Friday, July 30, 2010

Lessons in Couponing-Part II

Yesterday I shared 3 observations I've made on my coupon journey. They are:

1. Finding a system that works for you is essential.
2. Planning a Menu saves you a ton!
3. There are some items that have coupons available almost every week.

Now to continue . . .

4. Keep any coupon you MAY use.
I usually buy all of Sammy's diapers at Target. They are far cheaper than any of the name brand diapers and work just fine. Therefore, when I saw a coupon for $1.50 off Pampers diapers, I didn't think to save them. Then . . . I noticed that at places like CVS you can actually get name brand diapers for even cheaper than Target brand when you use coupons and in-store promotions. So I now keep coupons for products that I usually buy off brand versions of.

5. Keep a running price list of your most common items.
I think I've mentioned before that I do this on my iPod touch. The first few times I went to grocery stores in my neighborhood, I kept track of how much different items cost. This really helps when I'm at Hy-Vee, trying to decide if a deal is as good as it sounds. Like I've said, I don't buy something at Hy-Vee with a coupon if I know that I can still get it cheaper at Aldi.

6. When you see a good deal-stock up!
As long as a deal won't make me go over budget, I go for it. Occasionally, I've stocked up on good deals even though it's made me go a little over budget. To compensate, I set a lower budget the following week.

7. Don't be afraid to mess up.
My first trip to CVS, I messed up. My first time trying to match up coupons with in-store promotions, I messed up. I grabbed the wrong size of boxes, or didn't have the write kind, etc. But it gets easier and it takes less and less time after each trip to the grocery store. Don't be deterred by a few mistakes.

I am so glad that 2 cousins got me hooked on couponing. I've been able to make our grocery budget only $50 a week (and oftentimes less!). I've been able to get necessities like diapers, soap, cleaning supplies etc, at ridiculously low prices. It IS worth it. Sure, it took a few mistakes, and at first, it took up more of my time, but now that I've stuck with it a few months, I feel like I'm on a roll and it can only get better from here.

Because I know so many friends and family that read this are starting to catch the coupon craze, I thought I'd offer to try and answer any questions you may have. So, if you still confused about something I've posted about, or have a specific question, leave a comment and I'll try and do a post answering your question.
I'm no expert but I think I've got a good handle on it now!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lessons in Couponing-Part 1

After almost 2 months of couponing, I decided to write down some of my observations, (in no particular order or flow). Here they are for you reading pleasure:

1. Finding a system that works for you is essential.
For me, this means that on Sunday afternoons or evenings, I take out the Red Plum and Smart Source inserts from my Sunday paper which is delivered to my door for the price of $1.25 each week. (This subscription gets me Thursday-Sunday papers.) I don't clip each coupon. I only clip coupons I think I may use. If I'm not sure, I usually clip it just to be safe.

Then, I divide the coupons into the categories labeled in my expandable folder, order them by expiration date, then place them in the correct slot in my coupon holder. Now that it's a routine, it takes about 30 minutes (or less) each week to do all of this. Not bad.

Red Plum

Smart Source

2. Planning a Menu saves you a ton!
Just the other day, I went to do my weekly meal plan and realized I didn't even need to go to the store on my regularly scheduled grocery day. After looking through my fridge, freezer and cabinets, I found enough in there to last a few days. I only need a few days worth because Hy-Vee is having a really great 10 hour sale this Saturday (Aug. 31) I wanted to wait to do the bulk of my weekly shopping until that day. However, I realized that I STILL didn't really need to do a normal grocery day because I had enough meal ideas to last me until my next grocery day next week! Sure, I'm going to need to grab a few things like milk, eggs, cereal and a few other things, but I don't need to buy anything extra for my supper meals this week.

Last week, I didn't see any great deals at Hy-Vee so I bought all of my weekly groceries from Aldi. I only spent $33 dollars for all of the meals for 1 week. I was way under my $50 weekly budget. Planning a menu saves you a ton!

