense to me.

I really think people have been conditioned to think that buying from a club warehouse is automatically a good deal. (Much like folks thinking that shopping on Black Friday means getting the best deal.)

Please don’t hear me say you need to run and cancel your membership post haste. I am saying, make sure to take a good look at what you are spending and saving by shopping there and consider other options as well.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a membership to Costco (or a store like Costco)? If so, what are the best deals for your family? Do you have any other tips on saving money at Costco?


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Organizing your memories: How to make a baby memory box

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Lately I’ve been doing some organizing. And not just the bathroom cabinets, either.

I’ve been spending some time going over the items that matter most to me – identifying them, and finding them a proper place in my house.

Today I want to share a simple solution I came up with for organizing my children’s baby items.

First, I made a small collection of treasured baby items for each of my children. Here are some of the items I collected from my daughter:

Ideas for what you could gather might include:

  • Special baby shower cards or baby gifts.
  • Going home outfit or other special outfits.
  • Hospital cap and bracelet.
  • Photos.
  • Baby blanket.
  • Baby’s first Bible or other special book(s).

Next, I picked up this cute cardboard boxes at IKEA. They were selling them in a 2-pack for just $9.99 and they had many colors.
I was finally able to get rid of some of the baby items today and feel OK about it. I’m pretty sure we’re done with kids, but there’s something about finally giving away all those baby things, isn’t there? Maybe some of you can relate to this.

Here’s how my daughter’s closet looks at the moment. I put both her and brother’s baby boxes in there, but I’ll move his box to his closet once I clean it out.

This was an interesting organizational project. I’ll warn you right now: you might feel strangely sentimental or even teary if you decide to undertake this project.

But I also felt relieved. See, I’m massively behind in assembling my daughter’s scrapbook, and I felt this simple act of organizing her baby things made me felt like I was doing something to preserve those memories until I can get to it. This may also be a good option for those of you that are feeling guilt about not having done a scrapbook. This may be a simpler solution to that!

I’m also in the process of organizing our family photos and my children’s school memories, so I’ll have to make sure to post about those projects when they’re done, too.

Do you have a baby box like this? How have you organized your children’s important babyhood items?


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Coinstar Coins & Coupons Event Recap: It’s all about the no-fee options!

Today I wanted to share with you a recap of the Coins & Coupons event I did with Coinstar and a few lucky Coupon Project readers.

To demonstrate how convenient and easy it is to stretch your coins at Coinstar, five winners were randomly selected to join me at Albertsons. Each winner was able to invite a guest and each participant was given $40 in coins. We then all got to redeem these for Albertsons gift cards through the in-store Coinstar kiosk. After that, we went shopping (of course!), stretching our coins even more by shopping sales and using coupons.

Here are some highlights:

  • Coinstar offers no-fee options! Many people are familiar with Coinstar – dump the coins in and you can redeem for cash. However, there is a 9.8% fee assessed for this service. But did you know that you can redeem your coins for retailer gift cards through the Coinstar kiosks, too? And, when you select this option there is NO FEE! You get 100% value of your coins for retailers you know and trust including Amazon, Lowe’s, iTunes, Overstock and more.*
  • Coinstar is offering a Ginormous Fill-up Contest. Right now, when you cash in $10 or more at your local Coinstar machine, you can be entered to win many great prizes, including free groceries for a year! Learn more about the Ginormous Fill-up Contest at Coinstar.
  • Coinstar can easily fit your lifestyle! If you already have a jar of coins left over from your shopping trips, how easy it is to exchange them for a gift card every few months to help out with your grocery or holiday shopping?
  • Watch for special offers. When you’re at your Coinstar kiosk, make sure to see what current offers are available. Sometimes these offers will stretch your coins even more.

* Retailers may vary by location and are subject to change at any time. You can also see what offers are available at your Coinstar location.

For more on how this event went, check out the video that Coinstar assembled below! In the video, you’ll see me share more about Coinstar and how the no-fee options work, as well as hear from some of the Coupon Project readers that attended that day.

Ready to learn more about Coinstar? You can visit them online to learn about all their free coin counting options, find a Coinstar location near you, or set up a free Coinstar account to track your coin redemption. I also encourage you to follow Coinstar on Facebook for updates on promotions and giveaways.

Thanks to Coinstar for sponsoring this fun event, and thank you to all the readers that took time out of their day to join me! A final thanks also to Kendra, manager of the Milton Albertsons, for allowing us to have the event at her store. Much appreciated!

Disclosure: this was a sponsored event by Coinstar. All opinions expressed are my own.


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Making couponing fun for your kids (even the smallest ones!)

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Last week, I posed the question “how do you involve your kids with your couponing” to The Coupon Project Facebook friends.

I had also shared how my daughter plays “matching coupons” with me every Sunday morning.

One reader, Stacey, shared that her son actually has his OWN coupon binder – and he’s only two! I thought this sounded so cute so I asked her if she would send me a picture to share. She sure did!

Isn’t he so cute? I just love this idea and I might just have to borrow it, Stacey!

Stacey writes:

I don’t give my son real coupons to use because the ones that I don’t use at the store I either trade or send overseas once they expire. Instead, I let him look through sales ads of the stores I don’t have and let him point out the things he likes and I will cut them out for him.  I give him some markers and what not to play with so that he is entertain while I clip. He gets scrap booking scissors to cut paper, he doesn’t know how to use them yet but he has fun trying. I think he has a couple of coloring books in there too for fun!

No matter how old your kids are, it seems that there are always ways to include them with your couponing habit!

Thanks, Stacey!


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Teacher

How to teach a coupon class (post 3 of 3)

Teacher

I’ve been running a mini series on how to teach a coupon class, and today I’d like to conclude with some tips for creating an engaging presentation.

In case you missed them, you can read the previous posts:

It’s important to note that apart from visual aids, a nice handout, or a great powerpoint – those things are not the presentation. They should serve to enhance it. It’s really all about you and your ability to deliver an engaging class.

