Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Time to be Honest

I bit off more than I could chew. There. I said it. I can feel the pressure lifting . . .

Shall I share a little background? In typical Julie fashion, it's slightly long winded.

You might know that we are in a slightly odd stage in our married life. Usually you go to school before children, and often, before you are married. However, Jesse only recently (past 3 years) learned where his passion lies, and how he is gifted. So we are doing things backwards and doing the school thing married, and with 2 children. Overall, life is still fairly normal. But the biggest adjustment we've had to make has been our finances.

Some of you can relate I'm sure. Imagine trying to budget for a family of 4 when the Mom stays at home with the kids, and the husband works part time, and attends school full time. Yeah, it can create some problems. I'm not telling you this because I want sympathy, not at all! I'm just telling you what our daily reality is.

Thankfully, 5 years ago our church paid for us to go through Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. That course is one of the building blocks in our marriage. We will be forever grateful to Cornerstone Church for sending us through the class. We learned how to budget, live within our means, create a small nest egg and get rid of debt. We've been debt free for more than 3 years!

Now back to the family of 4 with a part time income . . . . going to school costs money. Living daily life costs money. Like I've said before, I jumped on the coupon wagon out of necessity. And I'm still on it because I'm saving more and more money each week. As I began to learn how to coupon, I saw a blogging niche I thought I could fill. Helping people match up coupons with good recipes. So many crazy couponers out there live off of $35 dollars a week, but they eat rice and beans and frozen casseroles. I couldn't do that! 5:30 is seriously one of my favorite times of my day. I look forward to the time I can start preparing supper almost every day. No lie. What can I say, I enjoy cooking.

So I thought I would give my hand at blogging for income. I wasn't expecting much, just a little extra cash flow would help. I started The Coupon Cook. And quickly realized that I bit off more than I can chew. I fully believe that I have the creative juices to run something like it. What I lack, is TIME. Jesse and I have been talking a lot lately about how we are going to make life work, where we can make cuts, how we can do it without taking out loans, etc. All the while, we are keeping in mind that our 2 young children are that: YOUNG! If these 2 kids are the only 2 we have, these next few years while Jesse is in school is it! I only have a few years to really pour into them and train them before they go off to school and start learning more about the world. (Yes I realize the training doesn't stop after age 5, but those first 5 years are HUGE for so many areas of development.)

So as I considered all of the ways I can contribute to my family income, I quickly saw that I'm not going to have time to do all of them, AND be the Mom and wife I need to be. Currently, I work super super part time for The Upstream Collective and the Skybridge Community. It's something I really enjoy being a part of. I also am hoping to teach group Spanish classes for children from our home this school year. Right now that involves getting out into the community, and networking with organizations that could put me in contact with interested parents and kids.

I plan on continuing to post on this blog about my couponing journey. I know a lot of people who are getting into it too so I hope I can be a source of help and possibly humor as I mess up quite a bit! But I am going to stop posting on The Coupon Cook. All 15 fans on Facebook will be disappointed I'm sure. :)

God has been pressing into me these past few weeks as I've tried to figure out ways to generate income from home. The biggest lesson I'm learning is that I really am in a prime place in my life to learn to trust God for my basic necessities. Where in the modern day American Christian church do we get to trust God for the basics? Hardly ever! We often times don't really act like we need God for much besides emotional pick me ups and spiritual hugs. God is there for that, but He's there for so much more-if only we'd let Him. So I'm going to be a good steward of the financial resources he has given us, and trust Him with the rest.

Ahh, my load feels so much lighter already.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Do I Organize The Coupons??

Yesterday we talked about how to find coupons. Today, we'll talk about organizing them. There are so many different methods out there, so I really can't tell you the best way. All I can do is offer a few suggestions, tried and true by other coupon moms.

