Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Realistic Couponing - Steals and Deals

Below is a list of my favorite steals, deals, tips and tricks. Things might vary by your location, but I think for the most part, you should be able to grab these savings and avoid these missteps.

Proctor & Gamble
I had no idea how many P&G products I used already until I started clipping coupons. Iams, Tampax, Always, Oil of Olay, Puffs Plus, Tide, Bounce...just to name a few, and there is ALWAYS a discount on P&G products, which means for over thirty years I was an idiot paying full price for these things.

P&G sends out their own coupon flyer in the Sunday paper about once a month. ie, once their coupons expire, there is a break of about a week, and then you'll get a new one. So never buy a P&G product at full retail. The stores usually match their discounts to this flyer, so the day the P&G flyer comes out, CVS will mark down their Tampax and their Tide.

My grocery store also does deals like, buy $20 worth of P&G products, save $5 instantly. (this is after coupons) I do this deal all the time. Before going to the store, I take my store flyer and my coupons and figure out how to get $20.01 of P&G products after coupons, and then BAM! get the $5 off. I usually walk out of the store with $30 worth of goods for $15.01. That's a 50% discount, kids. You can't pass that up.

Target does a lot of these deals where if you buy X amount of goods, you get a gift card. This is another evil marketing scheme to get you back into the store so you make more impulse purchases and spend even more money! Muwahahaha!

You can avoid this though, because most cashiers are very nice people who will let you split your order. With order 1, you buy what you need to get the gift card. Order 2, you use the gift card right then to pay for the rest of your things. It avoids a follow-up trip to the store where you'll get suckered into buying that adorable dress for only $18.99!

Target also offers their own in-store coupons which can be paired with manufacturer coupons for even more savings. (read the fine print) The other day I bought diapers. They were on sale. You bought 2, you got a $10 gift card. I had a $2 off Target coupon and a $2 off manufacturer coupon. When all was said and done, I saved $9 off regular retail on each pack. Not too shabby.

I also use the Cartwheel App and have a Target Red Card for additional savings. You can even use your Red Card at the in-store Starbuck's to save 5% on your coffee!

You can make out like a bandit at CVS, but it requires more work. They do a lot of buy X of this product get $2 in CVS extra bucks! Which is like the Target gift cards, another evil marketing ploy. At my CVS, they will not let me split the order, so I have to come back. Granted, there isn't as much tempting impulse buy fodder there, but there is always some.

The best CVS deals are when an item is discounted, you have a coupon, and CVS is offering the Extra bucks. They also have store coupons that can be paired with manufacturer coupons. I can usually print these from the kiosk right when I enter the store. Additionally, I read an article once (and can't remember the source) that said beauty products, medicine and health products are always cheaper at the pharmacy versus the grocery store. I'm not sure if that's true, but I have gotten some major deals on vitamins (Centrum and One a Day always have coupons) and cough medicine.

Yes, you can get some major savings at Kohl's, but they have their own evil marketing ploy. They mark everything double and then slash it by 50%. ie. They mark an item $10, say it's 50% off making it $5. However, at Walmart, that item is just $5. It gives you a false sense that you're saving all this money when you're not. The best way to avoid this it to know your prices.

Like in my first blog post, I said my best deal on a 12-pack of soda was $2.50. Make note of your best deals and never pay more than that for an item. Knowing the lowest price value of things can help you spot better deals.

Quick Tips

  • Before you buy anything online, Google, "Coupon Code for ENTER RETAILER HERE." 90% of the time, something comes up and works.
  • Mark in your calendar when rare or hot coupons expire so you don't miss using them. I'll often hold coupons to wait for a sale, but if one doesn't come up before the expiration date, I'll use it anyway.
  • Restaurants that always have coupons: Friendly's, LongHorn, Chuck E. Cheese, Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday, Dunkin' Donuts, Burger King, Subway, Outback...don't eat at any of these places without a discount!
  • Retailers and manufacturers discount things seasonally, which means cough medicine and vitamins are discounted during flu season, paper plates and mustard are discounted during BBQ season, and baking ingredients are discounted during holiday season. Stock up on these things during their season to avoid buying them in the off times.

