Category Archives: Finances

My Couponing Experiment: Week One

Today was the official “kickoff” of my couponing experiment.  Here’s a look at the receipt from today’s trip (coupons & utilizing the store’s weekly sale ad) compared to last week (pre-couponing):

How much money can you realistically save on groceries using coupons?

Our total bill was $11 higher this week for roughly the same amount of items.  However, according to the store, we saved $30 through our efforts, while last week we only saved a paltry $4 (makes sense because we weren’t trying!)

If we supposedly saved so much money this week, then how come our total cost was greater?  A couple reasons this might have happened:  (1) we had company over for dinner this evening and served salmon with jumbo shrimp– those ingredients alone were almost $40; (2) we got two trays of sushi for $14 (not something we usually do but today was unbelievably busy and we didn’t have time to prepare our own lunch).  Otherwise, our cart was generally the same as always.

Some observations:

  • We were only able to use a few coupons because many of the items we buy are fresh produce and meat — these things don’t have manufacturers’ coupons.
  • The weekly store ad was the best way for us to save on produce and meat by steering towards things that were marked down. (Example: chicken thighs on sale vs. chicken breasts at regular price)
  • Coupons will come in handy for toiletries, kitchen goods, and cleaning supplies (trash bags, toothpaste, etc.) that are only bought on occasion.  I have quite a few stored in my “later” envelope for when it’s time to restock.

saving money grocery shopping by couponing

I feel good about our first week of active couponing and sale shopping.  Because of a couple big-ticket items, our bill appears slightly higher at first glance.  However, we actually saved $26 compared to last week.  I anticipate that our efforts will be reflected in the total cost next time since we don’t have any family meals or special purchases planned.

Check back next week for another update!

My experiment trying couponing to see if coupons can really save our family money on groceries.

My Couponing Experiment

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the lifestyle change our family made which allowed me to be a stay at home mom: meal planning.  The response was overwhelming– so many fellow moms let me know (through my site, BlogHer profile, Pinterest) that our savings inspired them, or offered tips for saving even more.  Over and over I was told: try couponing! 

I’ve never really bothered with couponing– of course I’ve seen the shows with extreme examples of grocery shopping trips that end up being free, but in real life, it seemed like a lot of work for what would likely only amount to a couple bucks savings.  However, hearing that so many of you have had great success with coupons, my curiosity was piqued.  So I decided to do an experiment to find out if couponing really would save us money.

Here are the “rules:”

  1. We would continue to shop at the same stores as before.
  2. We would continue to buy the same products as always.
  3. We would not buy items we do not normally use or need just because they were free or cheap.

Easy enough!

My first step was to go to the website for the grocery store we generally patronize.  I followed a link to the coupon site with whom they are partnered.  The coupons listed were mainly for toiletries, household cleaning items, and packaged foods.  Still, I was able to “clip” quite a few for items we need (or will need before the expiration date next month.)  I divided them into two categories: ones we would use during our next shopping trip, and those that we could use in the near future.  Labeled envelopes will make it easy to keep track:

cutting coupons organizing coupons

Next, I printed the store’s weekly ad.  I went through and circled items we buy frequently that were marked down to a special price.  There were a few that could be combined with coupons I had printed for extra savings.  This particular store offers a lot of buy-one, get-one deals, but most of these are for processed food we don’t eat and therefore won’t be of use.

print weekly ad for grocery savings print weekly ad for grocery savings

The last step will be to go through hubby’s shopping list (which he usually does on Sunday evenings) and note which items have a coupon or are on special in the weekly ad.  Since coupons for next week’s trip will also be ready at hand in the “Now” envelope, hopefully this will be a foolproof system.

Last week’s shopping bill was $200 exactly (plus a few cents), and we didn’t make any unusual purchases.  This will make it easy to see just how much can be saved from doing nothing but buying what we need, to adding coupons to our program.  I’ll stick with the experiment for a month (longer if it is found to be worthwhile!) to be able to note spending and saving patterns.

Stay tuned for next week’s update, and feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions for other places to find coupons or savings– after all, I’m a true couponing rookie!

