Painting on a Budget

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When we bought our fixer upper house, we knew we had a fair pile of projects ahead of us. Pretty quickly after that, we realized that to get all of these projects done, we would have to figure out how to do them all for cheap.

One of the most expensive projects is painting rooms. Painting requires a lot of disposable supplies and paint itself can be pretty pricey. So this is what I know so far about how to paint on a budget.

Do it yourself. Duh. This is the one thing that will probably save you the most. Painting is a pain in the butt, sure. You have to clean out the room and put your drapes down and tape everything off; it’s the worst. But its really not the hardest thing ever and there are some really good tutorials on YouTube that show you exactly what you need to do to get that not-so-DIY look.

Use free color matching service to get a designer look without designer prices. Lowe’s home improvement store will match paint to anything you bring in, whether its a pillow or a swatch of fabric to an old sample. This lets you get your high end designer color into more affordable paint, and on to your walls without tanking your budget.

Shop discards in the paint section. Every store’s paint section has a shelf or an end cap with already made colors that people have either returned, changed their minds about or never picked up in the first place. These gallons are deeply discounted because the store wants them gone and off the shelf, and you never know what color you might find. Take a quick walk through and you might just score.

Paint DOES go on sale. Sales aren’t just for holiday decorations and school clothes. Big box home stores put paint on sale during summer holidays like Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Paint companies like Sherwin Williams offer coupons throughout the year, and there are frequently big discounts and Buy 2 Get 1 Free sales at home improvement stores around the holidays when people are likely to fix up their homes for guests.

Hang on to your disposable stuff and left over paint. Clean your brushes thoroughly, rinse out your paint pans, fold up your plastic drapes and drop cloths. A little effort after a project will save you money next time. Also hang on to your extra paint. Instead of tossing it and then having to buy a new gallon to touch up dents and scratches, you’ll already have everything that you need for free. Unopened paint kept indoors can be used up to TEN years after purchase. Opened cans of left over paint keep for around two years.
We had our dining room painted a grayish blue that I loved for years. Now I’m over it. The color that I picked to repaint was so close to the color we had painted our entryway, I decided to just use that old paint in the dining room and spent $0 on the new project.

Don’t forget to ask for your discounts. Lowe’s has a 10% off military discounts. Seniors, police, fire and students are also often offered percent discounts at check out. Also check out sites like RetailMeNot.com and AAA (if you’re a member) for offers like free shipping and percents off a regular price order. If you’re not sure if you qualify, ask the cashier “what discounts are available today?” The worst that can happen is they say “None.”

 

Anatomy of a No Spend Week: Prep

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I wanted this to be a guide for people who have no clue how to start budgeting and being conscious with their money; something I would have loved to have had when we started out.
When we really want to strip the spending down and purpose our money towards something important (like finishing off my student loans), we do a no spend week. Which sounds really nice. But what does it actually mean? What do we do and not do and how??

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.
The first thing I fell like I need to do is to define what “No Spend” means here. A no spend week is successful when you don’t spend any money on anything other than necessary and budgeted for items, like your rent, groceries and electric bill. You can’t very well call your student loan company and say “sorry, I know my payment is due this week, but I’m on a no-spend challenge so its going to have to wait.” No spend is no food other than groceries, no new toys, clothes, housewares, movies, no nails done. If you get sick and have to go to the doctor, go. That’s necessary spending. If you’re sick of cooking at home and go out to eat… not so much.
For a no spend week to work out you need to prep like your life depends on it. If this is your first time, look back at your bank statement from last month and see what you spent that wasn’t bills, savings goals or groceries. What did you buy? What did you buy without even thinking about? Now make a plan on how to not do that.
For me the usual perpetrators are fast food, take out, Target runs of primarily clothes and kid’s stuff. And also online shopping. Shopping online doesn’t even feel like I’m using real money, its just magical that I click and type and the mail brings me gifts. Right around the time when I was getting my credit cards returned to me maxed out, I had my debit card number, expiration date and CVC code memorized so that I didn’t even have to get up and make the long lonely walk to my wallet to impulse buy.

