Thursday, March 29, 2012

Couponing 101

Last night I went to a free seminar about couponing at the local library, led by Tiffany from Young and Frugal in Virginia.

First thing out of her mouth was "this is not Extreme Couponing - that's fraud!" Ha! She felt very strongly that the behaviors advertised in that show violate every piece of coupon etiquette there is, like not stealing newspapers, not clearing shelves at 5am, and not making illegal copies of coupons.  On one episode, a 16 year old got a schload of free toilet paper using many coupons, and when the store submitted them to the manufacturer for reimbursement, it was determined they were fraudulent!  Your life is so bad you'll use fraudulent coupons to get some free toilet paper?  Yuckball.

After that introduction of what not to do, she covered some great basic beginning coupon tips, so I thought I'd pass them along!  To all 2.5 people who read this ;)  Ok, 1.  Hi Bonnie!

General Tips:
  • Start slow:
    • If you normally spend $250 a month on groceries, aim to spend $240 this month, and $230 next month.  Once you get your sea legs, you'll be able to gradually bring that bill down and see significant savings!
  • Expired coupons:
    • Don't throw them away!
    • Military families on international bases are able to use expired coupons
  • Don't be brand picky:
    • Unless you have an allergy or serious aversion to a specific item, try to be open to trying new brands.  If you can normally use Garnier Fructis but can get Suave shampoo for 89 cents, don't say no!
  •  Free items:
    • Sometimes store sales and current coupons coincide, allowing shoppers to get items for free
    • Even if you can't use the item, like if dog food's on sale and you don't have a dog, go ahead and pick it up
      • To donate that item:
        • Food:
          • Kroger and Martin's have Food Bank bins at the front of the store
        • Pet items:
          • Local county animal shelters or SPCA will accept food, treats, and newspapers
  • Buy groceries based on sale items:
    • Planning your weekly meals based on items that are currently on sale seems like common sense, but I have to admit I'm bad at doing this.  If I want spaghetti, I go to the store and hope maybe one of the items needed for spaghetti has a yellow tag on it. If not, I buy it anyways.
    • If pasta is on sale for $1 per box, and you have a coupon that makes it half off or free, buy as many as you have coupons for to create a stockpile.  Since you always need pasta and it has a long shelf-life, this is a great way to save money!
    • Note: by stockpile, I'm talking about 5 boxes of pasta, not constructing a new wing of your house to store your inventory!

Where to get coupons?
  • Newspapers:
    • Buy more than 1 paper to get multiple copies of coupon inserts
    • Early in the year, there are more coupon inserts; no inserts on holiday weekends
    • Richmond Times-Dispatch:
      • Most places sell for $1.75, but Walgreen's has a current promotion for $1.25
    • Washington Post:
      • $.99 each if you buy 52 weeks of Sunday only
    • Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg area):
      • Comes out on Saturdays and contains all the Sunday inserts
    • Tidewater Review:
      • Comes out on Wednesdays and contains Sunday inserts
    • Free Lance-Star:
      • Sunday paper is $1.50 but some local stores have FLS employees giving away free newspapers and trying to get subscribers
  • Online printables:
    • - supplier of coupon insert
    • - supplier of coupon insert
    • - requires registration
    • Manufacturer websites:
      • Email companies who make products you love - let them know you love their product and they'll probably send you samples or coupons!
  • Facebook:
    • Just like the pages of your favorite products and you'll see coupons and deals on your newsfeed all the time
  • E-coupons:
    • Load grocery coupons from stores like Kroger directly to your shopper card
    • When you scan your card at the register the coupons are deducted from your balance - paperless couponing!
  • All You magazine:
    • I features coupons, recipes, and savings tips
    • Amazon has a subscription for $1.66 per issue for a year right now - half the price of buying the magazine at Wal-Mart
    • On their site, they round up all the deals at each grocery store in your zip code - check it out!
  • Sunday Coupon Preview:
    • Offers printable coupons and a preview of coupons that will be in the next paper

Planning your shopping trip:
  • Make a list of items you know you'll be purchasing, but take ALL your coupons with you in case there are unadvertised deals or clearance items once you get there!
  • Match sale items with those for which you have coupons to maximize your savings

Local coupon policies:
  • Kroger:
    • doubles coupons up to 50 cents every day
    • Tuesday is Senior Citizen day - but I forget what that means since it didn't apply to me! :)
    • $1 = 1 fuel point; 100 fuel points = $.10 off per gallon of gas pumped at Kroger or local Shell stations
    • Rx:
      • 50 fuel points and/or $25 in groceries for new or transferred prescription
    • download their app for coupons and sales flyers!
  • Food Lion:
    • no doubles
    • scan MVP card at the kiosk at the front of the store to find coupons
    • no stacking of manufacturer and store coupons - use one or the other
    • download their app for coupons and sales flyers!
  • Martin's:
    • doubles coupons up to 50 cents every day
    • doubles coupons 51 -99 cents up to $1 every day
    • stacking manufacturer and store coupons is allowed
    • 5 cent credit for using reusable bags - or you can donate the 5 cents to the Food Bank
    • clearance bread with ~a week left on expiration date can be found in the frozen food section
    • download their app for coupons and sales flyers!
  • Target:
    • stacking is allowed
    • coupons can be printed from their site - up to 2 prints allowed per coupon
    • sign up for mobile texts to get extra coupons

Extra tips:
  • 2 for $4 or 10 for $10 doesn't always mean you have to buy 2 or 10 - check store policy to save money

  • pick a favorite cashier so you don't get the newbie who tries to tell you they don't accept coupons at all - that seriously happened to me
  • know the store policies before trying to process a coupon-heavy transaction
  • shop clearance in addition to coupons!
  • when planning your shopping trip, make sure to remember coupon doubling policies - you might get $1 off instead of 50 cents!
  • Sam's and Costco don't take coupons unless they sent them to you, but BJ's takes them
That's a lot of information!  I'm still trying to process it all, and I'm sure it will take me a while to find my groove, but the first step is starting to buy the Sunday paper, clip coupons, and plan my weekly meals based on what meats/vegetables are on sale! 

