laid off and learning to love it… my journey from corporate sprinter to life marathoner

saving money: one month down 02/01/2011

Filed under: Organization,SAHM Choice,Saving Money — ccatet @ 7:54 am

i need tangible goals. i will admit that i enjoyed the annual review process and goal setting when i worked in corporate america. i know, i am a sick person. yet there was something rewarding and fulfilling about knowing what was expected of you for that upcoming year.

the first year after i was laid off was all about survival: could we pull off living happily on one salary plus my part time meager income? once i knew the answer was yes, i knew i needed to challenge myself. in the absence of goals, i tend to lose focus on the bigger picture. to combat this, last year i set a few financial goals, never even sharing them with anyone but my husband. i was thrilled that by december 1, 2010 we had met all goals!

for 2011, i needed to change it up. i stumbled upon a simple organized living article in november which spoke of items a certain frugal family never pays for. i was intrigued. click here to read it. subsequently, i spent time over the holidays reviewing our 2010 budget. specifically, i was curious which categories we spent the most in and where we might have room for additional savings.

let’s be serious. i wasn’t willing to go to any extreme. i refuse to cut out diet coke, a margarita here and there, 1-2 monthly restaurant outings, my iphone, running shoes, gutter cleaning, or the rare trip to the dollar movie theater with the kids. first, i made a decision to not renew any magazines during 2011. this is no biggie since i have ZERO time to read them anyways. plus i know i can find the same, if not better information, online.

next comes the second and much larger goal. during 2011, my husband and i will refrain from purchasing clothing and accessories for ourselves, with the exception of running shoes. although my husband would probably survive given the +15 pairs of running shoes he has around the house currently, i am not willing to injure myself in the process of meeting this goal!

in the 31 days since 2011 started, this goal has already not been easy – for me. my husband will probably not notice that the year has passed without new clothes – men!! me on the other hand, i have been eyeballing a more functional winter jacket and have gotten ticked off at the lack of water protection on my current winter boots. yet, almost daily i remind myself that they are perfectly fine and i do not need anything.

on the plus side, i am looking very closely at everything i wear (and don’t wear) and already have a nice pile of items to donate. i am fairly certain that by the end of this year, i will know exactly what items i truly need and will be much more conscious about clicking “add to cart” and “submit order” in the future. i also hope to sock enough away in our family vacation fund that we can actually go somewhere this year and pay for it all up front –  maybe even disney!

i can now say that – whew – i made it through one month. only 11 more to go. wish me luck.


sahm: coupon intimacy 01/10/2010

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 11:00 pm

i am often asked where i find the time to organize myself and my coupons to maximize our savings. here’s my secret: coupon intimacy. i seriously know my coupons inside and out… of the binder. yes, i am a nerd: i have a coupon binder, fancied after one i saw put together by a fellow (albeit much more active) blogger. click here to check out her version.

putting the damn thing together was a big time investment and medium cost investment: searching for and buying materials, creating categories and labels, and finally, getting the coupons in. i spent about 3 hours and $50 completing these tasks before i was pseudo-functional.

now comes the maintenance: i try to take 45-60 minutes every week to maintain the binder: pulling out last week’s ads, reviewing the new week’s ads, removing expired coupons, sorting and filing any new coupons, and finally making my list. if i have time, i go back and look for price matching opportunities for items on my list. most weeks, i am lucky to get these tasks completed prior to my shopping trip. usually my daughter is belly-flopping on the coupon stacks or my son is asking which coupons he can have. i want to scream, “NONE!” i do restrain myself and typically give him a few expired coupons to play with, which he loves.

overall, i do the best i can with the time i have. what i have learned in almost 9 months of living with a coupon binder is that the most important thing is coupon intimacy. if i have only a few minutes, i have to know my coupons. if i don’t know what’s in that binder, i cannot save.