Diving right in

I mentioned this in my post on organizating your presentation, but it’s so important to capture your audience’s attention right off the bat. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience: what would catch your attention?

As a freelance copywriter, one thing I know is it’s all about a compelling headline. A well written headline gets you reading the rest of the ad, magazine article, or clicking through to the post, doesn’t it? I think of my introductory sentences much in the same way.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Share a personal story of how couponing has helped you.
  • Share a personal story of how you used to shop before you used coupons.
  • Share some misconceptions people have about coupons.
  • Share startling images – amazing receipts or shopping trips.
  • Ask a question of your attendees or some other ice breaker.

The goal of the opening few minutes is to “hook” your attendees and make it clear that you’ll be able to take them from Point A (new to coupon user) to Point B (ready to incorporate couponing into their lifestyle).

Keeping the presentation rolling

Here are a few tips I’ve learned through trial and error.

    • A little humor goes a long way. I love it when I can get my class attendees to laugh! It’s a good gage to know that they are listening and engaged. For instance, when I talk about why you shouldn’t be obnoxious at checkout, I often act out how a cashier must feel when an obnoxious couponer walks into her store (“oh, there she is again. I hope she doesn’t come in my lane…”). While your presentation doesn’t have to be a stand-up routine, I have found a little humor is excellent for keeping the energy high.
    • Please don’t read your notes. Remember, people came to hear someone teach, not to listen to someone read.
    • Move around. Don’t just stand in one spot or refuse to make eye contact with anyone. During the course of my class, I’ll walk to the screen to point at items, walk across the front of the classroom, walk to my table and hold up coupons, etc. Work on varying your body movements and not standing still the entire time.
    • Ask your attendees questions. Occasionally I’ll get a class that is…quiet. This can be disconcerting if I’m about to talk for two hours and I’m getting blank stares. If this happens, I’ll start asking my attendees questions. For example, I might ask where they have found manufacturer’s coupons at their store, what freebies they have found on Facebook, etc.
    • Repeat key concepts. It can be easy to get diving into all the ins and outs of coupons. Make sure you repeat key concepts at least a couple times. If you’re also using a Powerpoint presentation, make sure you’re reinforcing those points!
    • Let attendees know how you wish to handle questions. Do you want people to be able to ask questions at any time? Or save their questions for specially designated portions of the class? Remember: you are the presenter. Don’t allow endless questions to prevent you from getting through your content. I like to also offer up break times/before/after class to have folks come ask me their questions privately.

 

What other tips do you have for presenting a coupon class to a group? Or, have you attended a coupon class and have some insight as an attendee?

I hope you’ve found this mini-series helpful! Let me know if you have other questions on this topic.

Photo courtesy stock.xchng


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PrintHandouts

How to teach a coupon class (post 2 of 3)

PrintHandouts

Last week, I shared some tips for assembling a presentation for your coupon class.

Today, I’d like to share some of the steps I take to get ready for my coupon classes.

Know your audience

I make a point to learn the special considerations of my audience before I finalize my presentation. For instance, I’ve done a number of coupon classes for non-profit organizations. I always like to take the time to chat with the Executive Director or point person there to learn if there are any topics I should or should not bring up. It’s about being respectful, and about being relevant for your audience. 

Some questions you might ask ahead of time:

  • What are the prominent stores in the area of the class?
  • Which paper(s) are delivered to that area, and what inserts do they contain?
  • Does the group wish you to focus on certain topics? Avoid others?
  • Any special needs or circumstances for this group I should know about?

I recently took the time to ask these questions for a class I was preparing for and learned that one of my opening slides would have been completely out of touch with those attending, and worse, possibly hit a nerve! I was so glad I’d taken the time to listen to the needs of that particular group! If I would’ve upset folks early on, it’s possible that the rest of what I had to share would’ve been tuned out.

Know your Set up

It’s important to mentally prepare for the sort of class you’ll be teaching. I’ve taught classes where there were five people in a living room, drinking coffee. I’ve also taught classes of upwards of 100 people in a larger room, classroom style. Obviously I’d approach and prepare for these opportunities differently.

Some of the things I like to know ahead of time:

  • Do you have a projector I can use with my laptop?
  • Is this a big room? And if so, will I have a mic? What kind?
  • How many people do you plan on having?
  • Will the room be set up in tables, rows, or something else?
  • How long do you want me to speak, and do we need a break?
  • Will there be beverages/refreshments/etc? If so, will people be eating and getting up while you teach?

Knowing what to expect can help alleviate your stress.

Preparing Handouts

The simplest way to prepare a handout would be to take your Powerpoint presentation, go to print, and select the option for handouts.

When you go to print, select the “print handouts” option and choose the layout desired. In this way, you’ve streamlined your class, building your handout the same time you’ve built your presentation.

Other ideas of handouts you could provide to your classes:

  • Business cards for your coupon blog or coupon class business
  • Take-away tips from your presentation (perhaps with blanks for people to fill in or areas for notes)
  • A list of online and other resources for coupon users

I also like to hand out my Sales Cycles download. Incidentally, you are welcome to share this at your coupon classes, too (just tell them where you got it).

What to bring

I like to bring a wide assortment of visuals to go along with my presentation. I then ask the class host if I can have a table nearby to set everything up. Here are some of the things I’ve found most helpful to bring:

  • My coupon binders and organizers
  • Examples of different kinds of coupons, coupon books
  • Copy of the Sunday paper with inserts and ads
  • Examples of food, health & beauty items I’ve been able to get for free
  • Small items to be raffled off as door prizes

While the presentation illustrates most of my points, I have found it helpful to be able to pick up items as I talk. They have also been helpful during breaks or at the end if attendees wish to come up and chat with me and see my binders.

You might want to also think about bringing some water or hot tea to drink. I’ve run into a couple situations where beverages were not provided and let me tell you, my throat got dry!

I have found the more items I have on hand for my classes, the better prepared I feel to lead the class and address any questions that arise. They are also visual cues that help me through the presentation.

