Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Really Save on Groceries

I have always clipped coupons when I could find them. However I never really went out and got the Sunday paper just for coupons etc. And, when I did, I was always disappointed because it never contained any coupons I needed right then. Therein lies the problem.

Using coupons has to be a consistent thing. And, NO IT IS NOT a waste of your time. If your consider than in one month’s time I have saved $200 then each week I clipped coupons which was only 3 times I got paid $66 for 15 minutes worth of work!!

This is how I got started. I found a message board on frugality and learned about something called CVSing. CVS has a program where you buy products from them and earn ECB’s which you use toward your next purchase. The trick is to use coupons so you pay even less for certain items. It costs a little to get started but once you do you continue to roll your ECB’s (extra care bucks) over for even less out of pocket cost.

These are my numbers. My first trip cost me $14.33. Since then I have not paid more than $6 OOP (out of pocket) and that was because I really needed batteries and had no coupons. Usually I pay less than $2 OOP. You can find much better information on CVSing here. (as a side note, I was getting ready to cut soda out of our budget all together but since starting I have gotten 9 cases of Coke product for $3… along with other items at the same time, this WILL save you money)

So, CVSing got me to want coupons. I remembered a service I had subscribed to once called the Grocery Game. Each week they tell you which items are at stockpiling prices. I use this list to figure out what I am going to buy for the week. I now base my menus on what is on sale and believe it or not, it hasn’t affected what we eat very much at all.

While I get good tips from the Grocery Game you can find lots of free advice at the Grocery Gathering. Plus they provide info about a lot more stores. Both sites tell you which coupons to use and when.

Which takes me back to coupons. The reason I never found what I was looking for was because I only checked out the Sunday paper once in a blue moon. You must get the inserts each week for it to work.

So, yes, you can save a lot of money on groceries and household items. However you must do two things… clip coupons AND use the free advice readily available on the internet.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Grocery Challenge

Last year I attempted this silly little grocery challenge where I tried to save by buying store brands and clipping coupons. However I did no research into HOW to use the coupons etc. Now I have and I have some tips for you. Let me put it into numbers first.

Since 5/6/2008 I have purchased $318 worth of merchandise for $118. I don't know the exact percentage but I know it is over 50% and that is not even one month's worth of savings. I have gotten $200 worth of stuff FREE... do you hear me.... FREE!!!

Part of this is CVSing and the other part is because I have stopped doing the majority of my shopping at Walmart.

Anyway, in the past I have spent half of my grocery budget in the first week of the month. My budget is $300 so I usually pay $120-$150 each week in groceries.... yes, the math does not add up I consistently was over budget. This week I have a full week of menus planned out and so far my total spending is $35. My goal is to keep it under $50 from now on. With a $100 cushion for stockpiling when those type of items arise. I will keep you posted.

With the cost of gas this is really helping us out. I hope to post more about it soon. If you are interested in hearing more about this please post in the comment section. If no one is interested I won't bore you with all the details. BUt I do have some links to share on how to get started yourself.... if anyone is interested. Enjoy you Memorial day weekend!!!

You can check out some of my deals HERE. Pictures included in some posts.

My $369 Ah-ha moment

I was looking at my credit card to see what the balance was. While doing this I noticed a column that said Interest paid YTD and Interest paid last year. Last year I paid this credit card company $369!! I have already paid over $100 this year.

Talk about an eye opener. The main reason I have been wanting to get it paid off is so that my payment can go into savings each month instead of paying for things I have already bought and used. But now.... oh my goodness. $369 worth of gifts I could have bought my kids at Christmas last year....$369 worth of groceries that would have fed us for a month and a half.... $369 in a savings account making me interest.... Anything would have been better than me giving this money away which is essentially what I did. Of course this card has had a balance for about 2 years now, so I can probably double that number!!

I knew debt was bad and I knew that I needed to get rid of it, but this has really inspired me to step up my efforts even more!

What was the one thing that got you started with paying off your debt?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More posts soon!!

Sorry I have been MIA. I am back at work now trying to close out for the year. My baby has been a little sick too. So, I am working on a lot right now. I actually have to spend $10,000 by Friday... I hate it, because it takes a lot of work to spend that kind of money, but it also helps me curb my need to shop and it is fun spending someone else's money!!! Even though it will belong to work I am getting a new digital camera so that will be cool!! This is my first time doing all the budget spending for work and I still can't believe they give me that kind of cash to spend. Too cool!! I have been having one of those "kid playing grown up" days today. I am too old to still be having those!!