at a minimum, this means that i take the time to see what coupons i have (plus the ones that just came in the paper) and compare them to what is on sale in the store ads. when making my list, i aim to purchase items that fall into the sweet spot: where they are on sale and we have a coupon. over time, i have been able to build a mental list of “buy prices” for every item. often when i get to the store, i stumble on unadvertised sales. if i know what coupons i have, i can easily determine if the cost is at or below my buy price and make a quick decision on whether to buy.

the beauty of the coupon binder is that you can drop it entirely for a few weeks if you run out of time (or just need a break) and pick it right back up when you’re ready to invest the time again. i have not had to walk away yet, but it’s nice to know it’s possible.

also, my husband is verbally appreciative of the time i invest with the binder. i know he recognizes the financial benefits and reaps the rewards when i stumble on a good deal for him (usually peanut butter or gatorade). however, he would prefer that i keep the binder out of the bedroom… too much competition.


stockpile IV: planning for special events 07/07/2009

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 7:44 am

the last piece of stockpiling that deserves attention is stockpiling for special events: birthdays, bbqs, holidays, vacations, etc. even if you’re working or don’t have much storage space available, this can save you some serious cash and cut down on pre-event chaos!

the idea is that you do not buy supplies right before the event – instead you buy them weeks or months in advance through coupons and sales.

the summer months are a perfect time to kick start your special event stockpile… including memorial day, fourth of july, and the upcoming summer season until labor day. in our world, that translates to lots of bbqs, a birthday party for my daughter, a week long vacation, and several impromptu dinner gatherings. such excitment.

unless you like to run your dishwasher multiple times a day, you probably use paper/plastic bowls, cups, plates and utensils during this season. i highly recommend to closely guard your coupons and watch the ads to stock up on these items! every single store has had different brands on sale – dixie, solo, chinet – and i have been fortunate enough to purchase all of the plates, bowls and cups for the birthday party at the bargain price of $4. i would have paid $15+ had i paid full price.

as for vacation planning, i know we’ll eat out a few meals while on vacation – as you should in order to fully relax! however, with a full kitchen on site, we should be able to manage breakfast, most lunches and snacks, and a few dinners in house. with that in mind, my goal for the past few weeks has been to acquire all vacation dry goods as a part of my weekly shopping as deals surface. i am 90% there right now and still have plenty of time!

if i play my cards right, i will stock up for little to no cost on these vacation goods. then when vaca-time comes, we can spend our weekly shopping amount on dining out and the few perishables that we’ll need that week. by planning ahead, the additional food budget for our vacation is almost non-existent… if only i could say the same for the gas budget as we will be driving 10+ hours each way!

who knew one had so much to say on such a boring topic – i hope to never write about stockpiles again!  no matter, good luck to you if you venture into the world of stockpiling – and if you have any other great ideas, please leave a comment and share them!


stockpile III: how much to buy 07/01/2009

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 2:38 pm

now you have an idea of what goes into your stockpile… but how much of each item do you need? again, a personal decision based on your budget, your family and your storage space. if you want me to come visit you for a few days to help you figure it – with kids in tow – that will cost you BIG! 🙂

the most important thing is that you stockpile cost effectively… do not overspend as this totally defeats the purpose! also, don’t force your family to eat the same meals over and over again just because the fixins’ are sitting on the shelf – unless they like it! try to buy just enough so you will not get tired of the product and it will also not go to waste.

it’s important to determine your buy price for items that you want to stockpile. while some items can be free (coupons, sales, price matching, etc), you will need to pay for some of the brand specific products you enjoy. to learn your buy price, shop around for a few weeks and watch coupons and ads closely. you will probably discover, like i did, that that no single store ALWAYS has the lowest prices. over the course of a month, i typically hit marc’s for coffee, rice, noodles and peanut butter (or price match if they put the items in an ad), kroger for dairy and produce, and finally meijer for almost everything else. sometimes CVS and target offer rewards so if the price is the same there as the other stores or cheaper PLUS i am getting bucks or a gift card back, i will buy random things at these two places. otherwise, target is addictive and off limits!