3. There are some items that have coupons available almost every week.
I can almost always depend on having coupons for cereal, yogurt, razors, soaps, cleaning supplies, baby supplies and batteries. There are a few others but these are the ones that come to mind. Now that I'm used to what comes in the inserts each week, I can know when I see a really great coupon and when I have enough Yoplait yogurt coupons.

Some people get frustrated with coupons because they think that the above mentioned items are the only things available to buy with coupons. But the longer you coupon, the greater variety of coupons you acquire. I've been doing it long enough that I can finally read, "Use KC Masterpiece $0.50 off coupon from the 6/03 Red Plum insert and combine it with the in-store coupon of $0.50 off." It takes time to get the most bang for your buck, but it's worth it.

Stay tuned for Lessons in Couponing-Part II.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another Great CVS Deal

Yesterday I got a box of Pampers diapers (64 count) for $3.49. Well, it's basically like that. Here is how it worked:

  • CVS has Pampers for sale (not on sale) at $21.99
  • I had a coupon for $1.50 off.
  • I also had $3 in Extra Care Bucks from my last CVS purchase.
  • I also had $4 in Extra Care Bucks because every few months, CVS gives you 2% of the TOTAL amount spent back to you. So even though I've only actually spent about $30, my Extra Care account shows that I spent $84.11. If you do the math, (which I'm horrible at) you'll see that 2% of $84.11 is NOT $4. So I'm not sure why I got 4% back but I'll take it!
  • With ECB's and a coupon, that brought my total to $13.49 (cheaper than Target brand!)
  • When you buy 1 box of Pampers diapers, you receive $10 in Extra Care Bucks.
  • Bringing the grand total to $3.49. Wow.
Now granted, I actually had to pay $13.49 of actual cash yesterday. But what I'll do is spend those $10 ECB on something where I only pay the overage to reach $10. So I'll wait for something that is "Buy $10 of Cover Girl products and get $3 ECB's." See this post for an example of this.

What it comes down to is I get a box of diapers and $10 of other merchandise for only $13.49. I'm loving getting things for dirt cheap. Now that I've been couponing and CVSing for almost 2 months, I feel like I've learned a few things and understand everything a lot better. Be looking for a post in the next few days about it. I'm still hooked!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Picture Stealing

Apparently I'm in the apology business lately. My camera bit the dust, kicked the bucket, went 6 feet under, you get the jist. So I can't take pictures unless I use our camcorder which currently has a full memory card and I guess I'm just being lazy about downloading pictures and videos form there. So first I'm going to apologize about being lazy in downloading stuff from the camcorder.

However . . . I came up with a brilliant plan to steal my sister-in-law's photos from Facebook. Last weekend, almost my entire family came down and we had a fun weekend swimming at the hotel pool, eating and enjoying being together. I got to play host for a few meals too which I always enjoy. And no, I didn't have to break the bank to pay for the food- I stayed UNDER BUDGET for the week, including our normal food plus the extra food for our weekend. I love not spending tons of money on groceries! Oh . . . and now I have to apologize for stealing pictures.

Now onto pictures and a little update about each of my kiddos.

This boy loves food so much he'll gladly suck on not 1, but 2 lemon slices. Crazy kid.

Sammy's newest thing is keeping me from getting anything done. He's totally mobile now and loves to climb on, climb in and grab whatever he can.

Sammy's twin (I mean uncle)

The boy is also into waking up way too early from his afternoon nap to stand up his crib. Thankfully today he finally fell back asleep . . . after I caged him into his pack n' play where he had nothing to hold on to.

Poor pitiful boy . . .

When Renae was this age, she was shaking her head no, waving and "talking" more. At this age Sammy is clapping, grunting, screaming and saying the one syllable he knows: Da da.

Although it may not be obvious, we DO feed him . . .

You'd think they were a bunch of 13 year olds . . .

Renae and her cousins

Little Miss Renae is one funny little girl. She's really into "reading" (usually her own language) out loud and repeating everything we say back to us as if we're hearing for the first time from her mouth.

Check out my hat.