  • The Binder- cut out ALL coupons and keep them in a binder. Lots of women buy plastic baseball card sheets to place their coupons in. Coupons are sorted by date so expiration dates don't get lost.
  • The Expandable-This is my current preferred method. I bought a small expandable holder at Wal-Mart and labeled each tab with the following: 
    • Breakfast
    • Frozen
    • Dressings/Sauces/Condiments/Jellies
    • Canned Items
    • Dairy/Refrigerated (Includes meat)
    • Beverages
    • Desserts/Snacks
    • Baking
    • Paper/Cleaning products
    • Baby Items
    • Restaurant/Retail/Other
  • The Box-This one is similar to the Expandable idea. I see women use these on blogs who have much more experience than me. So maybe as you save more and more coupons you have to keep them in a box. Who knows. Basically, with a box, you create dividers (use similar categories as above) and order the coupons front to back in each category. The ones that expire soon go in the front, the ones that don't, go in the back.
  • The Folder-This suggestion just came to me recently and I have to admit-it sounds smart! One woman doesn't clip ANY coupons, until the week she needs them. She keeps all inserts for a few months, and writes the date on each one. Then, when she reads a blog that says, "Use the 2/$1 from the 6/13 Smart Source, all she has to do is find that insert, cut out the coupon she needs and go get the deal. I might attempt this one someday.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Started in the Coupon Game-Part 1

I'm fairly new to the Coupon Game. And believe me-it IS a game. At least sometimes it feels like it.

There are times when I walk up to the cash register with sweat threatening to drip down my face because I'm not sure if I'll get Cruella DeVille, or Marge Simpson behind the counter. And even if they accept my coupons, what if I forget one? It's probably similar to how the US Soccer team felt when the referee disallowed their goal against Slovenia. They felt cheated. Coupons and World Cup soccer are in the same realm of importance right?

When it comes to couponing (yes, it's a word) I think getting started can be the hardest. It can feel overwhelming, especially if you start too big and end up running all over town to get every last deal. Don't do that. It's easy to feel like you have to, but remember this: the point of couponing is to SAVE MONEY. You are not saving money when you drive all over town to get each deal. Trust me.

Here are my recommendations. Remember they are coming from a rookie. Don't give up too early, and don't start out too big. I promise that in the long run, taking the time to learn how to coupon right is worth it. I'll be posting about this series for a few days so stay tuned!

Where Do I Get Coupons?
1. The Sunday Paper-My preference is to pay $1.25 a week for 4 days of front door newspaper delivery.  I don't have to drive anywhere to pick it up so I'm saving on gas.

Most Sundays, you will have coupons from 3 different inserts: Proctor and Gamble, Smart Source, and Red Plum.

2. Friends, Family, and the local Starbucks-If you are really cheap, you don't have to pay for the paper. Instead, you can ask your Yuppie friends and family if they can give you their inserts from the Sunday paper. This also works if you need more than 1 coupon, and you only have access to one Sunday paper.

I'm serious about Starbucks. Remember back to your single days of freedom when you had the money to pay for a Grande Mocha Latte. (Is that a thing? I don't do coffee . . .) How many times did you need to move someone's left over paper out of the way so you could sit down and read your O magazine? Stop by a Starbucks (or any coffee place) on a Monday morning and you're sure to find a few papers.

3. Dollar Tree-Some Dollar Tree's will carry the Sunday paper for: you guessed it- $1! This is hit and miss depending on your region so don't take my word for it.

4. Gas stations, supermarkets, Wal-Mart, Target-If you are brand new and just want to get started already, buy 1 paper at full price if you have to. This will help you have the right mentality about couponing: you can't always get ALL the good deals. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet.

Coming up next time . . . How do I organize all of those Coupons?

Red Plum and Smart Source Recipe Inspirations-7/11

To skip my commentary, scroll down to the recipes written in bold.

If you are like me, you might feel disappointed with this Sunday's coupon inserts. Each week I learn new things about the couponing game. Lesson learned-not every insert has a ton of food coupons that you will actually use!

I read an article recently about the top US cities for couponing. Apparently there are pockets of the country which have a larger number of Penny Pinchers than others. In the article, research shows that those who coupon actually spend $4 more per month than their non-coupon counterparts. What? So what's a tight wad to do? After all, if my only option for using coupons is to buy hearing aid batteries and Pepcid AC, what's the point?