Anyway, I am looking forward to doing some more posting soon. I am just totally swamped right now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wants, wants, wants

I want a Wii Fit game and balance board SOOOOOO bad!!! I have wanted it for over a year or whenever it was that they first announced it would be released. Then I read a review of it and now I really really want one. However, I really really really want to be out of debt. After the changes we made to our insurance and seeing the bills that have come in from the hospital and doctors' offices I think there is a chance I may be able to completely pay off my credit card bill. If this is the case I can then use the money from that bill to finally snowball the next debt!! I have even considered if I am able to do that, stopping my retirement savings for a short time and really hitting all the debt. I would do that until I have everything but my student loan paid off. Then the money would go back to retirement. By that time I would have other money to snowball anyway. So, as much as I want that game I am finally thinking about what NEEDS to be done instead of what I want. This is a good step for me.

And, I don't mean that I usually give into all my wants. I don't normally have wants like this... which is good, but in the past when I did have a want like this I would probably find a way to get it. But now I see that $90 as getting me that much closer to paying off my debt. Yea me!!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trimming Grocery Costs

With gas prices rising, prices in the stores are rising as well. If you have never taken a serious look at your grocery spending you may be paying too much. Here are some tips to help you save more in that area of the budget.

1. Stay away from convenience foods. If you can put your entire meal from the freezer to the microwave you are probably paying too much. Yes, it will save you some time but it will cost you more money. If you are reading this, chances are you need the money more.

2. Clean out your pantry. This seems like it would cost you money in throwing things out. I recently cleaned out our cupboards and found that we had things that were expired, things we bought but didn’t like so never ate, and things I had forgotten I had bought. Then I went through and organized a little better, grains and cooking items (like broth, sugar, flour) breakfast and snack foods, can goods, and our box dinners. Now I can see what I have and what I need.

3. Try to make as much of a menu with what you have. I am actually looking forward to doing this, just to see what I can come up with. Now that my cabinets are cleaned out I am going to go back and see how many meals I can create with what I already have. Chances are I won’t need much at the store this week. If you don’t want to do this, at least go through and look before you shop. Last week I let my husband get some more au gratin potatoes even though I “thought” we had some already… yup… we did.

4. Clip coupons when you see them. I am not saying you have to purposely go out and get the paper on Sunday or anything like that. But, since I have started clipping coupons myself I realize they are everywhere. Just the other day I was flipping through a magazine and found a coupon for something we use. So I tore it out and used it. I saved a dollar by just reading my favorite magazine.

5. Buy store brand. I don’t mean for every item you buy, but start out your next shopping trip with the idea of switching just two of your common items to the store brand. Try them and see what you think. We have done this and there are some items we continue to buy as store brand and some we must have name brand for. One that surprised me was biscuits. The store brand tastes exactly like the Pillsbury that we had been buying but was much cheaper.

Okay readers… it is your turn. What is your best grocery saving tip?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Trying my Hand at CVSing

I have been hearing a lot about how to start “CVSing”. Basically, you start out paying a little money out of pocket to get in store credit known as ExtraCare Bucks. Once you do this the first time you have money to spend the next time you go into the store. Each time you shop you make sure you buy items that offer more “Bucks” and that way you don’t have to spend much out of pocket at all. It sounds very confusing and you really have to try it before you can truly understand. I did my first real shop today. I will tell all about that at the end, but first I want to give you some links to get started.

Start here- Money Saving Mom’s CVS 101
She also posts the weekly deals and deal ideas to help you out.

THIS WEEK ONLY Go to Life as the Fishmama
She has a great starter deal that only requires one coupon which you can print online. It sounds complicated but it isn’t. This is what I based my trip on today

And, a message board that has good tips and posts scanned pics of the Monthly ECB book.

Alright. For those still with me here is my story, my deal today and how it worked out.
I stumbled upon MSM’s link first. That gave me a good idea of what CVSing was all about. You won’t find me explaining it here because I don’t fully understand it all yet myself. For about 2 weeks I read about deals, but there was nothing that I needed and I did not want to try this until there was something with a deal that I would use. Think stockpiling here because you will be buying items you may not need yet, but will in the future.