She's pretty excited about her birthday "In August. I get gummy worms at my August." Can't believe she'll be 3 so soon . . . We are enjoying our times in the morning when Sammy is taking his nap. After my run she likes to count for me while I lift weights or do crunches. After counting to ten she sounds as worn out as a marathon finisher.

OK, one more picture of each. And there are no pictures of me. And it's not because I've gotten embarasingly fat that I don't want you to see how I've let myself go. Remember, I run in the mornings. :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

That's All I Needed

I said I needed a little break. And I did. And I still need a break from writing things that may be funny, but actually come from a deep feeling of brokenness for the post-modern, unchurched, dechurched, lost of this world. A lot of the things that you'll see me write about on this blog in regards to our lives here at seminary are tongue in cheek, but are also the only way I know how to convey some of the inconsistencies I see with "religion."

Speaking of religion, I heard a great quote today. Religion says, "we're here to make sure you do something you don't want to do." (Read your Bible, go to church, share your faith, etc.) A grace filled relationship with God causes us to want to do what we are supposed to do. (Read your Bible, go to church, share your faith, etc.) It's a beautiful thing to be in a relationship with that kind of God. One who loves us enough to give us the Holy Spirit to convict, encourage, correct and in my case, make me cry when I'm all verklempt thinking about how awesome relationship with God is. Yes, that happens. If I think too hard about how good God is, and how much he's radically changed me, my husband and our marriage over the past 3 years, well the tears start a-flowin. This happens often during my runs in the morning. I'll be running along and the hands come out to flap away the moisture. (That doesn't work very well, fyi.)

I may have just said that last part so that you're impressed with the fact that I exercise daily. What I should say, is that it's on my schedule each day (Mon-Fri) and there are lots of days that I miss. I think the real thing I need to change on my blog is that I need to write more about my own inconsistencies if I'm going to write about all the inconsistencies I see when I walk out my front seminary housing door. So here is my first inconsistency: I threw in that tidbit about running in the morning so you'd know I'm "one of those" Moms who makes time to run. So I'm also "one of those" proud, self-righteous types too. Dang it.

I really appreciated all the kind comments people left me (and the few emails too.) I can't stay away from anything too long so I'll be back. I just don't know what I'll want to write about.

Wow. This was one of the most random, personal blog posts I think I've ever written. I've always said I didn't want to be "one of those" (I love that phrase) bloggers who just go on and on about their thoughts. So I apologize for this post and any that follow it's example.It probably stems from spending the past half hour reading this blog. It's my new favorite and I've added it to my blog roll so that you can know when she updates. Thanks Kari for the vine (whatever that phrase means. I'm just using it to sound more blogsmart. See? I am proud! Wow . . . what a weird post this has become.)

One more thing. When I say I heard a quote the other day, what I usually mean is, "I heard a really cool thing come out of someone's mouth and I can't remember exactly what they said but here is my paraphrase." So don't quote me on anything in this blog . . .

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lessons from Writing

Before Renae was born, I read the book "Babywise." I thought so many aspects of it were great. Then I had Renae and quickly threw some of it out the window. Although there are some good tips in there, what I caught loud and clear from the book is that many times when your child is crying, they are just being manipulative and bad. Well, I can't agree with that 100% of the time, especially after having 2 children! As I've talked with other Moms about that book, many people heard the same message that I heard, despite the fact that there are lots of other (and some not so great) good tips in the book. So what's the lesson?

It doesn't matter what you say in a book . . . or a blog post. Whatever stands out the strongest is what others will hear. I received some feedback about my last few posts and I'm learning that I'm not very good at conveying some funny daily happenings without sounding very negative and judgemental. I apologize. That was not my intent and I thought each time that I brought it full circle by talking about how I need to see them as God sees them and learn from them. But lesson learned.

I think I'm going to take a break from blogging for a bit. I'm not sure how long. Until I learn how to kindly and humourusly convey my life here, it really is a stretch to blog about things that are fun for me to write about. Perhaps when I get a camera that works better I'll start blogging about the kids, but honestly, the personal blog thing has lost some of it's charm on me.