Next week, I’d like to finish this series by sharing some tips for an engaging presentation.

If you’ve been teaching coupon classes, I would love to know what other ideas you have to prepare? What other handouts do you provide or visuals?


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HowtoCouponPost

How to teach a coupon class (part 1 of 3)

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I got an email yesterday that I thought would be great inspiration for a post:

My question is that a lot of people at church have become interested and I have been asked to teach a class. I do have powerpoint capabilities, but no one around here is at the level of teaching coupon classes.  Would you happen to be able to help me with preparing for my first class? Thanks…and the video helped so much.

Well Michelle, I would LOVE to help you! I do think this is a meatier topic, so I’ll be breaking this out into three posts:

  1. Organizing your presentation.
  2. Getting ready for your class.
  3. Tips for an engaging presentation.

Setting the mood with an intro slideshow

After some trial and error, I now have two presentations.

My first presentation consists of photos of my trips, reader trips, and testimonials. This will play the 10-15 minutes prior to my presentation and give folks something to look at while they find their seat. The purpose is to also 1) create energy and 2) demonstrate that this can be done.

Here’s an example of one of my slides:

If you don’t want to go this route? I would suggest having some sort of visual for people when they walk in. Perhaps it’s a table of items you’ve gotten for free, a poster board of your best receipts, something. Create excitement for your class the moment the attendees walk in.

How I organize my PowerPoint Classes

I always try to start my classes with some “attention grabber.” Here are some of the different things I’ve done before:

  • Shared my own story about how I got into couponing.
  • Shared some startling statistics about coupon redemption increases.
  • Shared a list of items I’ve been able to get for free using coupons.

Don’t ease in, start in with a punch!

From there, I’ve learned that folks really like to know what’s going to be on the agenda, and the order of the class. This will also prevent people from asking questions that precede your content. (If you click on the image below to enlarge it, you’ll see exactly what is on my agenda!)

It’s easy to jam pack your coupon class with a lot of information, so do work to create slides that have simple, short statements on them. This slide appears very early on in my presentation. I want folks to get the main point of my presentation early on. I reinforce concepts like these multiple times throughout my presentation.

From there, I go into stockpiling. I like to provide a high-level perspective before getting into the nuts and bolts of stacking coupons or rolling Catalinas. Start with simple concepts first.

After stockpiling, I describe the various kinds of coupons you can find, and where to find them. Here is where a Powerpoint presentation is so handy: you can include visuals! Consider taking photos of your coupons, coupon binder, stockpile, trips, and other things you can use to illustrate your points. It’s easier for people to see an image of a coupon up on an overhead screen than just have you hold it up.

At this point, I talk about organizing coupons, and I share a few slides on different methods. After that, I have a bathroom break. I literally have a slide in my presentation for this – it’s a visual cue to take a break.

After the break, what happens next depends on how much time I have. If I have a two-hour class (typically), I will dive into how to shop at drugstores and grocery stores, store sales cycles, tips for finding deals, how to shop when there are no coupons, and I like to finish up on coupon etiquette.

One thing I really like to do with my presentations is to illustrate key concepts. So after I’ve discussed how mix and match sales and loss leaders work, I share this post:

If it’s a shorter class, I may omit some of the more complex concepts, like how Register Rewards at Walgreens work. One thing you can do if time is of the essence is to supplement your presentation with handouts. I also direct folks back to my blog for more in-depth posts and recorded webcasts.

3 Tips for using Powerpoint

I know I’ve spoken more today on how to organize your Powerpoint presentation. But let me provide just a few software tips too:

  • Powerpoint has many design templates to choose from! You can change the entire look of your slide show with a mouse click. Just make sure your design enhances your visuals and isn’t a distraction from them.
  • You can change the layout easily. Try varying your slides – some with pictures, some without. Create visual interest.
  • You can easily sort the slides. If you are not sure how you want to organize your presentation, here’s a tip. Just create all the slides you want. Then, you can view them in “slide sorter” mode and drag and drop the slides until you have the correct order.

Finally: Be open to feedback!

I am continually tweaking my presentations to make them feel more natural to me, and more helpful to the people that attend.

I recently received some feedback from class attendees on how I could improve my presentation. While it’s never fun to hear your presentation wasn’t 100% perfect, feedback like this is so valuable because it makes it better. In fact, I was able to test out the new tweaks for a coupon class last week and I have to say – I think the feedback from the past attendees was right on the money.

If you plan on doing more coupon classes, or you are already regularly teaching classes, ask for some honest, objective feedback. You could do this by asking trusted friends in attendance, or via an anonymous survey.

Up next: what things should you do to get ready for your class?

PS If you haven’t seen it already, I have a recorded webcast for you on How to teach a coupon class.

 


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The Russell Family Crafting Hour: Newspaper Menus

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So often, I hear people complain: “but after I’ve gotten the coupons out, what will I do with the rest of the papers?”

My answer: “you will craft.”

The kids and I started by clipping out yummy images of food from ads. We soon discovered Fred Meyer’s ads are pretty much awesome for this. Their ad from last weekend had a steak dinner, rotisserie chicken, blueberry cobbler and a cheeseburger the size of the Sears Tower.

Next you will glue these onto paper. We used both plain old computer paper and fancy construction paper.

At the end of it, you will have some wonderful, handmade menus for your restaurant.

When I asked my kids what they wanted to name their restaurant, my son immediately suggested Jake’s. I’m not sure why, since he doesn’t have any friends named Jake (that I’m aware of). Little sister much preferred the name Dolly’s. So, Jake & Dolly’s it was.

First, a quick trip to the market…

My daughter decided she would be the “cooker” and my son would play waiter. Here they are, getting the kitchen fired up.

Next, I helped round up some customers. You can imagine my horror when I found Mr. Trump…well, like this….

I tried to relocate his shoulder, but alas, it wouldn’t hold. So, after a quick amputation, we were back to dinner service.

The kids decided Mr. Trump wanted a very underripe pineapple for dinner. Here he is with his dinner date, Kim Kardashian Princess Jasmine.