So today I read the post by Fishmama and I saw it was stuff we could use. I had been wanting to try it anyway so I got out a notebook, wrote down the list and I also went by Walmart to get an All You magazine for the free deodorant coupon. Well, I went to the store… couldn’t find the deodorant. Well, I needed to use my $3/15 coupon which is three dollars off a purchase of $15 or more. I bought one toothbrush, two toothpastes, then I went into the grocery section because there was also a deal on Fiber One bars I knew about however they didn’t have the right kind. I eat these everyday for breakfast though and I had a coupon so I bought two boxes. In retrospect I should have gotten another toothbrush to up my total (to use the 3/15 coupon) because I would have gotten more ECB’s… but hey I just started. So, my total out of pocket (OOP) was a little over $13. My ECB’s totaled $10. Some would say it is like getting all of that for only three dollars, but I don’t like that line of thinking. I will put it this way. I now have $10 to spnnd the next time I go in. It will be like getting THOSE items for free. And, if I buy items that offer another say $10 in ECB’s I will be able to keep rolling it over. It is confusing at first, but I am going to try this to get all of our toiletries, paper products etc for next to nothing… hopefully.

As I do more shopping at CVS I will post and tell you if it is worth it or not. I have also started using coupons and I have signed up again for The Grocery Game. I will post more on that too and if it turns out to be worth it or not for us.

Oh and after 3 shopping trips I have already saved $8 using coupons!! I am keeping a total for a while. I want to see how quickly I can pay for my newspaper subscription with coupons. I got Sunday service for 2 years for $72. That is around 70 cents per paper I think. So far I have paid for 11 weeks!!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Picture of Wealth Featured in Carnival!!

This week's Carnival of Debt Reduction is up and my series on writing a financial plan is featured. Check it out here. I will try to post my faves later!!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cash Crate- Another money maker!!!

UPDATE- After only 4 days I have made over the $10 payout amount and have almost $9 in pending offers- meaning when they verify I will be paid!!! I will update again when I actually see a real check!!

PLEASE read all the way through before signing up. There are some things you NEED to know before signing up!!

Cash Crate is a site I saw that was highly recommended by a blogger I trust pretty well. All she said was that she used it and had made money so I thought I would give it a try. However, I have done a little bit of research and I have some tips to make it much better for you if you sign up. If you are not careful you may have your phone ringing off the hook!!

With Cash Crate you go to websites that are already listed for you. You complete the offer according to the instructions and then click submit when you go back to the Cash Crate website for your credit. The offers may be to simply sign up or they could be to complete a survey. Some surveys are real surveys and some are those annoying click yes or no kind. I suggest doing the “register for free” offers. Each offer list exactly how much money you will make on it. They are also listed in order by rating (unless you change it) These are the easiest offers to complete.

The first step you need to take is to create a hotmail account or some other free email account. I prefer hotmail because it is easy to sign up and log in to. You want this email so you can use it for the offers on Cash Crate. You don’t want to use your regular email address because you will be spammed to death!!

Once you have this go ahead and sign up for Cash Crate. One of the best ways to get kicked out of the program is to use fake info so you have to use whatever info you give Cash Crate for any offers you complete.

Now you can begin completing offers. I try to go for the ones that say register for free. These ask for the least amount of info. You can also answer surveys up to two per day for cash. However you want to get to these early because they will fill up and you won’t be able to log in.

Finally… read the fine print on offers. If they say that you are agreeing to mobile marketing or that they may sell your info don’t complete the offer. This is not as hard as it sounds. They usually have this written right under where you put your phone number etc. There are also some credit card applications and loan applications. These pay well but obviously you do NOT want to sign up for these under any circumstances.

Following these guidelines in the three days I have been a member I have already made $7. I only need $3 more to get a check this month. I am sure I will probably have that before the weekend is over. This would be great easy money to apply to your snowflaking efforts!! Click here to join!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Financial Plan Wrap Up

Let’s quickly break down the plan to just the basics. This way if you haven’t gotten started you can make your own plan quickly.

This is a basic plan…

Step One- Create a plan to begin or complete an Emergency Fund.
Step Two- List all debt and create a plan to pay it all off.
Step Three- Create a plan to save up at least 3 to 6 months’ income
Step Four- Create plans to save for retirement, save for child’s college or pay off mortgage (as you get closer to this step you break it into three separate steps.)