Again, I apologize for being overly negative and judgemental. We have met some GREAT people here and we are enjoying having friends so close by to hang out with! God is teaching us some great things and life is good.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Turf Wars

Fingers snap in perfect rhythm.

Two sides face off wearing rolled up sleeves and slicked down hair.

West Side Story's got nothin' on the turf wars going on at this seminary campus.

I know lots of people put pastors on pedestals. Usually, the head shepherd would be voted "Most Likely to say Amen Instead of a Cuss Word When Being Cut Off on the Interstate." Well before these "perfect" men become pastors, they often times have to go to seminary first; at least if you are still part of a traditional church. Some of you attend a more "modern" church, oftentimes dubbed an "emergent" church and you may have a "lay pastor" (turned metrosexual). You lucky A29ers usually get someone who function just like a real person, but studies theology classes as he goes.

Well I live in the world of the traditional pastor. Everyday I'm surrounded by families who will one day be your head pastor, youth pastor, music leader, or resident theologian. They'll be in charge of teaching you the Bible, modeling Christ's love to you (even when you call in every week to nag about the volume of last Sunday's praise worship) and general head pastor stuff. I have a secret to tell you: they aren't perfect! Which brings me to my Turf Wars story . . .

Some friends of ours shared a story about one particular neighbor. This certain person was very possessive about his parking spot. So much so that in one instance, this (future pastor or theologian) left a scathing note on a visiting friends car that pretty much said, "This space is MINE! Now give it back or I'll tell on you to the Dean of Students!" And don't think this only happened once. Sometimes the Parking Spot Nazi came to our friends' door and asked them to move their car . . .to one of the many, many open spaces in the lot.

Last week, we noticed that someone from another building was parking in "our" area. Not our parking spots, but our area. We thought it was weird considering he lived right across the street and there were open spots much closer to his apartment. But oh well. We thought, maybe he's a classic Southern Baptist and needs a little exercise.

Then a fellow neighbor talked with us about how much it bothered him and how he really wished that person would stick to his side of the parking lot. (Can you see the gangs getting ready to gather for a good ole fashioned fist fight?) Like I said, it wasn't bothering us so we didn't really encourage this person to do anything about it. Well lo and behold . . . the next morning, the said car had a "friendly" (not sure what it said) note tucked under the windshield wiper. By early afternoon, the car was moved and has since stopped parking in "our" area.

Mission accomplished. One future church leader avoided conflict by taking the heathens way out and writing a nasty note. Awww . . . I'm going to love living in this weird world the next few years. Best get out the "Lord give my grace, humility and eyes to love these people like you do" prayers.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eat Mor Chikin!

I'm finally posting pictures from our Chic-fil-a day. My camera kicked the bucket so I've had to use our camcorder to catch any moments lately. The quality is not the greatest but hey, our cow costumes weren't the greatest either.

This cow already knows how to pose for pictures.

Renae desperately trying to get the attention of "That Purple Cow!"

Someday she'll go into marketing.

Me and my Calves.

And Sammy's latest trick.

Naps and nighttime have been a little disrupted lately as he's learning to crawl and sit up and stand up on his own. He still sleeps pretty good but occasionally we have to go in and lay him back down since he doesn't know how to lie back down from whatever position he got himself in. Silly boy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

All of This . . . for only $0.61

That is not a misprint. I got 2 Suave kids shampoo/conditioner in 1, 1 Suave shampoo, and 3 Suave body washes for only $0.61. Oh . . . and I got 3 Snickers too. I ate one on the way home.

In case anyone misunderstood my last post, I'll still be posting about my coupon adventures and lessons I'm learning, but I'm going to do it on this blog, and only as I have time. If you want to blog for income, you have to keep to the specified niche of the blog, blog often, and do a lot of networking on like minded blogs. That is what I didn't have time for. I still have time to release some verbal steam via this blog as I share with you what fun deals I'm getting. Thus . . . the point of this post.

