There are a few provisos, a couple of quid pro quo, about reading this blog: I am not the sort of person who offers tips and expects them to be followed to the letter, or even given credence at all. I’m all about individuality and perspective, very free to be you and me. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, and should anything I write make you think, “Well, that was asinine,” the most huff I’ll give you in return is an artless shrug.
I am a stay-at-home mom. That means ti-i-i-ime is on my side (yes it is). I also happen to live in a city of relative size (it’s not Chicago, but it ain’t Butcher Holler, either) that offers selection in grocery stores, drug stores and big box stores. That means that many of the things I do to reduce cost, stress and buyer’s remorse in regard to household shopping won’t necessarily work for single parent households or where both parties work outside the home. But I’m willing to share my strategy (if one may call it that) although it’s mostly comprised of common sense, enjoying to cook and having a lot of time on my hands. It’s also a regionally-specific strategy, since I try to buy local when I can.
This is no Hints from Heloise, it’s not even Sandra “Semi-Homemade, have enough cocktails and you won’t even taste preservatives!” Lee, and I’m definitely NOT Martha Stewart: no one could do that much decoupage without calling on the powers of darkness (™Joss Whedon).
When I first decided to stay home with my son, I supplemented our income by watching the infant son of one of my best friends eight hours a day, five days a week. The first time I went to Wal-Mart wearing one baby in a sling and pushing another in a carrier and dealt with the crowds (even in the middle of the work day) and explosion of STUFF that is Wal-Mart, I came home with two wailing babies (what *do* they pipe into Wal-Mart that makes kids scream?!), lugging eight million of those annoying, flimsy plastic bags and thought, “Aw, hell naw.”
I did a cost comparison of non-food stuff products between Wal-Mart and Target (again, I had the time) and found that the cost difference (in NW Oklahoma City) wasn’t that different. Sure, a can of shaving cream might be 20 cents more at Target, but they might have laundry soap or another pricey item on special and my over-priced moisturizer was my over-priced moisturizer at either place. So I decided to reduce my shopping trips for cleaning products, toiletries and household items to just once a month at Target (this would cut down on Target’s seductive lure of super-cute seasonal table items — it’s obvious everyone needs them!) and for groceries to once a week at Crest Foods, a local grocery store chain.
I found my local Wal-Mart’s produce section to be lacking while Crest often had local (or regional) produce with more variety and better prices. Eating fresh (especially since I had the time to plan menus and wanted a healthier lifestyle) was important, and Crest’s grocery prices are comparable to Wal-Mart’s because of their lack of overhead (limited promotion budget, no rental costs, etc).
This allowed me to stay within my budget *and* have a more peaceful shopping experience (Target is always less crowded and more soothing than Wal-Mart, possibly because everyone else is at Wal-Mart because they assume it’s less expensive — and in your area, it might be). That was important to me, because, as a stay-at-home mom, shopping, cooking and cleaning were now the fundamentals of my job, rather than side projects I worked in around a career. Some people get an ergonomic office chair or pipe in whale song to reduce stress at work, I go to Target and shop in peace and quiet alongside the same five senior citizens every month.
I was not, however, ever one to really utilize coupons. If I found one stuck to bag of flour, sure, I’d use it, because it was there and to not do so would be the equivalent of tossing 50 cents in the floor. I see a quarter, I pick it up. If I picked up a Sunday paper and there was a coupon for a product we often use, I clipped it. The .25 to .75 cent savings really didn’t offset our budget that much, since one rarely finds coupons for whole foods and I tend to the follow the “outer edge” plan of healthy shopping: concentrating on the outer produce, dairy and meat counters and buying sparingly from the inner processed food aisles.
Extreme Couponing has become such a modern day phenomenon that it has its own reality show (of course it does) and was even used as a possible motive for murder on a recent episode of Bones (I will CUT YOU for that Tide BOGO!). Couponing, whether extreme or casual (I come down on the casual side) doesn’t work for all consumers, because many buy store brands or generic products (already discounted) or shop from local farmer’s markets or other outlets where there is no “manufacturer” to lure buyers with periodic discounts. Couponing has become easier, however, with printable internet coupons and blogs devoted to tips on getting the most from your discount (i.e. following posted store specials and reducing them further with a corresponding coupon).
