Maximize your Potential Savings

A few years ago, a friend told me about a concept called “Super Couponing”. The lady who started it lived right in our area, had a free blog, and held free seminars in which she taught how to coupon. I looked into it and tried it, and LOVED it. It is a totally different way of shopping, but if you’re looking to maximize your savings, it definitely works. (Click for Supercouponing and Jill Cataldo’s blog.)

At least a month ago (before we really started going healthier), I received this alert from Meijer:
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This alert is referring to catalinas – the coupons which print at the register. These particular coupons can be used as money off your total basket; you can apply it to anything. What makes them even more awesome is that you can use as many as you want on an order; potentially, if you had enough of these, you could use them to pay for your entire shopping cart (except for tax, I think).
Here’s another example so you have an idea:
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When you follow the requirements on the alert, you will get a catalina for the amount specified. Around the same time, I also received these catalina coupons:
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Now here’s the thing: I could have used these right away, seeing as I would already be “double-dipping” by using the coupons AND receiving money back. But if they’re not on sale, Tombstone can be up to $5 a pop. I usually don’t buy them unless they’re around the $2.50-3.50 mark. Especially since we’ve been eating healthier, I don’t want to expend extra money that could be going towards healthier items. But everything in moderation still applies, and these are good to have on hand in an emergency, or if I’m running behind, and cheaper and quicker than Delivery or Take out pizza.

Here comes the strategy: I wait as long as possible (until the week of expiration) to see if they will go on sale, and then I use everything all at once. Usually it pays off.

Like… This week! I’ve been watching the ad and they haven’t been on sale the past several weeks, but this week they are 3 for $10.

So I will purchase 5 Tombstone pizzas for $16.65 total. After my $2.50 coupon, I will pay $14.15 and get $3 back to use on my next order. That’s like getting 5 Tombstone pizzas for $11.15, or $2.23 each. Not bad at all!!

So you see, it’s true: Good things come to those who wait!

Click here for current national catalina offers.

5 Tips to Offset the Price of Buying Organic & Natural

1. Know your budget. I almost forgot to include this; but being aware of and sticking to a predetermined budget is the first step to maximizing your savings. Having even an approximate amount in mind will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

2. Plan your meals based on sales. Most grocery stores put out a weekly ad – even the more popular produce stores, like Whole Foods or Mariano’s – and if you don’t get it in the mail, you can view it easily online. I usually base dinners around a protein, and buy the family size packs so I can either separate into 2 meals or make a Second Meal from the leftovers. The protein (fish, poultry, pork, beef, etc.) will usually be most expensive, so consider this first before looking at other specials. Then check out the produce sales. We shop at Meijer, and their store brand organic often goes on sale. This is how I decide what to buy that week. Same goes for their Meijer Naturals grocery products. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen lists. If you’re only buying a few items organic, you might want to choose items on the Dirty Dozen list to reduce the chance of pesticides.
*Note: If you’re just starting out, it might take awhile to understand what a good sale price is. Don’t stress. Just do the best you can for now, and eventually it’ll be second nature to know when an item is overpriced, when it’s an average buy, and when it’s at a DEEP discount price.

3. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you plan to buy based on the ad. Double check your meal plan for the week, cross check your pantry, and add any missing ingredients to your list if necessary. If you’re on a really tight budget, estimate the cost of each item and get an approximate total, adjusting your list if necessary.
Then, when you get to the store, STICK TO YOUR LIST. I know the lure of the produce section… you suddenly get the urge to try a blood orange for the first time… or to buy an exotic root vegetable you’ve never used before. THIS. IS. BAD. Not only will it put you over your carefully constructed budget, but if you don’t have a recipe or specific use in mind for that item, chances are you will end up tossing it anyway, or wasting another item you bought. Reducing your waste (Read: the stuff you throw away because it’s gone bad) is a huge way to save money. If you were really deliberate about your list, you should have just enough produce to make it through each meal of each day for the week. Resist the urge to impulse buy; if you see something new you want to try, make a note of it, search recipes when you get home, and put it on the list for next week.

4. Check for coupons before you go. Part of the reason I love Meijer is because of their mPerks. Not only are there coupons for name brand products, but also for their store brand – which as I said, has great organic and natural products. So when I find a coupon that matches with a weekly sale, it’s a home run! or a 3 pointer! or a touchdown! (insert your favorite sport term here.) So check your favorite grocery store’s website for store coupons on generic items, including produce. Some stores have rewards programs; others have digital coupons you can load to a loyalty card. A little research goes a long way.
And if you are buying a specific brand name, check your local newspaper inserts. In our area, the best website for this is www.coupontom.com. It references an extensive catalog of all the current paper and printable coupons. When you search an item (by brand name or item name) it will pull up any coupons available and where to find them.