once you determine buy prices for the items, i would recommend purchasing what you think is around 3-4 months worth of them to get started (or more if you have many coupons and the storage space) then wait and see how long the items last. put the item on your *watch-list* when you only have a few remaining so you give yourself time to find the best deal. if you’re about to run out, think about buying 1-2 to give yourself a little more time to find a great deal. you’ll kick yourself if you stock up at full price then they go on sale a week later.

also, pay attention when you’re checking out ads and in stores.  i have noticed some stores have cycles around sales for different product categories. for example, target appears to have a 6 week cycle between proctor & gamble sales on laundry detergent, toilet paper and paper towels.

a little trick i tried when i wanted to know how long it took for the family to go through a certain product: i wrote down when we opened the package on the box and did the quick math when we threw the box away. by doing this, i learned that we go through one box of laundry detergent in approximately 7 weeks. as a result, i typically stock up with 2-3 boxes when a) we are almost into or working through our last box, AND b) the price is less than $11 per box.

a few people have asked and no, i don’t keep a price book. somehow my brain is absorbing these details. i suppose i will find out later what i lost to make space.


stockpile II: what’s in it 06/30/2009

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 6:41 am

now you know what a stockpile is… but what goes in it?

this question is challenging to answer because all grocery & household purchases are personal. what you put in your stockpile is based on a number of factors, including (but certainly not limited to) the number and ages of persons in your household, what food preferences they have and what meals they typically eat.

with that in mind, i put together some categories that may help guide your thoughts when trying to figure out what goes in YOUR stockpile.

  1. Canned Goods: fruit & veggies, soups, broths, sauces, condensed milk, etc
  2. Jarred Goods: applesauce, spaghetti sauce, etc
  3. Condiments: all kinds – especially ketchup, salad dressings, marinades, soy sauce, mustard, hot sauce, mayo… anything you cook with or eat a lot of!
  4. Drinks: juice boxes, soda, sports drinks, bottled water, coffee, tea, etc.
  5. Dry Foods: cereal, crackers, pancake mix, oatmeal, rice, noodles, cake & muffin mixes, snack foods (i.e. granola bars, pretzels, chips, etc)
  6. Household Soap: laundry, dishwasher & dish detergent, hand-soap, household cleaners, sponges
  7. Household Paper/Plastic: plates, bowls, cups, paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, ziplocs
  8. Personal Hygiene: shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, feminine products, shaving cream, razors, q-tips
  9. Vitamins & OTC Medicines
  10. Batteries & Light bulbs

numbers 6-10 can be stockpiled endlessly since they never expire! however, keep a closer eye on anything from numbers 1-5 since there are expiration dates on most of these items… albeit many months/years away. my goal is to grab the best deals while not risking waste.

as a point of reference (and perhaps a little entertainment), here are some photos of our current stockpile:

basement stockpile

basement stockpile

i confess… i am not allowed to buy any more peanut butter (i think there are +10 jars in these pictures alone, not including what’s in our kitchen cupboard), cereal, crackers, salad dressing or bbq sauce until we get closer to running out. don’t tease me – i am just efficient!

hall closet door stockpile

hall closet door stockpile

regardless, hopefully you get the point here. we have a few months worth of laundry detergent, bleach, diapers, toilet paper, cleaner, paper towels, cereal, and a few other random things that are hard to see in these pictures.

what these images do not show is the stockpile of toiletries under the master bathroom sink. if you’re wondering, i am also on a shopping hiatus for all personal hygiene items!

my recommendation for those of you building your stockpile would be to start by thinking about your typical weekly or monthly meal plan. then make a list of the non-perishable foods that fall in the menu and put these items on your watch list for coupons and promotions. do the same thing for your typical household items used in a month, specifically cleaners.

one last thought… you should eventually use everything in your stockpile so i don’t recommend stockpiling a new product that has not been fully vetted by the household! even if it’s free, it will end up costing you down the road if you can’t eat it and you’re forced to make pb&j sandwiches for dinner. but if you need any peanut butter, give me a call.