Anyway, the prep I usually do starts with heavy meal planning. I plan all meals and snacks for the week. I get all my cookbooks out, open up my “Budget Meals” board on Pinterest and dig out my plan from last week to see what worked and what didn’t. For more info about this, see my other post about Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It. Add a few alternates and snacks in there too. Do you usually go out for ice cream Saturday night? Plan make at home sundae night instead.

So now that food is covered, what else are we going to be doing except eating? You have to think of some stuff to do to keep away the not-so-emergency Target runs that end up being a two hour aisle-wander with a full cart. For me, the kids are out of school now, so to keep them from catching cabin fever, I have to have something planned.
Luckily, my mom has a pool. Which is awesome, but kind of a pain since I usually end up chasing Ben around the perimeter for a few hundred laps, sweating on the hot concrete.
Everyday I plan something. Kids love novelty, but it doesn’t even have to be as much as a pool day. We can eat lunch outside one day, or visit the playground near the house, or visit the library. Sometimes I DVR a kids movie earlier in the week and we pop some popcorn one night and have a movie night. Tuesdays I deliver for Meals on Wheels and the kids (especially Abby) think we’re just going to visit their (elderly) friends.
If you have a friend who consistently invites you on fun days out to expensive parks and activities, make a preemptive strike and invite them over for a nature hike, Slip N’ Slide party or a move night.
If you crave more than playgrounds and playdates, Google free fun in your area. during the summer, a lot of museums, historical places and some smaller zoos offer one day of free admission. In Massachusetts, its sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation and you can read more about it here.

The last thing I suggest for a successful week of not spending is to remove temptations. Fill your gas tank and then take all of your credit and debit cards out of your wallet. This way, after you’ve recovered from the panic of leaving the house penniless, you won’t accidentally find yourself in the line of Dunkin’ Donuts, or ordering out Tai food at work as your carefully packed lunch sits in the break room fridge.
Go through your email and mark all of those promotional messages as spam. Groupon, Amazon, Wayfair, even my beloved Etsy can go to the junk folder. If you’re not buying anything, don’t even look at it. I also deleted all the corresponding apps, and went into my phones browser and close all the shopping tabs I keep open (because I always have 1,000 open tabs).

Stay tuned for tomorrow as I break down how we put our plan in motion for day 1!

Behind the Scenes

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Recently I finished paying off one of my remaining two (at the time) student loans. I wanted to celebrate in a big way, so I brought my debt payoff chart out to the backyard and burnt it in the fire pit. The video brought me the most comments on Instagram and the most daily views of this blog of anything else I’ve posted so far.

The day you finally get to burn those loan documents or that mortgage is a HUGE day and I’m so grateful for everyone’s words of encouragement and congratulations. But I do want to remind people who may be struggling, or just starting out on their debt free journey, that the one big day is the result of. So. Many. Small days. So many small choices. There were so many little things going on behind the scenes of that video that were the reasons I was able to pay off $3,200 in 30 days.

So this post is all about “behind the scenes,” so show that it’s not all sunshine and bonfires and precipitously dropping loan balances over here. When I was new at this whole debt paying thing, it was nice to think about getting that “Paid in Full” letter, but like.. what do you actually DO to get there? This is what we DO.

We don’t have huge incomes, we didn’t hit PowerBall, no one died and left us an inheritance. And none of those things have to happen for you either. What we do have to have is determination, a goal, and patience.

Get on the Same Page, Make Goals, and Make a Budget. Everyone in the house that has the power to spend money has to be on the same page with saving it. Jeff knows my game plan: pay off my loans from smallest to biggest, then tackle his smallest to largest. He supports me, me encourages me. Every month when he finishes paying the bills, he lets me know “Babe, we have $xyz left over in the joint account, how much do you want me to send you for your loans?” Or “I got my tuition reimbursement” or travel expenses approved or whatever it may be. We review our budget frequently and make adjustments as we go along (read how we made our budget here). It just wouldn’t work if one of us was pinching pennies and the other one was buying a new iPhone or trinkets and trifles off of Amazon.