The one lifestyle change that allowed me to be a stay at home mom

The One Lifestyle Change That Allowed Me to be a Stay at Home Mom

As a member of mommy support groups, I frequently see the question posed: how can I afford to be a stay at home mom?  I’ve been a working mom, so I get it that some of us crave “adult time” and enjoy career accomplishments.  But I also know what a crappy feeling it is to leave your kids in the care of someone else all day.  Ultimately, I made the choice to leave the corporate world, and I wanted to share the one lifestyle change that made it possible.

This past November, I quit my job.  The plan was for me to enjoy the holidays with my family and start the search for a better employer in the new year.  I did that, and things went so wonderfully that hubby and I decided it would be best for our family (and my health) if I stayed home indefinitely.  There was just one problem– we were cutting our income in half.

While I was working, I always stressed about money.  Even with two solid paychecks, it never felt like enough.  How would we be able to make it on just my husband’s income?

Aside from monthly non-negotiables (housing, utilities, insurance), there was one expense that dwarfed them all. Once we seriously reevaluated our spending in this area, it freed up a huge chunk of our budget.  I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t our cable bill.

It was FOOD.  Hubby has always loved to cook, and did so on a regular basis.  However, we never planned out meals for the week.  As a result, we were forced to pop in to the grocery store on multiple occasions throughout the week for whatever he decided to fix on a whim, or pick up take-out when we were short on time.

It seems hard to believe that food could have such an impact on the budget, so to prove it, I’ll show you what we used to spend:

$240 – We made at least 3 grocery trips every week, spending about $80 each time.  Going to the grocery store without a list means you’re likely to forget items and end up having to return later.  Multiple visits make it easier to succumb to impulse buys, as you are tempted over and over.

$160 – We ordered take-out about four times a week.  Whether for lunch or dinner, with tax and tip it’s about $40 for our family.

$50 – While working, I spent about $10 per day on lunch.

$50 – Hubby also would order out food at work.

Add that up and you get $500 in one week!  That’s $2000 every month — insane!  This doesn’t even take into account any occasions where we would go out to eat in a restaurant.  It was money we spent without even thinking– we had to eat, right?

It was actually hubby’s idea to start weekly meal planning.  Amazingly, a commitment to this one concept was the key to a budget that worked.

On Sunday evenings, hubby and I sit down and talk about what we’d like to eat for dinner each night.  To make it easier, we’ve designated days such as “Salmon Mondays,” so all we have to decide is sauce and sides.  Other days, hubby might have a new recipe he wants to sample.  When the week’s menu is determined, we make the grocery list so we know exactly what needs to be bought.

Having everything figured out in advance allows us to only have to grocery shop one time.  We go in with a plan and don’t end up buying things that aren’t on our list.  Impulse buys are a thing of the past.  Since we’ve got a meal for each night of the week, we don’t need to order take-out.  Hubby cooks for an army, so there are always plenty of leftovers for lunch as well.

Here’s a look at our weekly food budget now:

$150-200: One grocery shopping trip for the ingredients needed for dinner every night of the week.

That’s it.  We’ve gone from spending $2000 a month on food to no more than $800.  It’s an incredible change and all it took was setting aside 30 minutes on Sunday night to create a meal plan.  If you think about all the time saved by consolidating grocery trips, it might actually be less time to meal plan than to try to go through the week without one.

Of course, we’ve made other adjustments to our lifestyle since I left my job, but none as significant as the meal plan.  Maybe it sounds overwhelming to cook every single night, but just look at how much money you can save (for us it was $1200 a month!)  An added bonus is that when you cook your own dinners, you know exactly what you’re getting– it’s healthier!

Even if you don’t aspire to be a stay at home mom, you could put an extra thousand dollars in the bank every month.  That’s a weekend vacation!  If you take a realistic look at what you’re spending on food, you might find that you don’t want to “eat up” a large portion your income any more.

A $600 Mistake and Life Lessons Learned

It’s that time of year– some look forward to it, some dread it– tax season!  This is the first year I expected to get a refund (yay for marriage and babies!), but I also expected things to be a little more complicated than usual with the new Affordable Care Act.