To close, I am posting a photo of my stockpile (part of it) I am very proud of this, and if a zombie apocalypse ever happens, I will be stocked with non-perishable goods for at least a few months. So not only am I saving money, I am insuring my survival.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Realistic Couponing - Your first best friend, the Coupons

Here we are, finally at the stage of cutting coupons. Do you realize it took us three posts to get here? That's because couponing isn't just about the coupons, although it's a lot about the coupons, which is why they are your first best friend.

Let's start. First off, buy a newspaper. The Sunday paper. In Rhode Island, it's $3.50, and we get it delivered so it's waiting on my doorstep first thing in the morning. I get up like a kid on Christmas and say to my husband, "It's coupon day!" while I squeal and jump up and down because not only is there a coupon flyer in there, the Sunday paper has every store ad imaginable, so you can seek out other timely deals. Definitely worth the $3.50 and easy enough to monetize. If you can save $4.00 a week with coupons (which you can), you've made a $.50 profit. It's a no-brainer.

We also get a coupon flyer in the mail on Wednesdays. In case you're wondering, the coupons are different, so you need them both. Once you have your coupon flyers, you sit down and you clip them. You cut everything, except for the things you definitely won't use, like diapers if you don't have a baby. This is REALISTIC couponing, not extreme couponing. But, do hang onto those flyers because I belong to an online coupon group and sometimes people will ask to trade their cat food coupons for your diaper coupons, so you can get more of what you need.

My third coupon resource is Coupons.com. I usually go here after I've made my list in the previous blog post and matched up my coupons. I use it to fill in the gaps where I might be buying a sale item but one without a coupon. And obviously, while I'm on there, I find other coupons that are worth printing and clipping.

Once you have your coupons clipped, you need to organize them. Here is a photo of my coupon envelope.

I have it labeled in order of the way things appear in my store. New coupons in the front of the section, older ones in the back so it's easy to clear out the expired ones. It's also small enough to tuck in my purse so I can keep it with me and never miss any deals. You can buy one of these at the dollar store.

After a few months of coupon clipping, you will begin to learn which items always have a coupon and which items rarely have coupons. This helps you  manage your stockpile, and when you have enough of those frequent coupon items, you can trade those coupons for some of the rarer ones.

Since I started couponing, I save on average $2400 a year on groceries, and I have more food and better food than I did before. That's a car payment, folks. Or a vacation for my family, and that doesn't include what I save elsewhere: on clothes, eating out, entertainment...because I don't pay full price for ANYTHING. Inspired yet?

Next week I'll post a list of some of my favorite deals and steals.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Realistic Couponing - The Weekly Flyer, Your Second Best Friend

Who's your first best friend? Your G.D. coupons that's who! But we're not there yet. Oh no. You can't jump into the pool without taking your clothes off first, or in this case, without making a grocery list.

Remember last week's post? You are no longer brand loyal. You are loyal to cheap products, and you find cheap products in your weekly flyer.

Your weekly flyer is your instruction manual. If the shit you want is not in it, or you don't have a coupon for it, then you're not buying it. Understand? As a couponer you NEVER pay full price for ANYTHING! That's for suckers.

Now, how I like to start is by grabbing a pen and just taking a first pass at the ad. I circle products that I like. I circle products that are a super good deal, things I'm running low on, and things I'm pretty sure I have a coupon for. Once I have all of my items circled, I go through my coupons and start matching things up. The goal is to find what I call the trifecta.

1. Product is a favorite
2. Product is on sale

When that happens, you've struck savings gold. When you have a trifecta, you buy as many of that item as you can.

Here's where the naysayers say, "I don't have time for that shit."

Yes, you do.

Admittedly, going through the weekly ad and making my list is where I spend the bulk of my couponing time. I would say this takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half a week. But let me tell you where it saves time.

Let's go back, to when I was a full-price paying fool. I used to go to the store, 2 maybe 3 times a week to pick things up because I was buying them on-demand, as in I bought things as we needed them. Not only was I paying more for these items, but every time I went to the store, I was buying extra impulse items.

From America's Cheapest Family:

"Shoppers making a ‘quick trip' to the store to pick up a few specific items usually purchase 54 percent more than they planned."

"Forty-seven percent of shoppers go to the store three or four times each week."

"Consumers graze at the grocery store, with impulse buys making up between 50.8 and 67.7 percent of total purchase."

As a marketer, I rub my hands together and make a cruel evil laugh. This is exactly what we want. We spend tons of money to get you into stores as much as possible so you will buy more of our frivolous things. And it works! Muwahahaha.