Just… No.  The most effective tool we use to reach our goals is just saying no. No I don’t want to go out to eat, no we can’t buy that new toy, no we don’t need a new car. We won’t go on vacation this year, or to Great Wolf Lodge or Davis Farmland or Six Flags. We absolutely will not be at Disney World or on a tropical get away. My kids don’t have a trove of brand new clothes and a hundred pairs of shoes every season and nor do we. We won’t be doing swim lessons and soccer and tee ball and dance class and karate.

Find Free Fun. All these No’s seem like a life sentence of boo-riiinnggggg, but we have plenty of fun. During the summer we use Jeff’s veteran status to go to Blue Star Museums free of charge. The Highland Street Foundation in our state sponsors Free Fun Fridays, where local zoos and parks have one day that is free of admission. We also play outside, set up the kiddie pool and have a “pool day,” go to local playgrounds, have movie nights, set up play dates, visit the lake in town if its not too busy, or do art projects. I might plan a cupcake decorating day or a make your own sundae night and include the supplies into the grocery budget. Kids have fun wherever they are. You don’t need to whip out the plastic to enchant their youth.

Priority 1: Food. I plan the meals and the grocery list for two weeks and buy our groceries from the discount grocery store Aldi (read my other posts about grocery stores here). Actually, edit that: I TRY to. Food (also include here personal care items and household supplies) is the thing that changes the fastest and is the easiest to either reign in or to go completely out of control.
In summary of my other posts, my perfect plan is to 1.) plan out all three meals and snacks and school lunches and all supplies for two weeks, 2.) make the shopping list from that plan, 3.) search for online deals or coupons to get this cost down as much as possible, 4.) try to get as much as I can from Aldi or generic and clearance items at Walmart, 5.) stick with the plan over the two weeks using my meal plan and keeping that actual piece of paper handy to remember what the plan is.
If everything goes perfectly, we don’t get any take out or fast food items.

Utilities and stuff. The idea is pretty easy, the less you have to pay in bills, the less of your income goes to utility companies, the more you have left over to service your debt. We keep the heat at 62 in the winter. We have window unit AC’s that are only on during heat waves and are only on as cool as 70. Some days I feel like all I do is follow people in and out of rooms and turn off light switches. And sinks. Some of this stuff I’ve written before in Little Things.
The best thing we’ve ever done for our monthly bottom line is cancel our cell plans. Yup. We don’t have cell phones. Weird, right? Except it saves hundreds of dollars a month. When I tell people this they get this terrified look in their eyes. “What do you mean you don’t have a cellphone??” Recently I asked the receptionist at my optometrist’s office if I could use the phone. “Um… for what purpose?” she asked.
I still have my iPhone and I use it on wifi. Exactly zero of our dollars go to Verizon or AT&T or Sprint or whatever. At one point I loved my phone. I had totally fallen into the consumerist trap. They told me I NEEDED it and I believed them. It was hard giving it up but I’m so happy I did. And now I fell like I could live the rest of my life without the latest gadget.
Not long ago I was at a party and heard someone totally freaking out about the new phone they had just gotten. Like completely 100% FREAKING out about how amazing it is. It was clear this person wanted everyone to jump right on board and tell her how they have no idea she survived without it for so long. I couldn’t help but feel sad for her. The phone is over $800, or about the same as a month of rent.