So how did I get all of that for $0.61? Awhile ago I posted about CVSing. Today I was finally able to start rolling those ECB's. On a previous purchase, I earned $10 ECB's. This week at CVS, they had a deal for Suave products: 3/$5 on Suave shampoo, body wash or lotion. If you spent $10 on Suave products, you get $3 ECB. I also had 3 coupons for Suave products. So after coupons, the total amount of money owed was about $8.50. I had those $10 ECBs to spend so I used it to pay for the Suave products. BUT . . . when you spend ECBs, you also have to spend the full amount. So I needed to find $1.50 worth of things to buy to reach $10. I grabbed 3 Snickers at Buy 2 get 1 free, and the total due was $0.61! For all of those things that's a really good deal! AND . . . and . . . I still got $3 ECBs back which I will use on another purchase that will earn me more ECBs.

So do you get it? Can you see how CVS can be a goldmine for free or next to nothing stuff? If I would been more on top of it, I could have milked my $10ECB for even more on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. CVS had a deal on those days where you could buy a package of ball point pens, or a small pair of scissor for $0.99. In turn, you got $1 ECB back. ($1 for the pens, $1 for the scissors.) Had I done that, I could have recieved $5ECBS back and spent only a few cents!

I'm so glad to finally have a better hang of things. And you can't beat getting things for practically nothing!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Time to be Honest

I bit off more than I could chew. There. I said it. I can feel the pressure lifting . . .

Shall I share a little background? In typical Julie fashion, it's slightly long winded.

You might know that we are in a slightly odd stage in our married life. Usually you go to school before children, and often, before you are married. However, Jesse only recently (past 3 years) learned where his passion lies, and how he is gifted. So we are doing things backwards and doing the school thing married, and with 2 children. Overall, life is still fairly normal. But the biggest adjustment we've had to make has been our finances.

Some of you can relate I'm sure. Imagine trying to budget for a family of 4 when the Mom stays at home with the kids, and the husband works part time, and attends school full time. Yeah, it can create some problems. I'm not telling you this because I want sympathy, not at all! I'm just telling you what our daily reality is.

Thankfully, 5 years ago our church paid for us to go through Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. That course is one of the building blocks in our marriage. We will be forever grateful to Cornerstone Church for sending us through the class. We learned how to budget, live within our means, create a small nest egg and get rid of debt. We've been debt free for more than 3 years!

Now back to the family of 4 with a part time income . . . . going to school costs money. Living daily life costs money. Like I've said before, I jumped on the coupon wagon out of necessity. And I'm still on it because I'm saving more and more money each week. As I began to learn how to coupon, I saw a blogging niche I thought I could fill. Helping people match up coupons with good recipes. So many crazy couponers out there live off of $35 dollars a week, but they eat rice and beans and frozen casseroles. I couldn't do that! 5:30 is seriously one of my favorite times of my day. I look forward to the time I can start preparing supper almost every day. No lie. What can I say, I enjoy cooking.

So I thought I would give my hand at blogging for income. I wasn't expecting much, just a little extra cash flow would help. I started The Coupon Cook. And quickly realized that I bit off more than I can chew. I fully believe that I have the creative juices to run something like it. What I lack, is TIME. Jesse and I have been talking a lot lately about how we are going to make life work, where we can make cuts, how we can do it without taking out loans, etc. All the while, we are keeping in mind that our 2 young children are that: YOUNG! If these 2 kids are the only 2 we have, these next few years while Jesse is in school is it! I only have a few years to really pour into them and train them before they go off to school and start learning more about the world. (Yes I realize the training doesn't stop after age 5, but those first 5 years are HUGE for so many areas of development.)

So as I considered all of the ways I can contribute to my family income, I quickly saw that I'm not going to have time to do all of them, AND be the Mom and wife I need to be. Currently, I work super super part time for The Upstream Collective and the Skybridge Community. It's something I really enjoy being a part of. I also am hoping to teach group Spanish classes for children from our home this school year. Right now that involves getting out into the community, and networking with organizations that could put me in contact with interested parents and kids.