Here is Jasmine, selecting some food from our menus – and in perfect plank formation no less.

The kids really know how to treat their customers well! No one leaves hungry at Jake & Dolly’s!

So the next time you’re wondering what to do with leftover newspapers, you’ll know exactly what to do about it.


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Apocalypse

What if there was a coupon apocalypse?

Apocalypse

It seems like there has been a lot of doom and gloom lately. Mayan calendars, 2012, Extreme Couponing… *cough*

Over the past few months I’ve sensed this growing sense among the couponing community that The End is coming. So what if coupons went away altogether? I would like to address this today.

Coupons are one part of the equation

Just as you wouldn’t invest all your hard-earned savings into one stock, you shouldn’t just look to coupons for your savings. It’s all about diversification. Here are some ideas I came up, for starters.

  • Learn how store sales cycles work. The majority of the money I save comes from paying attention to what goes on sale, and when.
  • Learn to shop at a variety of stores. Have you ever checked out WinCo? Grocery Outlet? Have you learned how to shop at the drugstores?
  • Learn how to grow your own food. I’ve enjoyed about $30 worth of produce so far this month, all picked fresh out of my garden.
  • Learn how to adjust your diet. Can you make a couple dinners a night without using meat, for instance?
  • Explore other ways of saving money on food. I have readers who have bartered for food, cut back in other areas to save on food, and negotiate at farmer’s markets.  

The more creativity you can use in your savings strategy, the better. Don’t become too reliant on any one way to save.

Coupon Policies are ever-evolving

Do I think coupons are going away any time soon, or at all? No…I can’t say that I buy into that theory. But I do know that stores will and do change their coupon policies. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to know how to shop at a variety of stores.

Last week, I read this most interesting article about a coupon mom who was banned from shopping at WalMart for life. Surprisingly, her husband’s biggest fear? Was that he would get banned from WalMart, too. (Really?!) I think he needs to find a WinCo.

While I enjoy Albertsons double coupons, what if they went away? Yeah, I’d be bummed. I might even shed a few tears. But I wouldn’t quit clipping coupons over it. I would just find new ways to save. Remember when these went away:

  • Kmart $2 doubling events?
  • Albertsons accepting competitor coupons?
  • Walgreens rebate program?
  • Others?

Guess what. I am still saving money. I am still finding freebies and great deals.

Just like I say it’s good to be brand dis-loyal to yield the biggest savings, it’s also good to be a little un-biased when it comes to where and how you get the deals. Besides that, aren’t smart thinking and flexibility hallmarks of couponers? I think so.

What would you do if coupons went away?

Photo credit Lucassen Emmanuel


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Thriving in the Land of No Doubles

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Image: my own. Petunia found growing in my driveway.

One of my most trafficked posts at the moment is How Albertsons Double Coupons work. I am also getting an influx of questions about which stores double in our area, and why no one doubles coupons in our area. Let’s chat about this, shall we?

First, let me officially welcome you, my friends, to the LOND (land of no doubles).

With the exception of Albertsons, stores in our area don’t double coupons. They just don’t. So does this mean couponing is a waste of time in the LOND? Or should we pack up the kids and drive South and stockup? My advice: let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Saving money in the LOND

Guess what? I’ve only ever couponed in the LOND. And I’ve had some pretty crazy shopping trips, including a few where I owed exactly nothing or made a profit after coupons and rebates. Here are some of the ways I’ve found great deals, no doublers:

Get to Know your Drugstores. If you don’t shop at drugstores, consider it. I have made some of the biggest dent in my budget by shopping drugstore sales for items such as cosmetics, toiletries, body wash, diapers, and household cleaners. If you’re new, you might want to watch my webcast called Drugstore Shopping 101.

Follow Store Sales Cycles. You can still save a killing by just buying items when they go on sale. Use coupons on the sale items (if you have ‘em), and you’ve got a winning combination. While you may not get items as free quite as often as in other parts of the country, make no mistake: there are still good deals to be had! I particularly like to watch for mix & match sales and promotions.

Watch for Loss Leaders. A loss leader is pretty much what it sounds like: a deal that the store leads with (so often found on the front page of an ad) to get you in the door. It may even be a potential loss for them in hopes you’ll buy other items at the store. These items are often in keeping with the season.

Find great “go to” stores. There are other ways to save money beyond couponing. Get to know – really know – the stores in your area. In my area, Summit Trading is a great place for cheap produce, and they always offer a “free coupon” item on their website each week. WinCo Foods is a great place to buy spices in bulk. Tacoma Boys Markets is a local store that often shares hot deals only with their Facebook “likers.” Some stores may accept coupon overage to drive down the cost of your other items. Take some time to assess all the shopping options for your area.

Keep an eye out for High Value Coupons. I’ve been told that while our stores may not double coupons, the value of the coupons we get in the LOND may be higher. Plus, in the past year or so we’ve seen some really great high value coupons on Facebook. I’m also a fan of sites like www.rightathome.com, Vocalpoint, and Kraft First Taste for getting free coupons in the mail. While these are just a few coupons here and there, they can make a nice addition to your coupon stash!  

What other advice do you have for saving money in the LOND? And if you do live in an area with lots of stores that doubles, I’m curious to hear your thoughts, too. Is the grass really greener on the other side? What do you think it would be like to coupon in the LOND?


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How to stock up on coffee at Cost Plus World Market

CostPLus

Do you shop at Cost Plus World Market? I recently discovered this gem of a store. It’s got a little bit of everything: home decor, wine, snacks from around the world (my favorite part!), and….coffee.

Reader Annie recently took the time to email me step-by-step directions on how she shops Cost Plus World Market to stock up on coffee. I found her post so in-depth and helpful that I wanted to share this information with you, so you’ll be ready for the next sale like this they have. Ready?

Step One. Become a World Perks Member if you aren’t already. You can do this in-store or online. (If you take the online route, there is a $10/$30 printable coupon available to print!