Because you think it's easier and quicker to just run by the store and pick up a few things, but it isn't.

Trust me. I live in the tiniest state in the union, where everything is literally 2 minutes away, and I would say by the time I get in my car, drive to the store, get out of the car, go into the store, wander around buying extra stuff I don't need, pay for it, get back into the car, drive home...I've spent 30 minutes. 30 minutes, 3 times a week is an hour and a half. Compared to the one hour a week I spend at the store now, I'm saving 30 minutes a week, and yes, I still make impulse purchases, but I only do it once.

Here's another time saver. Meal planning. The worst thing about cooking meals is figuring out what the hell to cook. Now it's easy. I look through the ad, I see asparagus is on sale, I circle it, and then I go online and find a recipe that uses asparagus. I make sure the recipe has other ingredients on sale or thing from my wares, and then it's decided. That's what we're having this week.

And for those of you who say, "You can't eat healthy when you coupon." That's B.S. I'm a vegetarian. My family eats tons of fresh vegetables and organic foods. I probably eat healthier than some of the non-couponers out there and still pay less.

So next week, get ready to talk about the gold. The coupons!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Realistic Couponing - Step 1: Changing your mindset

I love saving money. If I could steal a slogan for myself from a tire store, it would be name brand at discount prices. Couponing makes good sense, apart from the extremists who buy rooms full of cat food and have no cats. I think that's just silly. But when my friends come over and see my shelf full of detergent, they always say, "I should start couponing, but I don't really have the time." or "I don't know where to start." or "You can't get good deals on good food." To which I say BLASPHEMY! All those things are untrue, which is why I am adding this to my blog, because let's face it, a writer's life doesn't pay that much.

Step 1 - Changing your mind set
To start your savings, throw brand loyalty right out the window. You are now loyal to the products that are the cheapest. You are no longer buying Coca Cola. You are buying soda. You are no longer buying Pantene ProV you are buying shampoo. Understand? The benefit of this is you get to try new products, and some of them you might like better than the ones you used to buy. Others, not so much. And this my friends, is why we stockpile.

If you really have to have your Coke, wait for it to become the cheapest soda, and then buy the maximum the store will allow. The next day, go back and do it again and the next, until the sale ends, or you have amassed enough Coke to carry you to the next sale.

Now this is where the coupon naysayers will say, "But I don't have room to store it."

Of course you do.

Your rent. Your mortgage. These are bills that will not change. (unless you refinance, take on a roommate, whatever, but for the most part, they are static.) So let's say your rent is $1000 a month, and in your apartment, you have two closets that roughly make-up 5% of the living space. You are paying $50 a month for those closets. Now what is on the bottom of those closets? Junk? Old clothes? Do you really want to pay $50 a month to keep old clothes around? Because that's exactly what you're doing.

Now as I said, there is nothing you can do about getting that $50 back, unless you sublet your closets to very small people, but you can make better use of it. The best deal I've gotten on soda is 4 12-packs for $10. Regular price for soda is at least $4.00 per 12-pack, so...

Sale Sodas = $2.50/12-pack or $.21/soda
Full Price Sodas = $4/12-pack or $.33/soda
Savings: $1.50 or $.12/soda

If you buy 75 12-packs of soda at the sale price, you have saved $50.00. If you can fit 76 12-packs in the bottom of your closets, you've just made those closets profitable. Got it? Take a second look around your house. Now do you have some extra space?

If maximizing living space isn't doing it for you, think about this. You and I drink the same exact soda, but mine is $.12 less. Every delicious ounce you drink is a penny more than mine, and I didn't do anything special to get it. I haven't spent any extra time. Haven't clipped a coupon, I just bought more when it was on sale.

That should get you started. Next, we'll talk about the weekly flyer: the couponer's second best friend.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

First Date

Below is a sample of work from my latest MS, featuring a scene from my characters' first date.