5. Enroll in rewards programs. As I said earlier, research if your favorite store(s) has a rewards program. A lot of stores have a point system connected to a loyalty card – and the points can then be converted to savings later. Some stores have a quantity requirement program (Buy 10, get the 11th free). Other stores give stickers based on your total spent within a qualifying time period, which can be returned at the end for products. Meijer has a great one they’ve recently instituted – you choose one reward in each of three categories. (For example, Spend $60 in produce, Get $5 off.) This is cumulative for the entire month. Once you reach the goal amount, you can ‘clip’ your reward to your mPerks account, and it is applied toward your total basket on your next trip. You can work towards 3 different rewards at a time, and if you finish a goal before the end of the month, you can choose another one. Again, check your favorite store’s website, or ask an associate next time you’re in store.

By investing a little time and research, buying healthier, natural, and organic food can be realistic for even the smallest budgets!

Coupon Codes: Children’s Place, JoAnn Fabric, Yankee Candle &more 1/29-2/1

CHILDREN’S PLACE:  Site-wide sale. Ends TODAY 1/29. FREE SHIPPING on all items. COUPON CODES:
40% off = SAVEFORTY
30%off $60 or more = N6HT30EM
25%off Everything = G7HT25EM
*Remember you also get 5% off if you have and use your PLACEcard.

ORIENTAL TRADING CO: 
COUPON CODE: WCE4286
Good for…
FREE SHIPPING and $5 off orders of $59 or more OR
FREE SHIPPING and $10 off orders of $79 or more

JoAnn Fabric:
Lots of sales including 60% off frames (ONLY today 1/29), 50% off drapery hardware, 50% off Swarovski beads/crystals, 50% off stamping supplies.
COUPON CODES:
50% off one regular priced item = VKPB032 (good thru 2/1)
FREE SHIPPING with $50+ order = EQCU030 (good thru 1/30)
*cannot combine offers*

FAMILY CHRISTIAN STORES: 50% off select books
COUPON CODE: 131194317 = 25% off entire purchase regular priced items (good thru 2/16)

YANKEE CANDLE is also running their Buy 2 Large, Get 1 Free sale. Honestly I’ve seen better (like last month’s Buy 2 get 2 – which was also for any size!), but if you are planning on getting a few as gifts, you can get one free for yourself while you’re at it. You do need a coupon for this sale, which you will get if you are signed up for their email list. (Sale thru 2/26)

OLD NAVY 20% off sale ends today. COUPON CODE: TAKE20

Target deals ending today!

If you have Target’s Cartwheel app and are signed up for their mobile coupons, there are some great deals you can snag today if you hurry.

The newest mobile coupon includes $3 off $15 of women’s apparel, and there are plenty of options in Cartwheel for you to choose from:
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There are also a few for intimates and one for Liz Lange Maternity.

Mobile coupon for $5 off $20 jewelry or accessories purchase- scarves and belts should be included. Cartwheel has 20% scarves and 20% off belts.

Mobile coupon for $2 off one Neutrogena item can be combined with Cartwheel 10% off Neutrogena cosmetics.

Happy shopping!

All mobile coupons expire 2/7.
To sign up for Target Mobile coupons click here.

Old Navy – clothing Deal!

I’ve been waiting to place this order for a little while now – I had some SuperCash saved from Christmas Shopping (started 1/21), a $5 rewards from the new Old Navy card I opened while Christmas shopping, and a 15% off I received when they messed up a previous order this summer (only good until 1/31). Then of course, I shopped clearance and sales to get the BEST BANG FOR MY BUCK!

This is the pre-coupon total:

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Pre-coupon total: $57.28

On their website, if you spend over $50, you get shipping FREE. So actually, shipping would’ve been about $7.50 (Total was $60), but by ensuring my order was over $50, I got that free also.