Step Two. Understand how to leverage your member account. Annie explains:

1) As a world market perks member when you buy 6 bags of 12 oz or more [coffee] you get 1 free bag of 12 oz or more.
2) Every Wednesday its 2 points for every 1 bag (thus it turns into buy 3 and get 1 bag free)
This is important for 2 reasons. 1) the buy on get one sale (I’ll get to that) and 2) when you cash in on your free bag make sure to do so on a Wednesday whenever possible – you still get the points.

Step Three. Wait for a “buy one, get one free” sale. Annie shares that this seems to be happening roughly once every three months or so. I’ll do my best to notify you when I see one coming! The sale looks like this:

Apparently, you won’t get points for the “free” item. But if you shop on Wednesday, it’s double points day! That means you’ll get 2 points for each bag you pay for. If you have a $10/$30 coupon (such as the one I mentioned available online), the deal gets sweeter. Here’s Annie’s breakout:

Buy one, get one Sale : Generally Coffee is $5.99 a pack – so this goes to $2.99 a pack
Buy on Wednesday : Buy 6 and pay for 3 – get free pack – so 7 packs for $17.97 or $2.58 a pack
Better – Buy 18 – Pay for 9 – get 3 free packs – use each one on a Wednesday – get one more free – thus pay for 9 and get 22 so $53.91 or $2.45

Step Four. Get there early! Anne says that the last time she did this sale, others knew of it too. She asked if they had more stock in back, and they did! Here is what Annie did:

Buy 12 bags – Pay for 6 – $35.94 – Use $10/$30 coupon – $24.94 – 12 Bags plus 2 free so $1.83 a bag.

Are you following this? She did the “buy one, get one free” sale, used her $10/$30 coupon, and earned 2 free additional bags since it was double points day. (Remember each 6 bags you buy, you earn 1.)

Step Five. If you don’t want to shop in-stores, you can do a similar deal online! Annie has also done this online, particularly when there isn’t a $10/$30 coupon available to use. I think even with a coupon, doing this sale online may be a great alternative. Plus, stock may not be such an issue.

Here’s the crazy deal Annie got:

2 World Market® Breakfast Blend Coffee, 12 oz. FREE
2 World Market® Breakfast Blend Coffee, 12 oz. 11.98 (total)
1 World Market® Mocha Java Blend Coffee Size: 12 OZ. FREE
1 World Market® Mocha Java Blend Coffee Size: 12 OZ. 5.99
2 World Market® French Roast Coffee Size: 12 OZ. FREE
2 World Market® French Roast Coffee Size: 12 OZ. 11.98
2 World Market® Vanilla Bean Coffee, 12 oz. FREE
2 World Market® Vanilla Bean Coffee, 12 oz. 13.98
1 World Market® Sumatra Medium Coffee Size: 12 OZ. FREE
1 World Market® Sumatra Medium Coffee Size: 12 OZ. 6.99
1 World Market® Peruvian Coffee, 24 oz. FREE*
1 World Market® Peruvian Coffee, 24 oz. 8.79
3 World Market® French Roast Coffee 24 oz. FREE
3 World Market® French Roast Coffee Size: 24 OZ. 26.37
2 World Market® Italian Roast Coffee Size: 24 OZ. FREE
2 World Market® Italian Roast Coffee Size: 24 OZ. 17.58

TOTAL $103.66 (no shipping over $100 and no tax because its “food”). Point wise, Anne bought 30 bags, which means she earned 5 additional free bags from doing this deal. Bottom line, when all is said and done, 53 bags of coffee at $1.99 each! You could certainly buy less than this, but Annie really wanted to stock up plus take advantage of the free shipping. Just make sure to do the math to ensure you’re maximizing your points and the buy one, get one free sale.

* Annie is unsure why she was able to include 24 oz bags in this deal. She isn’t sure if stores would have carried this size as part of the deal.

A couple final tips from Annie

Before you do a crazy stock up deal like Annie, take a couple of her tips to heart…

1) Try ONE bag first. Make sure you like World Market coffee before you buy 30 bags! Go on a Wednesday and get those double points! If you like it? You’ll be prepared for their “buy one, get one free sale.” It’s not a deal if you don’t like this brand.

2) You can only redeem ONE free coffee bag per trip. On the free bags you earn with your points? You can only redeem ONE at a time. So if you earn 5 bags, you’ll be making 5 trips. Anne writes she has had no issue going in, getting her free bag, paying nothing, and leaving. But it may be something to consider if your nearest World Market isn’t too near.

A HUGE, HUGE thank you to Annie for sharing her wealth of information! So now you all will be ready the next time we hear of this sale, right?

I would love to hear from any of you that have shopped this sale before. What tips/tricks would you add to Annie’s list? Or, do you have any other great insights on shopping Cost Plus World Market you can share today?


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Newbie Couponer Burnout: what it is, and how to avoid it

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Photo credit channah (stock.xchng)

Last night I posed this question to my Facebook pals:


Since I’m hearing this question from more of you, I want to address it today. It’s my goal to keep couponing from taking over your life or bringing you unnecessary stress. Couponing should be fun.

The Progression to Burnout

I thought I’d share a little bit about my own story, and the chain of events that lead to a near coupon burnout.

Phase One: I’m Confused. When my pal Kellie first showed me her amazing receipts and store trips, I was hungry to learn how in the world she did it. I wanted her knowledge, and I wanted it like yesterday. I put this unrealistic pressure on myself to learn everything right away. I remember sitting at her dining room table, with a Walgreens ad in front me. Nothing popped out. Nothing. What exactly was I looking for anyway?

Phase Two: Hey, this works! After about a week, I decided to do my first shopping trip. As Kellie instructed, I bought one item with one coupon. Hey, that was easy, right? So I decided to head to Albertsons where I proceeded to use many coupons. On that shopping trip, I spent $60 and saved $80. It was the first time I ever remember saving more than I spent. The early success was encouraging and I had a fire lit under me.