Happy Couponing!  And may the sales be ever in your favor!  <- Haha see what I did there?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Martha Stewart Chalkboard Labels

I saw an advertisement for Martha Stewart's new office supply line, sold exclusively at Staples, and was very impressed with the collection!  Usually office supplies are either brown or black, stiff and no fun, or childish designs aimed at school-age kids.  This line is girly, but still functional, and fabulous!

Among some other things, I picked up some chalkboard labels to revamp the storage tubs we have lined up on shelves in the laundry room.  

The existing labels were made from my now-fried label maker and were too small for the small, dark place.  Since most the tubs are above my head [anything over 5'2'' is above my head :)] and there's no light in the laundry room, I sometimes have a hard time reading the contents of each tub.  The new chalkboard labels are much larger, and the white font on the black background will stand out much more than this:

Plus, this new labeling system gave me an opportunity to go through everything in the tubs to purge some cleaning items we rarely use.  Here's the before:

It was cluttered and because I can't reach some of the bins, some frequently-used items ended up in the metal laundry tin on top of the dryer.  As you can see it's now overflowing with dryer sheets, ant traps, and air freshener, all of which should be in a designated place.

After some purging and deciding how many categories I needed, I worked on my labels.  First I cured the chalkboard coating of the labels, which (according to the internets) prepares the surface for writing.  Who knows if that's necessary, since the labels had no instructions:

Then I scribbled my categories on the labels.  Forgive my handwriting - it takes a special skill to write with chalk, it seems.  It'll improve over time :)

Then I applied them to the newly organized tubs:

Dish towel collection is out of hand.  Need to purge some... :(

The purge pile (except the open items) will be sent to the next yard sale - who knows, someone might be looking for 4 Clorox bleach pens.  Why did I even buy them?  We have no tile in this house.

Now I'm off to find other projects for these chalkboard labels!  Watch out, pantry!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two DIY Wreaths

Since Richmond decided to go straight from fall to summer, I lost some of my motivation to work on wintery things.  Though there are only five days left of winter and my Winter Inspiration list is mostly undone, this weekend I felt motivated to finish a project that's been in my head for a while!

Bonnie found many bauble Christmas wreaths on Pinterest and tackled one of her own back in late fall, which is when normal people make Christmas wreaths.  I am not one of those people.  I bought all the supplies needed, and put them in the basket in our study to sit for 3 months.  My, how Kristen of me.

Equally Kristen was the random day I selected to finish start this project - last Friday night.  It was my last Friday of freedom until May, since spring break is now over, and I wanted to feel like I seized it.  Most people my age might have gone to a club or on a date with their spouses, but not me.  Craft night it is!

Enough babbling, let's talk baubles <-see what I did there?  No?  OK, moving on.

Here's what you'll need:
  • wire hanger: free from Bonnie!
  • 3 yards ribbon (optional): $2.99 - 40% Michael's coupon = $1.79
  • needle-nose pliers
  • ~75 miniature baubles in your favorite color(s): $5.25
    • I bought mine at the Dollar Store in tubes of 15
  • Total cost:  $7.04

I'd post a link to a tutorial or something, but this is pretty intuitive:
  • use the plyers to unwrap the ends of the wire hanger
  • shape the hanger into a circle
  • slide the ornaments (in a specific order by color, or at random, depending on your level of OCD) onto the non-handle end of the hanger
    • repeat this ~75 times
  • use the pliers to re-wrap the ends of the wire
  • fill in the blank spaces by moving the ornaments around - you might not have this problem if you don't have any fabric on the hanger
  • tie your ribbon around the curved part of the hanger
  • DONE! :)

Cool, right?

Since this project had been nagging at me, staring at me from the study every day when I come home from work, I couldn't fully close the proverbial Christmas box.  Now I'm over Christmas and this 80 degree weather is making me crave summer!  So I made a summer wreath too :)

Guess where I got the idea?  Yep.  Pinterest:

I collected my supplies:

  •  styrofoam wreath form: $7.99 - 40% Hobby Lobby coupon = $4.79
  • 1/2 yard of fabric: $1.49
  • cocktail umbrellas: $5.99 for 144 picks, but I only used about 25 so I could have bought a way smaller pack
  • straight pins and scissors
  • Total cost: $12.27

 I started by cutting my fabric into strips, about 3 inches wide.  Check out my mad straight cutting skilz:

Then I pinned the first strip to the wreath and wrapped it around and around...

...layering additional pieces of fabric until the wreath was completely covered:

Then I added the cocktail umbrellas.  I added them in random locations, trying to alternate the colors to make it even.  Once they were all in position, I raised the umbrellas:

Here we go!

Can't wait to put this outside for the summer!

Oh, I know what you're thinking:  "Hey stupid, that's not going to last long outside!  What if it rains?"  I only know that's what you're thinking because that's the first thing Dave said, but the stupid part was only implied.  Since our front door is under an overhang, the only time the top part of the door gets wet is when we have sideways rain, which is rare.  So other than the paper deteriorating from heat or humidity, this oughta last me at least a few, fun weeks, right?  We'll see :)