Next I used the 15% off coupon, the $5 Rewards, and the SuperCash… here was my grand total:

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Post-coupon total: $25.31

I love great deals, don’t you??? 🙂

I received the confirmation email, and love the summary of charges. If you include the free shipping I definitely saved over 50% 🙂
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Meijer mPerks (couponing)

Awhile back, Meijer rolled out a new program called ‘mPerks’. At first many of us were not sure about it because it consisted mainly of coupons on store brand products, and not all of them were very desirable. Fast forward about a year, and it has progressed A TON. Not only are there great store coupons on produce and store brand items, but there are also manufacturer coupons. These are similar to what you would get out of the newspaper or printables online, but they connect to your mPerks account. You use your phone number and a pin number to log in. You load coupons to your account, enter your phone number at the register, and BAM! Instant savings!

The reason I wanted to highlight the mPerks today is to tell you about their Rewards program. I love it. They give you 3-4 options in 2-3 categories. You choose which option you’d like to work towards, and once you’ve fulfilled the requirement, you get $x off your entire basket.
For example:
One category I had three options: Spend $20 in skin care, get $X off. Spend $30 in hair care, get $8 off. Spend $30 in health products, get $8 off. This is a tough one as I really don’t spend much in any of these categories at Meijer. (I get most of my skin care/hair care online from Artistry and Satinique.)
They also have pharmacy rewards and Baby rewards (For the Baby rewards, every $100 you spend you get $10 off! Wish they would’ve started this 6 months earlier, it would’ve been a HUGE money saver for us!)

But in one of the categories there was this option:
“Spend $60 in produce, get $8 off.”
Great for us right now as we’ve been eating up the produce around here with the Hubs’ weight loss goals!! (By the way, he’s lost over 9 lbs in 2 weeks. SO proud of him!)
Your purchases are cumulative, and usually they go an entire calendar month. So, new options become available the 1st of each month and all your purchases (yes separate transactions!) count towards fulfilling that $60 requirement. You can track how much you’ve spent and how far you have to go by logging into your mPerks account online – or checking it on their app!

Now! Once you’ve fulfilled the total required amount, you get a “Special Offer” in your mPerks. You can clip the $x off your total basket coupon. At the store when you begin your transaction and put in your mPerks number and PIN, a screen pops up asking, “Would you like to use $x off your basket now?” Hit YES!!! And then a beautiful thing happens: YOU SCAN ITEMS AND YOUR TOTAL STAYS $0!!! Woo hoo!! 🙂
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If you have a Meijer nearby and haven’t checked the mPerks out yet, I recommend registering here. Have fun saving!!!

Catalina coupons

I don’t want to spend too much time on the basics of couponing here, as I learned all I know from Jill Cataldo’s free Supercouponing class and blog. And if you’re really interested in learning the couponing ropes, you can visit her site and learn from the Coupon Queen herself! But there are a few things that are so awesome that they are worth mentioning.

And one of those that everyone should be aware of is catalinas. No, not the dressing… those free coupons that print at the register.

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These babies are awesome. You don’t pay for anything to get them – not printer ink or paper, or newspaper. They just print based on what you already buy. At Meijer lately I’ve been getting a lot of these store coupons.
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This is another reason I like Meijer. I feel like I’m rewarded for my loyalty 🙂 Bonus? Since they are store coupons, I can use these high value puppies on name brand items while ALSO using a manufacturer coupon. Can you say savings?!? 🙂

Weekly Meal Planning – On a Budget!

So. This week my grocery budget is a little less than 1/2 of what it is normally… Ever been in a similar situation? For whatever reason, you’re a little tight that week? What’s a momma to do?! At this stage in our life, we do ONE TRIP PER WEEK. Here’s how to maximize your budget and your OHI.

Step (1): Take stock of your OHI. What do you have that you can make meals of already? This particular week I have plenty of lunch meat, some frozen ground beef, enough quick meals for my 3 working night dinners, some fresh produce, and a few other things that I was already planning on using in dinners.

Step (2): What ESSENTIALS do you need to replace? Mentally go through all the categories: paper products, cleaning products, laundry supplies, baby supplies, then all the grocery items (Dairy, frozen, produce, dry goods, you know the drill). This list should be limited to only what you know you cannot get through the week without. Things you will MOST CERTAINLY run out of if you don’t purchase it in the next day or two. For me this week, the only things I knew I’d need for SURE were eggs, milk, butter, frozen veggies, jelly, bread, bananas, and tomatoes. *Remember to consider every meal and snack time too.