stockpile I: what is it 06/29/2009

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 11:02 pm

i write about my stockpile a lot… some of you may wonder what i am actually speaking about when i refer to my stockpile. i wish it were a stockpile of cash – alas, it is not.

stockpile (noun) – something kept in back or saved for future use or a special purpose (source: freedictionary.com)

the stockpile i regularly refer to is the stash of household & grocery items that we have in surplus for the family stored in our home. this stockpile was built up when i was first laid off and realized i needed to capitalize on great deals today in order to realize future savings. as time has gone on, i have maintained the stockpile – depleting, replenishing, etc.

the concept is simple: you have fantastic coupons plus a sale which allow you to purchase items for very little or perhaps even at no cost. do you buy many of them? YES! these items make up your stockpile.

if you’re thinking of building up your own stockpile, i recommend allocating specific real estate for these items. we have a shelf in the basement, storage under the master bathroom sink, and 50% of a small hall closet devoted to the storage of the stockpile. maybe one day we’ll get a deep freezer. however, any more storage than this and the surplus would feel too excessive to me!

what goes in your stockpile really requires further discussion… more on that tomorrow. 🙂


sahm: organized-ish… lovin’ my google calendar 06/23/2009

Filed under: Organization,SAHM Choice — ccatet @ 1:47 pm

for the first few days i was home after being laid off, i felt directionless… when was the next family birthday? when were the kids’ next dr appts? when was my next haircut? i had no idea! i was getting behind on household chores, missing dates with friends and personal appointments, and was overall confused in the calendar department. i should have seen this coming… the company took my laptop including my access to an organized calendar system. jerks.

in meeting other SAHMs, many of them claimed that they did not get on the computer let alone use any kind of calendar tool other than pen and paper. what – i thought to myself? no way, this gig is not for me. the realization that there may not be time for email or the internet was just another reason i hedged in committing to the SAHM role.

for years, we have had a family wall calendar in the kitchen. it’s a big dry-erase board calendar and everyone gets a color for their events and we use black for events that we all attend or participate in. the calendar maps out the next 5 weeks of our lives which helps for the short term planning.  here is a picture of our current calendar:

family wall calendar

family wall calendar

as awesome as this calendar is to keep our daily lives smooth, i was missing a longer term planning tool and the ability to build in future events and recurring events/tasks. my husband suggested google. i was already behind on EVERYTHING in the house, when was i going to find time to get set up on google’s calendar?

being the super fantastic husband that he is, he did the start-up for me! he showed me how to add events, create a recurring task and set up separate calendars for everyone in the family (in different color text). all 4 calendars merge onto one view…just like our house calendar only online (and you can plan things out months in advance or with no end date)! Woo-Hoo!

here is a screen shot of my current google calendar:

google calendar view

google calendar view

if you like the look, click here to learn more about the google calendar.

my 3 favorite things about this calendar:

1 – if you already have a gmail account, it’s super easy to set up. also, you can use the top navigation links to quickly view the calendar while checking email.

2 – you can configure the settings to receive a daily email at 5am with all the scheduled activities for the day.

3 – if my husband wants to know what is going on for a particular date, he has access to the calendar so he can view and make plans without having to check with me.

after appointments and playdates for the kids, my husband and myself, i added all household chores/maintenance as recurrences which has saved me tons of brain energy. i can easily forget the last time a particular household task was completed so i really love the reminders. also, we added in the weather (3-4 day outlook) and holiday applications – good thing because i am lucky to know what day of the week it is!

it took only about an hour to add all items and the google calendar immediately made a world of difference in our lives. we still use our house calendar for the short term view, but all events go onto the google calendar for current and long term planning.

i admit it, i like systems. they are not for everyone, but they work for me and my family. in many ways, i actually feel more organized about our lives now that i am home compared to when i was working.

if you stay home (or work) and have found a cool way to keep your family organized, please write a comment and tell me about it! i know i have much to learn. i am secretly hoping to figure out how to have laundry clean itself … one can dream, can’t they? 🙂