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

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. 🙂