Do it (all) Yourself. We don’t have a staff over here. Theres no housekeeper “helping me out” one day per week. There’s no baby sitter so we can go out on a date night. There aren’t any personal training sessions. There’s no hair stylist, no waxer no manicurist. If the kids were old enough for sports, there wouldn’t be any private coaches or trainers multiple times per week. If something in the house needs fixing, we fix it and if we don’t know how, we learn. If a button falls off or a new shirt (or even an old shirt) gets a tear, I fix it. Am I a pioneer woman? Not even close.
A while ago I read an article written by someone recounting how their grandparents lived on basically nothing. Part of it spoke about repairing things as soon as they were broke, not tossing them in a junk drawer to be forgotten, and keeping things in clean working order. These efforts reduce your want for things and keep you on budget. I tried to find it but I can’t remember the name. The tone of it was really simple and inspirational.
A huge part of us staying on track with debt repayment has been learning how to do basic things ourselves. Jeff learned how to do all of our basic home repairs, and some big remodeling projects. He also changes our oil right in the driveway which has saved us consistently. I’ve developed a basic understanding of hand and machine sewing. I can reattach a button, repair a small hole, add a hem. I even made Sam a pair of sweatpants out of green fleece when I refused to pay rush shipping for a Halloween costume. Instead of throwing that buttonless shirt in the donate bin and buying a new one, or doubling the price of the pants by rushing them to the house, we keep everything “in-house.” You can do it too, I promise. Check out YouTube for how to and beginner videos. Be resourceful. And have a little faith.

There are so many things I could write about here. Family finance in a culture of consumerism is a complex animal. Spending without regard to our income is part of our norm now. Friends and relatives will look at you like you’re crazy for being on this journey, and spending for the fun of it is part of our fabric. When we first started it took a lot for me to be able to examine each area of our spending and deem it necessary or extravagant. It’s ok. Good things take time. As does scrapping everything you know about managing money and starting fresh. These points are a good start, and I’ll keep writing. From behind the scenes.

Mid Year Update

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So somehow 2017 is half over. Lets look back on the goals we set on New Years and see if we’re on track so far.

  1. Don’t Take on Any New Debts: Check! So far we’ve only reduced our debt and not taken any new debts on, even despite an unforeseen $800 medical bill.
  2. Recommit to Mint: Meh. This one is about 50:50 so far. I definitely started out the year with more excitement about Mint, and its kind of tapered off since then. Taking this mid year review to reinvigorate!
  3. IMG_3089Pay Off the Van: Check! And a big Wooooooo!!!!!!! We now have NO car payments and both of our cars are totally paid for. I’m not sure if we’ve ever done this as a couple, and it feels so good. Now that $191/ month is going back into the home renovation account that we dipped into to make this happen since there have been huge delays in getting our boiler replaced. After that, it’ll go into the debt snowball towards my remaining student loans.
  4. IMG_3088Student Loans: At the beginning of the year my goal was to get my total student debt under $10,000, which I’ve done so check!! I hate my student loans so much; I have such a bitterness towards them. Especially after I looked back over my transaction history and saw that when I initially started paying them off in 2010, almost my entire payment was going to just interest. Seriously like $113 of a $140 payment. Just interest. Just for the sole privilege of having a loan. If you follow me on Instagram you know that I’ve paid off Mohela completely and my total student debt is now at $7,915.
  5. Remodel the Bathroom: Nope. I can’t. Believe. How long its taking to get this boiler replaced. We seriously started this process in the fall. Almost zero progress has been made so far. We needed to pour a concrete slab in the basement to put the thing on, then we have to have someone upgrade the electrical panel, and then the guy will come out and do it. Not to mention the weather had to be above 50* for a certain number of days so the concrete will cure. The slab is now poured and set, which is something, but we’re still waiting for an electrician. So I guess we’ll sit on this one for a while. Which makes me crazy because the plumber didn’t even give us a rough estimate, so we don’t have a good idea how much money we need to keep on hand to pay for this. We had budgeted and saved $10,000, but when we told him that he laughed and said “no way, not that much.” So now I feel like we have some extra money hanging around that we could be using for something else. So the whole bathroom project is probably going to be pushed to next year, since literally nothing can happen until the old heating system is out and the old chimney is removed.  Sigh.

 

So I feel confident about where we’re at for the halfway point this year. The only thing we’re stalling out in is the bathroom project, and that has a lot of moving parts that aren’t just financial. I can’t wait to see where the next 6 months takes us.

Spring at the Bailey’s

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Spring is in full swing here at the Bailey’s! There is so much going on here I haven’t had a lot of time here to post much at all, and I’ve been mostly using Instagram, but I’m trying to get better with that.