This is where the bigger coupon lesson comes into play: saving money using coupons requires long term planning and organization. Each week, cut out any coupon you think you might use, either that week, or in the future. Some weeks, you'll cut out a lot. Some weeks, you'll find the "Refrigerated" tab is bursting at it's seams in the mini-expandable file, while all other categories are almost empty. Don't lose heart!

The trick comes from watching weekly sales. I may feel like I can't make any great meals based off of what's available from the Sunday paper's Red Plum and Smart Source insert. Put I'm thinking too small. I do most of my shopping at Hy-Vee and Aldi, so I wait until Wednesday to plan my weekly menu because Wednesday is when Hy-Vee changes their specials. There may be a sale for something that I have a coupon for from 3 weeks ago! Save those coupons! Sure, you may be well stocked on Yoplait yogurt cups right now, but in 3 weeks, you may not. The coupon will most likely still be usable,  and there may be a store sale for that yogurt. I'll say it again: Save those coupons!

Now, all that to say, some of you are part Penny Pinchers and part Yuppies.  I'll call this breed Pinchies. You enjoy the thrill of getting a discount, but you may have the means to pay for it at full price anyways, and some weeks all you have time for is the actual coupon clipping itself. You are the kind of person that can head to the store with a fistfull of coupons, and no real menu. That's ok! If this is you, then here is my recommendation for a few recipe ideas for this week:

**Note: All coupons mentioned below are from the 7/11/2010 Red Plum or Smart Source insert in your local  Sunday paper.

Going to a party?
If you are hosting a party, or headed to one and need a dish to bring, make the classic Little Smokies appetizer. Heat up some sausage links in a crock pot and drizzle a good amount of your favorite bar-b-q sauce. This week there is a coupon for $.55 off any 1 package off Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage links.   

From Scratch Items
For some reason, there is a fair amount of butter coupons this week. I also found a coupon for $.45 off any Daisy Cottage Cheese tub. Butter and cottage cheese. Butter and cottage cheese. What can you do with butter and cottage cheese?

Cottage Cheese Bread (Bread Machine recipe)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Add the ingredients to your bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer, and start. You can use up to 1/2 cup more bread flour if the dough seems too sticky.  

Cottage Cheese Pancakes 
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • cooking spray 
Combine cottage cheese, flour, oil, and eggs in a large bowl Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/3 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side. 

Amazing what you can do with cottage cheese! The pancakes could be a meal idea-every kid loves it when Mom says that it's "Breakfast for dinner" night!

Yogurt Parfaits 
Use one of the many Yoplait yogurt coupons to make a yummy parfait. Just add blueberries and granola, or your choice of fruit.

Main dish 
Use the HIllshire farm $.55 off any 1 package of Deli Select Hearty Slices Lunchmeat for this recipe:

Tortellini and Ham in Cream Sauce
  • 2 (9 ounce) packages refrigerated cheese tortellini
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup cubed fully cooked ham (cut deli meat into slices-works the same!)
  • 1 3/4 cups whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Dash of sugar
  • Dash of garlic salt/parsley combination
Drain tortellini and put back in pot. Stir in sliced ham, cream, butter, Parmesan cheese, sugar and garlic mixture; heat through. 
This would make it a heavy carb meal, but, you can also serve Rhodes Warm-N-Serve rolls. The coupon from this weeks insert is for $1 off.
Tomorrow I'll be posting recipe ideas inspired by Hy-Vee deals and coupon match ups. If I'm feeling brave, I might attempt another store. Any suggestions? What stores are your area that you need help matching up coupons with good recipes?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Caving In . . .

Well I finally did it. I went straight to Wal-Mart with no coupons and bought THREE items at full price.


It was just one of those days. My mind was lost in thought about many things, and I needed contact solution, as well as garbage bags. I've actually been running very low on contact solution for a few weeks. However, because I've been in coupon mode, I've waited to buy new solution until I could get it much cheaper. I mean, after you buy things at half price, it just feels wrong to pay full price. Am I right? However, I'd used and reused so many ounces of contact solution that my contacts were begging me to bite the bullet and buy a new bottle.

Honestly, I would have held out longer if our trash bags hadn't run out. I didn't realize how much trash I threw away until I found myself searching for the makeshift garbage bag everytime I went to the empty trash can.