Step (3a): Go through your local grocery ad. What’s on sale? This week what stood out to me was Meijer Steamable frozen veggies, country pork ribs, Peter Pan PB (my fave!), Meijer Naturals Chicken Stock, Sargento Cheese, Spaghetti O’s, Creamette Pasta, my favorite yogurt Fage, and On the Vine Tomatoes.
(3b): Check for coupons for your essentials and the sale items. We shop at Meijer because right now, in our area, they offer the best coupon “double dip” opportunities (a double dip is where you might get something on sale with a coupon, or be able to use multiple coupons on one item, or use coupons in a quantity or sum qualifying sale [i.e. ‘buy 6, save $5’]). I search two different places for coupons: Coupon Tom and mPerks. Coupon Tom is a cross-referencing site where you can type in the product and it will pull up corresponding coupons for that item. This uses Jill Cataldo’s coupon organization method. (You can visit her free blog here for the best deals at grocery stores in the Chicago Suburbs and to learn more about smart couponing.) To check mPerks, you sign in using your phone number (Don’t worry – no spam texts or calls!) on the website and at the register using your PIN. Signing up allows you to choose from hundreds of coupons for their store brand products as well as name brand items. They have great coupons on here and lots of opportunities to save. (Last month I saved about $200 – average $50 a week – by combining sales and multiple coupons.) Bonus, they have lots of produce coupons – hooray!!
I found coupons for these items: butter, Sargento shredded cheese, Spaghetti O’s, bread, organic Portobello mushroom caps.

Step (4): First total. Using prices from the ad and your best estimate from your smart shopping in the past, add up to get the total of all your items on your list. If you’re not sure, always round up. Then make a meal plan for every day that week (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) and make sure you don’t have any gaps. (If you do, can you fill them with something you already have? Or do you have to add to your list?)

Step (5): Adjust. Are you above your budget? Below? Can you add some more healthy items? Do you need to adjust quantities of something? Is there something you can do without? At this point I went through the ad again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. ***TIP: Any time a manufacturer puts out a new product, they almost ALWAYS put out corresponding coupons to get you to try it.*** I ALMOST looked past the Marie Callendar’s Easy Sides. ALMOST. But – They were 4 for $5 (not fantastic by any means). But if you bought 4, you got $1 off instantly = 4 for $4. I checked Coupon Tom. Yes! There was a $.75 off 1 coupon. Score. I get 2 papers, so I can use two of those coupons. But wait, mPerks also has a coupon: $1/3. So if I buy 4, it’s actually cheaper to use the $1/3 plus one $.75/1 coupon. ARE YOU WITH  ME?!? Instead of paying $5 for 4, I’ll be paying $2.25. Yes, for that price, I will try this new product. Even on a tight budget week.
And then – Wait – WAIT. Mahi Mahi was featured at $6.99/lb. Hmmm…. I really didn’t need the yogurt as I still had a few left. I really don’t need the pasta either. Spaghetti O’s?? I really only put them on my list for nostalgia’s sake anyway. I nixed a few items to free up the $7 for some Mahi Mahi – which for some reason sparked another idea… mango salsa… I googled ‘Mahi Mahi mango salsa‘ and pulled up a recipe. Well, I may not have all the items on that list, or the budget to buy them, but I CAN make some substitutions and buy a few of the cheaper things – especially since I know I can get multiple uses out of something like a lime or a red onion.

Step (6): Double -Check and prepare. Make sure you have everything you need and you’re a couple bucks under budget to account for miscalculation and tax. Usually when I’m estimating I only count my PRE-coupon total (unless its a big baby sale and I’ll be saving $10 or something). Make sure all your coupons are loaded to your mPerks, or shopping card, or printed, and that all the paper coupons are cut and ready with your list.

Now, you thrifty little shopper you, go out and conquer that grocery store!!!

Here’s an example of a working meal plan for the week. Excuse my scribbles 🙂
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Pantry organization, Meal planning, and OHI pars

Dream pantry?!

