For this month’s Eat Well, Spend Less edition, we’re taking a look at how we’ve changed over the past year since we’ve being doing the series.
I’d already started writing this post going back way farther than just one year, and thought it would be appropriate to show you my “life cycle” as a couponer – I hope it helps give you some perspective, no matter if you’re a super-couponer or a “regular” shopper!
Recently I spoke to a group of moms and one of the questions I was asked was How do you find the time to coupon-shop? which leads me to this post: The Life Cycle Of A Couponer.
When I started “couponing” five years ago or so, my habits were very different than they are now. Here’s a look at the different phases I’ve been through, and I would love to hear what phase you’re in and where you’ve been in the past, too!
Phase 1: Excited New Couponer With One Child And No Plan
I first got interested in using coupons while reading my friend Crystal’s first blog (before she started MoneySavingMom.com). I thought, “hey, if she can do this, I can, too!” so I started clipping coupons and was pumped to be saving so much money.
I made frequent trips to many stores – after all, I was a new mom with not many friends in the town we were living in at the time. This was my entertainment! We almost always stopped at a drugstore or two on the way to church on Sunday, and I would sometimes get up at 6 AM to head to the grocery store so I could get in on the deals before they sold out.
Often, I would drive twenty minutes from Randalls (Safeway affiliate) to another Randalls to stock up on deals, as they only doubled/tripled one like coupon per transaction. And, if there was a Walgreens or CVS on the way, I would most certainly stop in there to see if they had any more of their deals back in stock.
When I found out that most of the area schools had newspaper recycling bins, I was in coupon heaven. I would drive around town looking for coupon inserts in the recycle bins, and often came away with dozens.
After spending hours each day reading money saving blogs and message boards, I would head out to stores like Walmart and Target in the hopes of finding deals that I’d heard about on other blogs. Lots of time and gas were wasted on wild goose chases for sales that weren’t going on at our stores.
I was getting lots of free stuff and had cupboards that were overflowing, but I wasn’t really paying attention to how much I was spending, and I wasn’t applying a savings strategy to my meat and produce. We were spending probably $200 a week on groceries for two adults and a baby.
Phase 2: Two Children & A Tight Budget
We moved, and had another baby. Colorado Springs didn’t have a CVS (still bummed about that, years later!) but they did have more competition among grocery stores. I started doing Walgreens deals a little more, and shopped around at more grocery stores.
I was still making quite a few stops a week, but didn’t head to Target to find phantom deals that I’d hear about on other blogs and there weren’t any more alarm clocks set at 6 AM to get to the store before the deals sold out.
Our budget was tight, and instead of a number, it was “spend as little as possible”. (If you’re looking for an example when it comes to how to budget, I will be honest: I am not that person to look up to!) Grocery shopping was still fun for me, and it was my primary hobby.
When I was four or five months pregnant with our third child, my husband got laid off from his job selling new homes and became a Realtor. We went from a little bit of guaranteed monthly income + commissions to 100% commission so our budget was still “spend as little as possible”. Couponing was a have-to-do thing to feed our family!
Phase 3: Realistic Couponer and Work-At-Home Mom To 3
I started Springs Bargains in December 2008 when I was nine months pregnant with our third child. My goal was initially to generate a little bit of side income to help our family’s budget and also help spread the word that hey, my husband can help you buy a house! :)
Amazingly, God totally blessed Springs Bargains and it started to become a viable business of its own. With three kids and running a full-time business from home, it became a lot harder to make trips to the store, so I pretty much stopped doing Walgreens’ Register Rewards deals at this point, except for a few spurts every now and then when I couldn’t resist the deals.
It was at this point that I started to realize that my time was becoming more valuable, and I was focusing more on being a realistic couponer, which to me means providing for my family’s needs and having a reasonably-sized stockpile of things I knew we would use, without spending hours each week preparing my coupons and driving around to ten stores.
Phase 4: Work-At-Home Mom To 4
Well, we had another child (at this point in the story, we’re up to four) in 2010 and my husband’s real estate business was going very well, as was Colorado Bargains (which now included both Springs Bargains and Denver Bargains).
Our budget wasn’t as tight, and I didn’t have as much time to coupon shop. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have time to clip coupons and find sales, it was just too big of an effort to get myself and all my kids to the stores!