Phase Three: Consumed by Coupons. This is what you might also call the “honeymoon” phase of couponing. I remember frantically cutting coupons, getting in the car, heading to store after store chasing down every last deal. I remember reading about a money maker deal on Bayer one night and packing up the kids in the car – right away! – to head to Rite Aid so we could buy Bayer, which I don’t use. I would dream about barcodes, Catalina machines, and complicated transactions where I came out triumphant. My world was soon about shopping and couponing. I was saving a lot of money, but I was also spending quite a bit chasing down all those deals, too. In fact, I was surprised that my first month couponing I’d not really shaved any money off our budget, although I had managed to amass 2 to 3 times the amount of food and goods as normal.

Phase Four: Stop the crazy train, I want off! At some point, you just get exhausted going to store after store, chasing down deals, pouring your hours on blogs and forums so you can buy aspirin for $0.33 or frozen pizza for $1. At some point, you realize that there is something just as valuable – if not more so – than your money that you’ve been frittering away. Your time. After a few months of crazy shopping trips and hours spent organizing coupons I decided I either needed to find a more realistic way to approach this or I was about to quit. If this is you? Congratulations! You’ve reached the burnout stage!

Advice to Janine, and My Former Self

Janine’s question is one I could have asked myself a couple years ago. So how can you avoid the progression to burnout and enjoy the process of couponing? Listen to some great suggestions folks gave last night on Facebook.

I think the take away message? Start small and keep it simple! Know that there are lots of deals, and accept you can’t get every one. Give yourself a task: perhaps working on one part of your stockpile, learning how to shop at one store, or seeing what you can do with $5 each week. As your skills and confidence improve, expand it.

Don’t “feel the burn”

“Feel the burn” is a great phrase to describe effective weight training. But it doesn’t apply to couponing! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, find a way to step back and keep it simple.

Have you experienced coupon burnout? Have you avoided it?


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New Alberstons Coupon Booklet: Fresh Summertime Fun

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I got this Albertsons coupon booklet in my mail yesterday, and some of you have alerted me it’s in your local Albertsons stores, too. If your store doesn’t have it yet, they should as we approach Memorial Day weekend. Many of the coupons contained are manufacturer coupons, which means you could use them anywhere.

Here is the full list of included coupons. I’ve highlighted my favorites in red.

$3/$30 Grocery Purchase (store coupons; may only be included in mailer?)
$1/1 Kingsford Charcoal (manu; exp. 6/18)
$2/2 1-lb Albertsons Ground Beef (store; exp. 6/18)
$1/1 A-I Steak Sauce (manu; exp. 6/11)
$1/2 Dannon Yogurt multi-packs (manu; exp. 6/11)
$1.25/3 Ragu Pasta Sauce (manu; exp. 6/18)
Buy 5 Vitamin Water, get 1 Vitaminwater Zero FREE (manu; exp. 6/18)
Buy 5 Powerade ION4, get 1 Powerade Zero FREE (manu; exp. 6/18)
$1/2 Kool-aid or Country Time Drink Mix Containers (manu; exp. 6/11)
$2/2 Super Chill Seltzer Water, Tonic Water, Club Soda, etc. (store; exp. 6/18)
$2/2 20- or 24-pack Coca-Cola products (manu; exp. 6/30)
$2/2 12-pack Coca-Cola flavors products (manu; exp. 6/30)
$1.50/1 Neosporin or Band-Aid (manu; exp. 6/11)
$1/2 Wet Ones Wipes (manu; exp. 6/18)
$1/1 Schick Razor or Refill (manu; exp. 6/18)
$1/1 Playtex Gentle Glide (manu; exp. 6/18)
$1/1 Banana Boat Sunscreen (manu; exp. 6/18)
$3/15 Stockman & Dakota Premium Angus Beef (store; exp. 6/18)
$2/10 Homelife purchase (store; exp. 6/18)

This morning I took the time to organize my coupons. Have you ever seen my little coupon organizer? I wanted to share this quick tip with you, especially if you’re wondering how to keep all your store coupons organized. 


I had a bunch of store Catalina coupons laying around, so I added them to the appropriate section of my organizer. I also clipped the Albertsons coupons out of the Summertime booklet and added them to the Albertsons section. The rest of the coupons will go into my coupon binders.

I also use this organizer when I plan my trips. I’ll gather the coupons I need and place them in the section(s) of the store(s) I’m planning on visiting.

Don’t forget to check out my Albertsons post if you’re planning a trip! And we’re getting Twice the Value coupons this Sunday!


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StackCoupons

How to stack coupons (and how not to)

StackCoupons

When done correctly, stacking coupons can drive the cost of your grocery and household items down! Sometimes, you can even get items for free by stacking coupons. I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about how exactly this all works and seen some misinformation, so I wanted to take the time to explain further.

What “Stacking Coupons” means

As the term suggests, “stacking coupons” means using more than one coupon towards the purchase of the same item or items. Manufacturers coupons limit you to one coupon per item purchased. Therefore, the only “stacking” you can correctly do is using a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon, and NOT another manufacturer coupon.

Understanding the Difference between Store & Manufacturer coupons

In order to understand how to stack coupons, you will first need to know the difference between store coupons and manufacturer coupons.

Store coupons:

  • Are issued by the store – they are providing the discount.
  • Can generally only be redeemed at that particular store.*
  • Often let you buy more than one item with the coupon (the coupon will state a limit).
  • Can be found in weekly ads, mailers, in store, and occasionally, Sunday inserts or online (e.g., Target).

*Unless a store in your area accepts competitor coupons.

Manufacturer coupons:

  • Are issued by the manufacturer and read “manufacturer” at the top.
  • Can be used at ANY store that accepts manufacturer’s coupons.
  • Prohibit you to ONE coupon per item purchased.
  • Can be found in Sunday inserts, online, “blinkie” machines, tearpads, booklets, etc.

For more information on understanding the difference, please see these posts on identifying store coupons and identifying manufacturer coupons.

How to Stack Coupons

Let me illustrate with an example.