IMG_3353Preschool and kindergarten are winding down and we’re getting dates for move up ceremonies and back packs full of completed workbooks and projects. Abby will be in pre-kindergarten next year (basically the same thing as preschool) because of her December birthday, and I can’t believe it but Sam will be in first grade. When he started preschool I was a “My Baby is Growing Up” mess. Kindergarten I was ok. Now he’s a “grader” and I’m a mess again.

The weather here has been on and off hot and sunny followed by cold and rainy. We’ve been having so much fun doing outside things on the hot days. The other day I bought an 8 foot kiddie pool (not a budget friendly purchase but one that will definitely get lots of use). We’ve also done mini golf, IMG_3335lunches at the lake since there’s no charge for admittance for another few weeks, and visited the playground near our house that no one is ever at.

The rainy days have been for spring decluttering and working my side hobbies like crochet and Poshmark. Poshmark has been pretty dead this month but crochet actually picked up a bit so that’s nice. As far as decluttering, I’ve tackled our bedroom closet and the kid’s playroom (again). Jeff is working on a beautiful shelving unit for the playroom complete with reading bench that I can’t wait to install.

IMG_3422We’ve been participating in a No Spend May challenge with intermittent success. We have a couple of events that call for gift giving this month. Especially Mother’s Day and my sister’s High School Graduation, and of course some (not really) mandatory summer purchases like a float vest for Ben for when my mom opens her pool, summer shoes for all three kids after striking out at the consignment shop, the kiddie pool, and a dress for myself for the grad parties we have this month, which I actually got on sale for $9.99.

We’ve faltered a few times with our spending ban, but earlier this month I was still ableimg_3428.jpg to pay off my Mohela student loans and making some awesome progress with my next debt, a different student loan through Navient. At the beginning of the month it was at $3,220 and 7.25% interest, which is 2% higher than my next highest student loan. As we sit it’s at $2,800, and Jeff got some travel reimbursement through work, and all of that $245 is going right towards this loan. I’m really hoping to be able to pay this off by the end of the summer, and then I’ll be down to ONE student loan! I can’t believe it.

Last but definitely not least, the most exciting news for the season is that we’ve decided to have a family vacation next year! I’ve written about a previous family vacation before here. Other than over nights and day trips, we’ve never had a family vacation. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that growing up, I was used to week long camping trips and trips to the beach every summer. We had a camper and then bought a bigger one, went to amusement parks, ate out and did whatever we wanted. My parents were also drowning in credit card debt that they remortgaged the house three times to cover, became upside down on their mortgage, eventually divorced and last I checked, there are foreclosure proceedings beginning for my childhood home (my dad still lives there and we haven’t spoken since 2011 due to his alcoholism and other poor choices that I won’t go into).

IMG_3321Anyway, we were sitting looking at adorable lake cabins on the computer the other night, talking about how great it would be to take a real family vacation. We’d have our own place to stay and not worry about noisy neighbors or finding an affordable place to eat. A nice calm lake with no waves and a private beach is perfect for someone like me that is constantly worried about big waves knocking little people over and who’s running in which direction. We could cook our own food and grill out and take the kids out in a canoe. Then we looked at each other and said, you know what? Let’s do it! We’re thinking my loans will be paid off by then, leaving only Jeff’s student loans and the mortgage for debts, and the kids are only little for so long, its time to make some memories! We created a separate savings account, created a ballpark budget and figured out how much per month we would need to save up over 12 months to make it, adjusted our current budget and away we go!

I’m working on a Mid-Year Report type post based on the goals we set on New Year’s, so stay tuned for that! Happy spring!

Weight Loss on a Budget

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My weight is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Over the past 3 years, I’ve gained and lost over 100lbs (not at the same time).  I wrote another post at the beginning of this particular effort here and here.

I can’t even really blame my pregnancies if I’m being honest. With Sam, I had daily and continuous vomiting and when I got home from the hospital after having him, I was 30lbs lighter than my pre pregnancy weight.