The Healthcare Marketplace has been a blessing for Mateo, who works in an industry that rarely provides insurance to its employees, even at management level.  However, it has also caused much confusion and frustration since nobody seems to understand how it works.  But that is a topic for another day…

One of my titles in the Rodriguez family is Money Manager.  I pay the bills, keep track of what comes in and goes out, and make sure taxes are in order.  Until this year, my tax duties simply meant that I nagged Mateo to get his done on time and watched my dad do tedious calculations for mine to see how big of a check I had to write (boo! one of the drawbacks of bartending).

This year, as a married couple, I felt like it would be a little ridiculous to ask my dad to do my taxes… I’m 30 after all..that’s officially a grown-up.  But I also wanted to make sure that I got them right, so I figured it would be best to let the professionals handle it.  I made us an appointment at a large company that specializes in income taxes.  (I’ll let you guess which one.)

Now, being a Garska (aka being very anal about finances), I had already done a little run-through with Turbo Tax (before I had received all of the extra healthcare forms so I couldn’t file then) and I had a general idea of what was going to happen.  We were going to have to pay back some, but not all of Mateo’s insurance subsidy.  (Seriously Obamacare?!  Lame.)

Our tax appointment was relatively quick.  However, when the final number for our refund popped up, it was much lower than I had anticipated.  The “tax associate” cheerfully showed us how much money we would be getting back.  The scowl on my face confused her.  “They’re making us pay the entire subsidy back?” I asked.  “Why no, there’s no penalty for you!” she said with a smile.  I then pointed to the screen where it showed that amount being deducted from our final refund and explained what that meant.  (Wasn’t she supposed to be the expert?!)  She stammered, “well, um, uh, that doesn’t seem fair.  I’m sorry.”  But she said there was nothing else she could do.

On the way home, I just couldn’t let it go.  She was wrong.  I just knew she was wrong.  As soon as I had to explain to HER what the subsidy meant, I lost all confidence in her ability.  Having to pay the tax preparation fee pained me.  Mateo tried to look on the bright side, “it’s still a lot of money,” he said. “Just let it go.”

But again, as a Garska, I could not.  I pulled up Turbo Tax and filled in all the numbers.  Lo and behold, it said that we did not have to pay back to entire subsidy.  There was an alternative calculation since we were not married the full year.  It was a $600 mistake.

I immediately called the office and told them that I needed to come back in for them to fix my taxes and why.  The receptionist didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, and when I returned the same evening I found that she had scheduled me with a brand new associate.  At least this one readily admitted that she was not equipped to handle this situation.  Unfortunately, the manager was out, though he called me and assured me that he would look into it personally the next day.

He did– but said that the numbers had come back the same.  I knew that he had probably just plugged everything into the computer program again, so of course the results would be the same.  I had no choice now but to go to the IRS website, print out all the instructions and worksheets needed, and check everything by hand.  It took most of my afternoon, but I was RIGHT.  I went back for the THIRD time and schooled the manager on how to properly complete the section dealing with the Affordable Care Act.  (Not to brag…ok, maybe a little.)  I wasn’t rude about it– it wasn’t his fault– turns out their computer program itself is flawed!  Imagine how many others out there might have errors in their returns too!

I learned a very important lesson today.  As my mom says, “no one is every going to be as careful with your money as you are.”  It is so true.  It wasn’t the supposed “professionals” that I had PAID (though I will get that fee back obviously) to do my taxes that checked all their work by hand, it was ME.

I also learned that I am more capable than I give myself credit.  I don’t know why I doubted that I could handle my own taxes.  I can read.  There are instructions for every single line.  Sure, it takes a lot of time, but not as much as making several visits to a tax office and re-doing everything over and over!  I think we are all guilty of self-doubt at times, even if it is undeserved.  As I found out today, not trusting in your own abilities and relying on others can have serious consequences.

It can be difficult to turn off negative thoughts that tell us that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough– but we ARE!  We have to learn to silence these internal voices, and in doing so, we will be able to do things that before might not have seemed possible.  It’s tough– it’s something I work on every day!  If you take nothing else away from this– at least double check your taxes! 🙂