It can become an obsession (kinda like gambling — who doesn’t like free money?) and, for some stay-at-home parents (although not all extreme couponers are SAHMs, but I marvel at 9-to-5ers finding the time — they must get up VERY early in the morning!), something that allows them to use their critical thinking skills and fills a lot of time. A modern day mother’s little helper, if you will. (“Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag / So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak!”) People stockpile coupons, hoard products that were SUCH a bargain and buy things they don’t need just because it was ALMOST free!
Eh. That’s not me. I had a friend who really got into extreme couponing, and she tried to lure me with her promises of getting “a week’s worth of groceries at Homeland, after double coupons, for just $3.58!” Okay, yes, but what did you buy? You didn’t get items that are seldom or never coupon’d — produce and fresh meat — for $3.68, and it’s more important to me that we eat fresh and healthy than super cheap. And therein comes my initial proviso: what works for me won’t necessarily be what works for you. While we are a one income family and things are often tight, I tend to buy fresh or mostly name brand items (which allows me to use manufacturer’s coupons on the few prepared foods, i.e. honey, sugar, coffee, etc. that we buy) but I realize that everyone’s means, budget or dietary requirements are not the same. I will not stand in the way of the average shopper following their version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, even if that means instant potatoes (I will judge instant stuffing, though. That’s super cheap to make and I will mourn your sad, boxed Thanksgiving. It’s one of my few failings — forgive me, pray for me and go forth in peace).
HOWEVER. My attitude changed (somewhat) once I found a blog called Couponing to Disney. The blogger, through couponing and some “at-home money making” ventures was able to save $3500 in a year toward a Disney World trip (AFTER we got back from our own trip, naturally). Suddenly, things just got interesting to me. The blogger would create a weekly menu and budget, withdraw cash to purchase her items (we are also a cash-only family) and then deposit the cash leftover after her coupons and sales to a vacation fund.
Since I don’t plan to extreme coupon (that much clipping and driving to various sales and, uh, paying attention, sounds EXHAUSTING to me), I decided to allot a certain amount a month toward a vacation fund and then follow the tips on using coupons or discounts and depositing the savings from my Target or grocery trips to it (rather than frittering them on Starbucks or Dollar Tree “must-haves” that were unneeded in the first place — again, a lot of this is just common sense and a careful eye toward money management).
Through the coupons I found online (and not with any sort of super-sleuthing, just clicking and printing) and comparison shopping, I managed to shave $100 off of our Target budget this month, which will go straight into our vacation fund. The $20 or so in coupon savings from our grocery trip tomorrow will also go into the account, and it cost me no more than a bit of time and annoying my husband with my tales of “FREE MONEY!”
A few of the coupon resources I found online that were low-maintenance (i.e. required no more than my email address and didn’t ask me to sign up for things or share my personal information — $1.50 off Clorox 2 is not worth identity theft) were:
I have some reservations about extreme couponing (extreme being my definition of utlizing coupons beyond printable sites, those posted on manufacturer’s websites or in your local mailers) because of the likelihood of fraud on the part of some couponers (using coupons for a non-matching product, multi-printing the same coupon, violating the terms of coupon — i.e. ignoring the number or size of the product required to use the coupon) because of the loss it means to businesses which discourages them to honor coupons. It’s also a lot of effort (and toner) and can come to seem a bigger deal (a hobby, rather than a convenience) than it is. However, as a geek, I do not harsh squee or judge others on where they get their jollies.
At the end of my first week, however, I managed to accumulate $50 in usable coupons with little effort and no fraud or suspension of ethics.
To tie-in with this week’s theme (was there one?) I’m offering a time-saving recipe, as it calls for leftover pork tenderloin. I rarely have leftover pork tenderloin (and those I buy are small; I paid a mere $4 at Crest Foods for a one-pound tenderloin that served the three of us with leftovers for lunch the next day) so I usually roast mine at 425 degrees on a grilling rack in the oven for 25 minutes and then follow the recipe.
Pan-Seared Pork with Pineapple-Kiwi Salsa
1 cup diced pineapple (fresh or canned in juice)
1 cup peeled and diced kiwi (about 2 or 3 whole kiwi)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound leftover roasted pork tenderloin, sliced crosswise into 1-inch thick slices
1 tablespoon chili powder
In a medium bowl, combine the pineapple, kiwi, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime juice and toss to combine. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season both sides of the pork slices with salt and pepper. Rub the chili powder into both sides of the pork. Add the pork to the hot pan and sear 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Serve the pork with the salsa spooned over the top (I served it alongside some gluten-free jasmine rice).