Sam wasn’t nursed, but Abigail and Ben both were. Everyone says breastfeeding helps you lose the baby weight because you use so many calories. But the exact opposite happened for me. It made me hungry. I was ravenously hungry. All. The. Time. And at the time, with other kids running around and a house in remodel-mode, it was just easier and faster for me to open a cabinet and jam four cookies in my mouth than to plan and sit down for a real meal.

And the weight just piled on.

After Abby I gained and lost 60lbs. After Ben I gained about 50. But I had lost it all after Abby and I’m determined to do it again. We know we want more children, and I can’t be packing on 50lbs after every one and not losing it.

On 11/28 of last year, I recommitted to reaching a healthy weight and so far I’ve lost almost 40lbs.

In my pre-budget life I’ve had gym memberships, bought DVD’s, special health pills and shakes and branded foods and bars. I even had a Weight Watchers membership that I paid $20 for monthly and didn’t cancel even after I had lost the weight I wanted. Ugh if I could get a check back for all that laziness.

So here’s how I lose weight now.

IMG_3065Old Trusty, Weight Watchers. A long time ago (we’re talking maybe 10 years) I worked nights at a gas station in town. Actually, I worked pretty much continuously and even when I logged 60 hours a week I’d bring home like $250 and think I was rich. Anyways, my manager (and friend) told me about Weight Watchers and gave me her old paper slider, quick start book and food guide that she had gotten at a meeting years before that.  And its really been such a blessing because even though they’re missing some pages, I still use them to this day. You can still find them on eBay if you search “Weight Watchers Turn Around slider,” or “Weight Watchers Quick Start Guide,” usually for under $20.

Eating regular old food. I never buy into those diet gimmicks anymore. You know the ones. The shakes, drinks, teas, bars, pills, supplements, frozen meal boxes. I’ve tried all that stuff in the past, and you know what? Those things might help you lose weight, and do it fast, but what are you going to do after to maintain? You have to learn how to eat actual food to maintain a healthy weight. Plus they’re so expensive it gives me palpitations.

IMG_3046Hit up some yard sales. The fitness industry in America is a multibillion dollar one. They don’t even have to take our money. If someone with muscles tells us they use something, we’ll open our pockets and dump all our money out for them. Don’t believe me? Watch a few infomercials, they’re on at 3am (usually when you’re up with a sick kid). That in mind, we’re also one of the most obese nations (#8 in the world). So obviously people aren’t using this stuff. And where do they get rid of it for the lowest prices? Yard sales. At every yard sale I’ve been to (Hint: its a lot), theres always a ton of fitness stuff. I suggest getting a couple different weights, maybe some resistance bands and some work out DVDs. I have 3 and 5lb weights and a couple of DVD workouts that I rotate so I don’t get bored.

Use what you’ve got. Right now what I’ve got are two (heavy) kids home during the day, a 2 ton double stroller, and a nice quiet neighborhood with a slight incline. Abby is four, so she doesn’t need to be in a stroller, but I stick her and Ben in it as many times per week as the sun is out now and use it like a resistance cardio. Theres a mile route that I usually walk, and yesterday we went even a little further (though my step counter didn’t log it because I had it in the cup holder of the stroller instead of my pocket. Ugh). I also have a yard that needs a ton of work, a 13 step staircase (free Stair Master in the privacy of your own home) and sometimes a few feet of snow outside that needs shoveling.

My Splurge: I know I know, a splurge?? Yup, after we paid off the van, we splurged on a Beach Body subscription to get more workouts and more difficult ones. Jeff tells me its $41 every 3 months. It’s not an expense that I really like, but I do think its worth it. There are so many different types of workouts I can do something different every night, and they keep me motivated and out of the gym.

I plan on posting more here about getting and staying healthy, but that’s where I’m at right now. I actually have my 1 year postpartum follow up appointment (three months late) early next week, so I’ll really be pulling out all the stops to try and get as close to ideal weight as possible.

What I do with Coupons

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Once upon a time there was a girl obsessed with coupons. She had a binder she brought to the stores with her and everything.