“They should have like a training academy for Stormtroopers, to teach them how to shoot. I mean they can’t hit a rebel standing four feet in front of them,” I say before I pluck another cheese fry from the plate.
“It could be low visibility because of the helmets, or maybe a flaw in the cloning process that decreases hand-eye coordination,” Nathan says.
“Okay, but even so, that makes them shitty soldiers, right?”
“Beggars can’t be choosers. If the Empire wants quality fighters they need to offer a more comprehensive benefits package.”
I laugh. “I can’t believe we’re talking about this right now.”
“Me either.” He leans across the table. “If this is a dream, which I’m starting to think it is, you’re wearing a gold bikini under that dress.”
I slide my sleeve to the side and show him my black bra strap. “Nope, sorry.”
“Damn.” He sits back. “I’d have better chances if this were a dream.” He folds his arms behind his head, and I get another glimpse of his secret muscle as his shirt pulls tight across his biceps. His chances aren’t that bad now...except there is one thing still bothering me.
“Nathan,” I say. “I know I used my honest answer question already, but can I ask you something else and will you promise to tell the truth?”
“Yes.” He looks me hard in the eye. “I have a lightsaber at home but it was a gift, I swear.”
I give him a courtesy smile. “This is why I can’t trust your answers, because you make everything a joke.”

What do you think? Would you go out with Nathan again?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Writing Goals

Somehow in my writing journey, I switched from being a writer to an editor. I used to love to sit at my desk with a beer and spit out words for hours on end. Now, even if I do this, I immediately have to go back and edit, which means it takes forever for me to actually get to the end of a story, and sometimes, if things don't go well, I just abandon it.

I've decided to switch things up, and set myself some writing goals. I have 2000 words a day or 14,000 a week. I try to sit down every day and write 2000 words, but when that doesn't happen (because it rarely does) I'm caught on Sunday afternoon having to crank out 6000 words to reach my weekly goal.

How's it going? Pretty darn good. It's been 3 weeks and 2 days and I am on track with 46,000 words of mostly garbage, probably a few good nuggets in there that I'll pick out in the second round. If I keep on track, I'll have my first draft completed in a couple of weeks. Yay!

So how about you guys, do you have writing goals? And if so, what's your number? Do you feel that number makes for good progress?

If my writing regime continues to work out, I might consider changing my pantster status.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Made in the USA

It's no secret (or maybe it is) that my day job is at a domestic Christmas ornament designer and manufacturer. I think Christmas year-round. I also think a lot about products: where they come from, who is making them, how they're making them, and what they're putting into them. Every time someone buys an imported Christmas ornament, they are taking food right out of my baby's mouth. As such, I do my best to support other US manufacturers. This Christmas I am urging everyone to do the same, because let's face it, we need some help here.

Let's start with Christmas ornaments, and really, there's only one place to get them...

Gloria Duchin.
Gloria Duchin, Inc. is a thirty-four-year-old company based in Rhode Island. Fifteen feet from my desk is the factory, where I can walk out back and see the finishing touches applied to each ornament. When you call our company, your call does not go to India, it comes right here, to the front of the office. Chances are, you'll speak directly to me at some point. When you order an ornament from us, it usually ships out same day, because IT'S RIGHT HERE. Everything we sell is lead-free, cadmium-free, and made to last. No excuses that they're hard to find either, because our ornaments are sold in mass market retailers nationwide. So what are you waiting for? My baby is hungry.

Green Toys.
My son loves trucks, and when I saw these, I practically had a heart attack. Not only are these Green Toys made in the USA, they are MADE OUT OF RECYCLED PLASTIC. Good God. I can save American jobs and the Earth at the same time?? We already got my son the dump truck and he loves it. It was affordable, and so far, pretty durable. He has thrown it around quite a few times and it's still in one piece. If you have a child who loves trucks, he or she needs one of these.

I already buy a bazillion books anyway, so it feels good when I see the little line, "printed in the USA." Do you know what that means? My eight-dollar book purchase bought paper from a paper mill in Vermont that was then sent to a printer in New Jersey. They received the art files from a designer in New York, and then the books were shipped to a US book retailer, in a shipping carton made from more Vermont paper. Just make sure, when you are buying books, to check the copyright page for that "printed in the USA," line because not all of them are. In that case though, you can buy the digital copy that was usually written by an author from her basement in Cleveland.

More ideas
I hate double-doing work. It's a waste of time when someone else has already done it better and with more detail. This blog is great: USA Lovelist. They have stories, products suggestions, gift guides, and their own Amazon powered store featuring domestic products, a lot of them you already know and love.

And don't forget, this Saturday is Small Business Saturday, so buy your favorite USA-printed books from your local bookstore!