Now here is what each step should consist of….
Goal- In simple language write down a goal that you want to accomplish. Ex: Save $1000 in an emergency fund.
Plan- Write down every single thing you plan to do in order to accomplish your goal. If you are on the debt step you will also list every debt you owe along with how much you pay each month. For each step list ways that you can expedite the process. Ex: cut out movies, coffee, whatever… For goals that are in the distant future this plan can be a simple sentence.
Maintenance- Write down what you will do to insure this step does not come undone. See the plan pages for more details on this step.
Completion date- This is optional but if you figure out how many months each step will take to complete it may motivate you. You could also set this date sooner than you expect to finish to push yourself more.

**Remember- Everyone is different. You may want to add more steps to your plan. Maybe you want to take a year off to care for a new baby; you can figure up your expenses and add that as a step in your plan. This is your plan, make it for YOU!

I hope this week’s articles have helped you develop your own financial plan. It really does help to write your plan down so that you can review it and stay on track. I have been doing this for almost a year. My plan has changed a few times but having it where I can see it reminds me of my goals and how close I am to completing them.

I hope to get some reader input here. One of the hardest things to do is find extra money to put toward savings and your debt. Please list your own ideas or where you have found extra money.

Some of my ideas…
Use coupons and shop for items on sale. Keep track of the money saved and either save it or put it toward your debt.

Look in the side bar. I have links to Cash 4 books and some of the survey companies I have signed up for. I also list my experience with each one and whether it is worth it or not.

I am also now a really big fan of Craigslist since you can post your ads for free. It just depends on how used it is in your area. So use this to sell old items you aren’t using and make some extra cash.

Cut back on dining out or movies. Even cutting out one time per month will save you money. Although if you have significant debt you probably shouldn’t be going anyway!!! I haven’t been to a movie in probably a year or two.

Any small thing you can do will add up in the end. If you have any questions about the plan feel free to ask!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Creating Your Financial Plan - Step Four

Today’s step will vary quite a bit from person to person. At least write something down. Even if you just write the name of the step so that when you update your plan later you will remember that there are more steps. Now, today you will see this is a combination of three goals. You can put them all together or make them all separate. It depends on what your needs/situation is/are.

Here is Julia’s Step Four… very very simplistic

Step Four- Retirement, College Savings, Pay off Mortgage

Goal: Save for Retirement. Save for a home. (Remember Julia is single and renting.)

Plan- Once savings is built up begin saving up $3000 to start an IRA at Vanguard.
Once retirement savings is in place begin saving for a down payment on a home.

Completion date- ??

Notice the items listed in the step don’t match her goals. That is because she doesn’t have children so there is no saving for college right now for her. If she decided to get married or have a child, she would need to rework her plan to make room for those things.

Also her goal under mortgage is listed as “Save for a home” because she does not have a home right now. I will write more on the mortgage step below.

So her goal is to save for retirement first. She must save $3000 to open and IRA with Vanguard (her choice, don’t take this as retirement advice, you have to make that decision for yourself). Then she will take some amount of money (hopefully enough to max out her IRA) and put that toward retirement monthly FROM THIS POINT ON. This is going to be an ongoing step until she retires.

Now, it seems like a crazy idea to save for retirement before saving for your own kids, but you need to make sure you are taken care of first so your poor kids won’t have to take care of you. If they have to take out student loans, they have to, but it is better for them to do that then have to help you out financially later on.

If you ARE at the saving for college step then you will also allocate a certain amount to that each month. Now that you have all of your debt paid off this could be something like the following…..
If we use Julia’s figures $625

Retirement $225
College $200
Extra Mortgage payment $200

Remember you have been paying your mortgage all along as part of your monthly budget. Your monthly budget does not figure into the financial plan except for your debt and savings payments, but obviously you are going to be paying for groceries, gas, etc while doing the steps. The money we discuss here is above and beyond your monthly expenses. So the extra money you now have from paying off your debt can be spread out to cover retirement, college and paying extra on your mortgage each month.

Once again, this is your plan. You have to decide where to best put the money. I do believe the order set out in this plan is a good one. But in the end it is your money.

Well, at this point you should have a rough draft of your own plan. Read over it, work out any bugs and keep it as is or make a new shiny copy. You may even want to type it up on your computer to save for later use. Join me tomorrow for the wrap up.