This was a prime example to me of how us Penny Pinchers can easily get our panties in a wad. Couponing and saving money is about meeting the needs of your family. If you are trying to catch every possible deal out there, or refusing to buy a $4.38  item  that you need simply because you can't get it on sale, you're missing the point. I promise that your husband and children do NOT need a woman who is stressed out (or worse-nasty smelling-buy that deoderant!). They need a woman who is calm and collected. And in my case, tonight I needed to be that woman who bought the $2.28 hair gel (finally) just because I wanted it. I've been out of hair gel for over a month. My husband likes it when I take care of myself. So you know what? Buying the hair gel that wasn't on my list was a good buy. Take that Crazy Coupon Cook.

I'll be back tomorrow with a few meals you can make using some of the deals available this week. Wednesday I'll do the Hy-Vee match up. Thursday I'll look for contact solution coupons so I don't repeat my night tonight. Good night.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dress Like a Cow reminder

Just a reminder that TODAY is Dress Like a Cow day at your local Chic-fil-A. I just came back from lunch with my two Little Locos and it was a success.

For me, I wore a skirt and white shirt, black hat with ears and mini horns (made from construction paper) and taped black spots all over my shirt. For my Little Loca, she wore a white skirt and shirts, a sign on her back that said, "Eat Mor Chikin", a paper plate cow mask, and black spots as well.

We didn't have to buy a single thing. Gasp! All we had to do was pick which meal (not just a sandwhich- a full meal!) we wanted and that was that!

I have to give 2 hooves (sorry to be cheesy) up to Chic-fil-a because the employees were kind, and seemed to be having fun too. There were a LOT of people there which means the employees could have been really annoyed, but instead, they were patient and extra helpful. What a great place to each a free lunch!!

This offer ends today so if you need a place to eat supper, I recommend Chic-fil-a if you are dressed like a cow!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Third and Fourth Children . . .

In general, wherever I go, my children come with me. Except of course when I'm on a hot date with my husband or sipping wine with girfriends. But usually, I never leave home without them. At least not on purpose.

Since my journey into Coupon Country began, I've learned that there are 2 more things that must also come with me. I call them my 3rd and 4th children.  Why? Well, it's just easier to get in the car and start counting "kids." Then I know I have everything I'm supposed to have. So who (what) are my 2 other children?
Meet my iPod touch.

My particular iPod has a bright pink protective case which is very useful considering Child 1 and Child 2 are actual human beings and have a tendency to play with my beloved iPod touch. The iPod is a great list maker for me. I have a list of Price Comparison which tells me what items cost at each store. This is not an app. you can buy from iTunes. I was just that organized for once and diligently wrote (finger tapped) in the prices for each item as I visited different stores.

This comes in handy especially when using coupons. I can check the final price after coupons with the actual price if I were to buy the same item at Aldi. I swish my finger across the screen to the Price Comparisons list and find what the item costs at Aldi. If it's cheaper there, I put the coupon back in my folder, and keep it on the grocery list (which I also have on my iPod touch.)

Now meet Child #4:

 I'm kicking myself for not getting mine from Amazon as this expandable is by far superior to mine (I bought my boring gray expandable at Wal-Mart for about $7). It even has fun colors to choose from!

Depending on your mind's organizational system, this really might be a must-have as you begin your coupon journey. My attempt at using coupons in the grocery store saw me with a fist full of coupons, and a desperate look on my face as I repeatedly flipped through the stack looking for that one coupon I thought I had in there somewhere.  Once I got an organization system, the desperate look subsided. (Until the time came to pay of course.)

Well now you know my main recomendations for keeping sane in the grocery store while trying to use coupons. I really do mean it when I say I don't leave home without them. In fact, last week we celebrated our 6th anniversary and I had to force myself to leave the expandable at home. We were using a coupon for our dinner, but I had a cute purse that would have looked seriously bloated had I brought Child #4 along. I finally just decided to take the restaurant coupon out and let my husband keep it in his wallet. I looked young, hip and not a tish over the age of Coupon Crazy!