On the left you have a Walgreens coupon. This is a store coupon; Walgreens is providing this discount. It has the “W” logo on the top and reads “limit 3″ on it. You could buy up to 3 bags of Ricola for $0.99. Please note this doesn’t mean you have to buy 3 to get the $0.99 price. You could buy 1 or 2, if you’d prefer.

On the right you have a manufacturer’s coupon clipped from a Sunday paper insert. It clearly reads “manufacturer” up at the top and the fine print reads that Ricola USA will reimburse the retailer the face value of the coupon. The retailer in this case would be Walgreens. The coupon will specifically save you $1 when you buy 2 bags of Ricola cough drops. You must buy 2 to use this coupon.

To stack these coupons for the best discount, here is what I would do:

Buy (2) bags of Ricola Cough Drops
Use the store coupon to get $0.99 each
Use the $1 off 2 manufacturer coupon
You’ll pay: $0.49 per bag ($0.99 total)

Now technically you could buy 3 bags, since the store coupon allows you to. However, remember the manufacturer coupon will only save you $1 on 2 bags.

Buy (3) bags of Ricola Cough Drops
Use the store coupon to get $0.99 each
Use the $1 off 2 manufacturer coupon
You’ll pay: $0.66 per bag ($1.97 total)

As you can see, the second example (while completely within coupon policies) is just not as good of a deal as the first example.

A word about Albertsons Double Coupons

If you live in the Northwest and shop at Albertsons, you now should have an idea how Albertsons Twice the Value coupons work. It’s nothing more than stacking. You are stacking a store coupon (the Twice the Value coupon) with a manufacturer coupon of your choice.

For more on this topic, please read my post how Albertsons double coupons work.

Please don’t try this at home…or anywhere else!

Now that you know the correct way to do this, let me give you an example of what NOT to do.

Buy (1) Box of Pampers Diapers for $19.99
Use (1) $1/1 manufacturer’s coupon from the Sunday paper
Use (2) $2/1 manufacturer’s coupons from a coupon booklet
Use (3) $2/1 manufacturer’s coupons a friend gave you
And hope to pay: $8.99

You may not stack manufacturers coupons together towards the purchase of one item. It’s wrong, and please don’t try to explain to your cashier that the couponers on TV told you you could. The couponers on TV are using one manufacturer’s coupon per item (at least the ones doing it correctly).

While it’s not a great deal, you could however, do this:

Buy (6) Boxes of Pampers Diapers for $19.99 each
Use (1) $1/1 manufacturer’s coupon from the Sunday paper
Use (2) $2/1 manufacturer’s coupons from a coupon booklet
Use (3) $2/1 manufacturer’s coupons a friend gave you
And you’ll pay: way too much for diapers!

Some people think if they gather the manufacturer’s coupons from different sources that it’s OK. No it’s not. If you have two coupons that read “manufacturer” on them, you may not use them together. The only instance I can think of that might blur the lines is Rite Aid where, according to their corporate coupon policy, you are allowed to stack an in-ad “manufacturer” coupon with another manufacturer coupon.

Final Thoughts

My goal is to help you save money using coupons the correct way. I want you feeling confident at checkout, knowing your trips have been planned according to store coupon policies and manufacturer’s intentions.

If you are new to couponing, please check out my Coupons 101 and webcast pages.

Do you have any questions about coupon stacking that I can clear up for you?


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How to use the “print friendly” feature on my deal posts

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Today I asked my Facebook pals if they’d like me to add a “checklist” feature to my weekly grocery and drugstore posts. The result was overwhelmingly positive, so I’ll get to work on that.

In the meantime, some of them mentioned they were just copying and pasting the deals in Word. If that describes what you do, hold the phone. I’d like to introduce you to a little feature called “print friendly,” and you’ll find it on the bottom of every post here at The Coupon Project. (It’s that little green button on the right.)

When you click on it, a new screen pops up. It looks like this.

From here, you can modify what content on the page you want to print.

To remove images, click the “no images” box up at the top. Suppose this was one of my weekly matchup lists, you could remove the items you don’t want printed by clicking on them. When you hover your mouse over them, they will highlight yellow. Then “click” and that section is gone. Easy peasy.

From here, you can print, save as a pdf or email to your best buds.

Did you know you could do this?

In the next few weeks, I will work to make the drugstore and grocery lists even more functional for you to select and print. Stay tuned!


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Four secrets of couponing success

I’ve gotten quite a few new folks finding my site lately, and many questions about how exactly all this couponing stuff “works.”

Tonight, I thought I’d attempt to break down the basic principles of what’s happening when you hear of someone saving 70% or more on their grocery bill.

:: Combine coupons with sales. The secret to yielding the biggest savings is simply this: use your coupons on the best sale prices you can find. Suppose you have a $1 off rice manufacturer’s coupon. Because the savings is being issued by the manufacturer, you can redeem it at ANY store in your area that accepts manufacturer’s coupons. Let’s further suppose four stores in my area carried this item:

Store A. Rice Box $3
Store B. Rice Box $4.50
Store C. Rice Box $2
Store D. Rice Box $3

In this simple example, Store C would be your best bet. You’d pay just $1 after coupon vs $2 at Stores A & D or $3.50 at Store B.

Would you be surprised to learn that 60% of my savings comes from JUST paying attention to what’s on sale at the stores? The coupons are the icing on the cake, driving down my out of pocket cost. But just using coupons may not actually yield you significant savings!

:: Pay attention to store sales cycles. Did you know December is a good time to batteries? Or that January is National Oatmeal month and a good time to find deals on oatmeal? How about frozen food in March? Stores offer certain items at low prices at certain times of the year. Some of them will cycle around frequently (for instance cereal comes on sale every few weeks it would seem), where other items may cycle only once or twice a year. Pay attention to these cycles and you’ll have better success in determining when the items you want to have on hand will be their cheapest. The manufacturers generally oblige with matching coupons and you’ve got a win-win! You can download a FREE pdf I assembled of store cycles. Some of these are specific to the PNW. I update this list every year.