Since the budget wasn’t as tight, and we really enjoy cooking and eating, I didn’t really keep track of how much I was spending. But, I felt really guilty about how much I was spending even though I didn’t know how much it was!
Phase 5: Work-At-Home, Homeschooling, Food-loving Mom To 5
Last fall, we started homeschooling (my oldest is in first grade), and in February, I had our fifth child (a baby girl!). We are busy, and I love it.
I have to be honest, I really do not do well at feeding my family when I’m pregnant, but as soon as the baby’s out, I usually get totally inspired in the kitchen. This time has been no exception. In the almost two months since Baby’s been here, I’ve been cooking up a storm.
Part of my inspiration is that new kitchen workhorse that I got for Christmas, but I’ve just been really enjoying being in the kitchen. My husband really enjoys eating good food, too, so to be able to make him happy by putting a little extra effort into cooking is great.
But, that inspiration in the kitchen has also caused me to want to purchase more expensive foods that I didn’t used to purchase. On the one hand, I’m fine with this, since I feel like it’s OK to spend a bit more on something that is not only nourishment for my family, but entertainment for me. I’m a lot less likely to want to go out to eat if I have really yummy food to cook at home!
On the other hand, I was already feeling guilty about what I was spending – or what I didn’t know I was spending (see Phase 4). So, at the beginning on this month, I decided to go to an all cash budget for groceries, just to see how it would work.
And, I’m totally floored by how much less I’ve spent with cash. I’m not sure if it’s really the pain of handing over twenty dollar bills versus swiping a debit card, or if it’s just that I actually know how much I’m spending. I took out $500 at the beginning of this month – I would have taken out $600 (for $150/week), but the ATM would only let me do $500 so I could still potentially take out another $100 if I needed to.
(I have been able to purchase some grocery items for very little using referral credits from Vitacost, so if you’re comparing numbers – please don’t! There’s always a backstory on people’s grocery budgets: some get perks like Vitacost credits that they can use to purchase groceries, some get WIC supplements, some have a garden, some get free meat from their parent’s farm, etc. The numbers are just numbers and shouldn’t make you feel successful or unsuccessful.)
We are halfway through April and I still have a little over $200 left (or $300 if I were to go and get that extra $100 from the ATM)! It’s not like I haven’t bought food: we’ve been eating good, and I’ve bought 20 lbs of hormone-free ground beef from Ranch Foods and purchased a couple of roasts (not hormone free by any means, but whole cuts of beef are rare at our house these days!). We’ve eaten chicken and pork chops and lots of cheese and I’ve only spent $300?!
So, at least right now, cash is where it’s at for me and groceries. I feel free to purchase what I want, knowing that I’ll have to make do with whatever’s left if I splurge. (I’ve done plenty of making do before!)
I don’t feel guilty when my total at the store is $80 because I can’t remember how much I’ve spent other places this week and think “howmuchhaveIspent, howmuchhaveIspent?! I’mnotagoodgroceryshopper, I’mnotagoodgroceryshopper”. I just hand over the cash and forget about it.
I’m still using coupons – for sure – but it’s a lot less than it used to be. You know I’ve lamented that the deals just aren’t there as much anymore, and my family is changing. Not only am I really enjoying cooking, my kids are getting bigger and yes, they have hollow legs. A packaged granola bar just doesn’t cut it anymore, so I’m buying less processed foods and making my own. A homemade granola bar made with whole wheat pastry flour and rolled oats is a lot more filling than Mr. Quaker’s – not to mention that it’s actually good for you.
Another thing that’s changed about our family is that with five kids (especially when one is a newborn), it’s just hard to get out of the house, which has cut down on those last-minute trips to the Wendy’s drive thru. But, that also means that we have to have food at home to eat, which means spending more out of my grocery budget. Even when we do get out of the house, I’m so much less likely to stop somewhere for a bite to eat if we have good food at home instead of “whatever you can find”. So i’m investing a little more into lunches so we don’t dread 12:00 PM.
So, that’s where I’m at. I’m not feeling guilty anymore about not being the bargain shopper that I’m “supposed” to be. I’m enjoying my food and so is my family. We’re eating more gourmet and healthier foods, which are fun to prepare, taste great, and fill us up. I’m spending cash and I’m feeling good about it, rather than feeling guilty about the unknown.