I plan on continuing to post on this blog about my couponing journey. I know a lot of people who are getting into it too so I hope I can be a source of help and possibly humor as I mess up quite a bit! But I am going to stop posting on The Coupon Cook. All 15 fans on Facebook will be disappointed I'm sure. :)

God has been pressing into me these past few weeks as I've tried to figure out ways to generate income from home. The biggest lesson I'm learning is that I really am in a prime place in my life to learn to trust God for my basic necessities. Where in the modern day American Christian church do we get to trust God for the basics? Hardly ever! We often times don't really act like we need God for much besides emotional pick me ups and spiritual hugs. God is there for that, but He's there for so much more-if only we'd let Him. So I'm going to be a good steward of the financial resources he has given us, and trust Him with the rest.

Ahh, my load feels so much lighter already.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

For my Man . . .

I used to think Jesse was a walking failure in way too many areas. He had character flaws up the wazoo, and what in the world was I thinking when I first started liking him? Was I seeing a Jesse double because that sure isn't who he is now! And for goodness sakes-can't he be as spiritually mature as I so totally am?

Thank goodness for the gift of the Holy Spirit. (And a good long look at my own flaws.) His continual prompting encouraged me to pray for almost 3 years that I would be able to see Jesse as God sees him. When it finally happened, it was like ten 100 watt light bulbs went off in my head. THIS is the guy I married? THIS guy loves me? I get to say that Jesse is MY husband for the rest of my life? Dang I'm one lucky girl!

Today my husband turns 29 years old. I've only known him since he was 21, but I can honestly say I've seen him grow up, grow stronger, and become such a good source of wise counsel-not just for me, but for others as well.

We've been blessed over the past 3 years to have gone through a very personal, in depth application to live overseas, mentoring prior to that, and a wonderful weekend of learning our gifts and weaknesses. Not to mention almost 2 years in a foreign country where we had to depend on each other for quite a lot. All of those things helped us learn how God had gifted each of us so that we can contribute more to His eternal kingdom and give Him glory in our every day lives. These things were just add-ons to God answering my prayer for wanting to see Jesse as God sees him. He didn't have to show me more facts about why Jesse is a man after God, but He did. He didn't have to show me how Jesse and I are a really good match because of how we balance each other, but He did.

I'm so grateful and proud to call Jesse my husband. He's not perfect. He still has a long way to go (as in, until he reaches eternity) before he's the man he wants to be. But I'm so confident in him because Jesse has a deep rooted desire to be the man God has called him to be. He's on his way and I can only pray that I'm a woman that helps him get there. I love you babe!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Free Chicken!

Check out the newest post on how to get free chicken! Be forewarned . . . this isn't for the light of heart!

Coupon Blog

Well, part of my blogging absence last week was due to the fact that I've been working on a blog that I can devote totally to my love of saving money and cooking. I just posted 3 meals you can make using deals on sale at Hy-Vee. Eventually, I'd like to get better at posting recipe ideas for other stores, but hey, I need to start somewhere! Check it out especially if you are in need of 3 meal ideas for this week, and looking to spend less than 20$! Click here or click on the button in the sidebar.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Father's Day!

Yep. I'm 2 weeks late on posting pics from Father's Day. I just had too much stuff to write about couponing and then I was too busy working on other stuff. And then . . . and then . . . well, actually for future posts, I really do have a good "and then." My camera is now broken! It's seen a few hard drops and I think it finally died it's last breath. So unless I get out our camcorder and take some pictures, the blog might be lacking in images for awhile. Enjoy these pictures while you can!

A happy Daddy with 1 goofy girl, and 1 blubulous boy.

The zoo offered free tickets for Dad's on Father's Day, plus a brat so we took advantage of the deal. We only had to pay for my ticket because Renae is not yet 3. Gotta love special deals!

Last picture you'll see of me in this post since it's all about The Daddy.

Sammy has a hard life . . .

Daddy and Daughter Expo 2010