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One of my couponing hauls c. 2011.

You see, she had just had a baby and felt like she was floundering at being a parent, and buying trunkfuls of diapers at bargain prices made her feel like a success at something. And she really needed that.

Plus the TV show about extreme couponing made it look so easy to fill a million carts with noodles and soda and only pay 34 cents for the whole thing.

Later, she realized how much time she spent researching, cutting and organizing coupons. This was probably around the same time maternity leave ended.

Surprise! The girl in the story is me! So yeah I went through this big couponing phase when Sam was a brand new baby. I watched the Extreme Couponing show, I studied flyers, I had a binder and a calculator that I brought to the store.

And the honest truth now? I’m not even sure I really saved all that much money. I remember one check out I had paid over $70 in coupons, but I was still paying more per month than I do now. And that’s even considering that I had two less kids at the time.

So what do I do with coupons now? We’re a family on a budget, I must be all over them still right?

Not really.

The big secrets to keeping within our $650/ month food and household supplies budget (including personal care items, diapers, wipes, everything I buy at the grocery store), are 1. Shopping at Aldi and 2. Meal planning. 

Even though I try every week to get the wide majority of the things we need at Aldi, there are a few things I go to another store to get.

Aldi does not accept coupons. Not that you even need them. Most of the brands they carry are house brands, so there aren’t any coupons in existence for them (except some fake ones that circulate around the internet intermittently). There are some national brands there, but leave your coupons home because they won’t be accepted.

Every week in the mail we get sent a P&G flyer. This is the. Best. Mail. Day. I go through it looking for the (very few) brand name items I get still. Then I peruse coupons.com and see if they have anything going on. I will jump brands and styles or whatever if I find a coupon that makes it worth while.

I usually clip 3-4 a week for a couple dollars in savings. I also pick up any dog related ones and mail them to my friend. Last week we found one that was BUY ONE GET ONE FREE 15LB BAG OF DOG FOOD. Win! I was so excited, and I don’t even have a dog.

Coupon Did You Know?: You can help military families stationed over seas by donating your expired coupons? Coupons up to six months old can be mailed to military bases all over the world. Find out how to help by clicking here!

My Coupon Do’s and Don’t’s

DO look at quantities and product size. Take the ones that say “When You Buy 4!” and throw them immediately in the recycle bin UNLESS you honest to goodness, completely and absolutely are going to use all of those items. Also, some coupons specify what size of product they’re applicable for. Pay close attention to this when you’re shopping or you won’t get your discount.

DON’T forget to compare the after-coupon price to the price of the equivalent store brand item. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you’re saving at the register when you still pay more after coupons on the exact same item.

DO know the store’s coupon policy. Some have limits on how many of the same coupon you can use, or if you can stack manufacturer coupons on top of store deals. Don’t wreck your whole budget plan because of some ridiculous rules you didn’t know about. Other stores will double your coupon if they meet certain criteria. Get to know which day is Double Coupon Day and what amount is doubled and save even bigger!

DON’T forget to check expiration dates and get a total bum out at the register.

DO realize that your time is valuable. I got a little obsessed and went down the rabbit hole of coupon-dom the first time. To me, coupons are a tool to nip away at your grocery bill, not a life style. I know that there are people who are coupon scientists, and can leave a store with car loads of free products. And even some who make almost a salary selling their stockpiles, or even donate their haul to women’s shelters and other organizations. These people are amazing and get all the kudos. But other people who don’t have that talent (like me), need to realize its ok to skim the newspaper and save a couple bucks a week, and not really shoot for the carts of free product.

DON’T forget to keep your eyes peeled for peel off and sticker coupons, and discounted produce and meat. When I shopped at another major grocery store chain, I would always  get organic salad boxes for next to nothing because some of the packages were close to date and were up to $2 off per box.

Coupons are also available for non grocery things. Every year we go to the same restaurant for our anniversary and I always bring a 2 for 1 coupon I cut out of the local penny saver. I still love coupons, its just that now, coupons are a small part of my bigger money saving plan, not the whole thing.