:: Stock up when you find a deal. When you’ve identified a great deal on items your family needs or uses, stock up. Please note that stockpiling is not synonymous with hoarding. Here’s the difference:

Stockpiling is aquiring items your family needs in quantities you can reasonably store and use before they expire. Hoarding is acquiring items regardless of whether or not your family will use them and in quantities you won’t reasonably be able to use before they go bad. (Quote: Angela Russell – that’s me).

Please note this may look different family to family. If you have a family of eight and go through 4 boxes of cereal per week, 32 boxes would be stockpiling. If you have a family of 2 and only rarely eat cereal, 32 boxes would verge on hoarding.

:: Gather multiple Sunday paper inserts. If you’re new, your first question is likely “where do I get coupons?” My primary source of coupons is the Sunday newspaper. I get four copies of the Tacoma News Tribune delivered to my door (I’ve got a great deal if you’re looking for one!). Four copies means I’m able to do the deal quadrupled over.

Let’s consider the example of the rice above. Suppose instead of just one $1 off coupon, I had four $1 off coupons. With rare exception, the coupon’s fine print indicate there is one coupon per purchase. Please note this is not the same as a transaction. Each item is considered to be a purchase. Therefore, I could do this:

Buy (4) boxes of Rice for $2 each
Present the cashier with (4) $1 off 1 Rice coupons
Pay: $4 total

I now will have four boxes of rice to take back home and put in my pantry. Grow your stockpile slowly over time like this, and you’ll find not only you’ve saved money, you’ve saved time because you won’t have to go shopping nearly as often.

Further Reading

I really want this to work for you, because it has for me. I launched this blog after only three months of couponing because that’s how fast I saw the savings come! I knew it was doable and I wanted other people to get the quick success I’d found too.

If you’re new, I have a few posts I’d love for you to take a look at.

Getting to know your Sunday paper. What do inserts look like, anyway? What am I looking for?
Common Sense stockpiling (webcast). In this recorded webcast (video), I share more on how to appropriately stockpile goods and how this is not the same as hoarding.
Starting a stockpile from the ground up. Got nothing in the pantry? Wondering how to start? This post is for you.
How to find coupons (webcast). In this recorded webcast, I’ll share some secrets on how to find and identify coupons.
How I organize my coupons (webcast). In this webcast, I share how I keep the coupons organized.
Making sense of coupon matchup posts. Did you know that every week, I help match coupons to store deals and save you time? This post tells you how to read these posts.

Want more? Please check out my Coupons 101 and Webcast pages.

(PS see the picture above? I actually made a PROFIT of $7 on everything pictured there. Read how. You CAN do this.)


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Fillmeup

10 Ways to Save on Gas

Fillmeup

Gas has been on my mind lately. (And no, this has nothing to do with a digestive product sale at Rite Aid.)

We’ve all seen the prices go up, so it seemed timely for me to do a post. After chatting with my husband and doing a lil’ online research, I’ve come up with a list of 10 simple ways to save on gas.

1. GasBuddy. This website helps you find the cheapest gas in your area before you head out the door. They also have a handy app for your phone.

2. Shop Fred Meyer. Did you know that when you make purchases at Fred Meyer, you earn “points” which you can then use to save $0.10 per gallon at the pump? You can redeem these points at Fred Meyer fuel stations or Shell! Head to their website for more information.

3. Costco. Costco often has competitive prices. I would just make sure that the price discount offsets any membership cost you’d have to pay.

4. Take the bus. If you commute to work, take a good look at what other options you may have, including taking the bus. Some employers may offer free bus passes or incentives for carpooling. If yours doesn’t, ask if it’s something they could consider doing.

5. Drive the speed limit. My husband shared this with me yesterday, and I’d never heard it before. Did you know that for every 5 mph over 60 mph you drive, it’s actually like paying $0.24 more per gallon? Apparently once you hit speeds over 60 mph, you lose fuel efficiency. Not only that, driving safely and within stated speed limits means no tickets, right?

6. Remove unecessary items. If you’ve been hauling around bricks for that brick path you want to build at your brother Bob’s house when you get a chance, you might want to think again. Carrying extra weight can negatively impact your mileage per gallon, too! Consider this a good excuse to get some spring cleaning done.

7. Keep your tires properly inflated. Have you ever tried riding a bike with partially deflated tires? How about bouncing a ball that’s not quite full of air? It requires more work, doesn’t it? Same goes for your car. Some recommend you check your tires for air every time you fill up with gas.

8. Don’t idle. If you must sit in your car and chat on the phone, don’t just let it idle. Try to minimize the time you car is sitting there, burning up precious gas money.

9. Keep your car’s maintenance up to date. Keeping your car running well through regular oil and air filter changes will help its fuel efficiency.

10. Ditch the car. There’s another reason I wrote this post. For about the last month now, my husband and I were down a car. While we ended up deciding we really did need a second car, those weeks made me really take a hard look at the trips I normally make.

Consider:

If I just want to get out of the house because I’m feeling cooped up with the kids, could we not take a walk instead of a drive?
Do we really need to get milkshakes at Dairy Queen, or could I make smoothies at home instead?
Does the errand at the post office have to be done now, or could I wait until I have the doctor’s appointment tomorrow to go?
Do I really need to get a “free” toothbrush at Walgreens today?

I think what I realized was many of the trips I make I could be consolidating better, or eliminating.

A word on hybrid cars. Admittedly, I am no car expert. I’m just a gal that likes to save a buck. But it would seem remiss if I didn’t at least touch on hybrid cars. Do they save you money on gas? Probably, yes. But buying a hybrid car (even with tax incentives), or heck, any car that gets better gas mileage just so you can save on gas may not make math sense (doing it for your own personal convictions is another thing though. I get that). Consider carefully what you are spending on gas each year, the cost associated in buying a new vehicle (purchase price, taxes, insurance) and weigh if it’s worth saving some bucks at the pump.

What are you doing to save on gas? Cutting back on your trips out? Trying to improve fuel efficiency? Or something else?

Photo credit Dimitri Castrique


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