Sometimes I wish my pantry looked like the one in this picture. Alas, all I have is an abundance of cabinets! Thankfully I do have a lot of them. But at this point in my life, my ‘pantry’ organization is based on what I allow my kids to get into or not. Yes I put locks on cabinets, but not all of them, because it’s way too much of a hassle. I limited myself to locking the ones that have glass or harmful things like cleaning products in them. Part of the reason is, I didn’t want to have to bother opening it myself. However, the biggest reason is this: I do believe, although it’s more work, to use all opportunities possible to TEACH my kids. Also I purposely put their snacks and dishes in low cabinets where they can reach, so they are able to help themselves. (Think cereal, crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, fruit cups, etc.) Even if they can’t open the packaging themselves, they will bring it to me and ask if they can have it and if they can open it. Our youngest, at 14 months or maybe earlier, would go in the kids’ dishes cabinet and bring a cup over to the fridge if she was thirsty. I learned accidentally that kids are actually a lot more capable and at a lot earlier age than we give them credit for. Another example: when Aubrey (our eldest) was 2 and 3, she wanted to help me with everything: dishes, baking, laundry, cleaning, you name it. At first I kept saying no (which led to big-time disappointment on her end, and extravagant distraction methods on mine). Finally one day I figured, what the heck? I would wash the dishes and she would dry them. When she was 3 I learned she was actually quite good at folding her and her brother’s laundry – they were small enough for her to handle. Ah HA! I thought. A learning opportunity. I can teach her how to do these chores now, while she WANTS to, and I was getting help too. Why be a domestic martyr if it wasn’t necessary? I didn’t have to do everything myself, and she was learning valuable life skills she’d use the rest of her life. Win-Win.
Anyway, I am sure that once my kids learn to suppress their desire to dump my sugar all over the floor and play with it like sand, I will be again re-organizing categorically instead of according to what I can afford them get into or not 😉

That said, as I sit down to plan my weekly grocery trip, I wanted to share with you a list of my essential OHIs. Produce rotates seasonally, so they’re not listed specifically. These things are on the list because I know I can make meals spur of the moment from them if necessary. Here it is:
* 2 dozen eggs
* White and Whole Wheat bread
* Parmesan
* Shredded cheese of some variety
* Some lunch meat & cheese
* Milk, Half & Half, Sour cream
* Butter – sticks and spreadable
* Refrigerated rolls (Grands)
* Various Oils and vinegars
* Salad dressings and/or salad dressing mixes
* Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, low-fat mayo, peanut butter, grape jam, sriracha, BBQ sauce
* Cream of mushroom soup
* Spaghetti sauce (usually Hunts in the can or jarred Prego)
* Canned tomatoes  – various varieties
* Bananas – this is my yearly consistent fruit. We ALWAYS have bananas. Quick for snacks, and great for baking.
* Onion and garlic
* Dry snacks: crackers (wheat or Ritz usually), granola bars, fruit snacks
* Dry pasta (whole wheat when possible): angel hair and various shapes of boxed dry pasta
* Mac n Cheese
* “Cheater” sides: Instant mashed potatoes, Knorr rice and pasta sides
* Rice
* Cereal
* Waffles
* Frozen pizza, frozen chicken nuggets
* Frozen mixed veg, Frozen steamed microwavable veg (Green giant or Steamfresh)
* Hot dogs
* Baking supplies: whole wheat flour, white sugar, cocoa powder, semi-sweet chips, baking soda and powder, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, allspice
* Seasonings: kosher salt, sea salt, table salt, pepper, pepper grinder, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, taco seasoning packet, country gravy packet
* Seasonal fruit for snacking: berries, grapes, etc.
* Seasonal fresh veg that I can build a meal around, or build into a meal
* Protein – generally chicken breasts or thighs, some kind of pork, ground sausage or beef, occasionally fish, red meat, or ham

Now I’m going to be straight up with you. I work 3 nights a week at a restaurant. On those nights I allow myself to make ‘cheater’ meals. I have to be there at 5, which means dinner should be finished by about 4:30.  This means a combination of the following items, usually following the ‘meat, veg, starch’ guideline: pizza, fries or tater tots, mashed potatoes, Knorr sides (rice or pasta), frozen steamed veg, raw veg, fruit, chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, hot dogs. I felt really bad about this for awhile, like I’m feeding my family crap. But you know what? Until I don’t have to work at dinner time any more, or we don’t need my income anymore, it’s a necessary part of our life, so I just learned to be okay with it. I don’t have to extend too much mental energy making these things, and they’re pretty much no-brainers. Sometimes if I do have extra time, I’ll make a casserole or maybe a chicken pot pie, something that can be in the oven while I’m getting ready for work. Every once in awhile I’ll do a crock pot meal, but generally I don’t have time to eat dinner before work, and I like to enjoy my crock pot meals, so that doesn’t happen often.

So before I make my grocery list, I take stock of my OHI. I figure out what I need to replenish and then do my meal planning based on what’s on sale that week. That plus coupons determines my list for the week. And that’s another post entirely 😉