Here is a great series by my fellow blogger, Bargain Briana. This is a great resource for new couponers to learn the basics.
If you missed yesterday’s post on planning for baby, click here to learn how to save on formula and click here to get your free sample of Walmart brand formula.
For day #2 I have to highlight something that was invaluable to us once our little lady arrived. We purchased the DVD, Happiest Baby on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp. For frugalites you can also check out the book or DVD free at the library or purchase it used from my Amazon sidebar to the right. Dr. Karp has simple, straightforward recommendations to calm your newborn and to help them sleep longer periods through the night. I watched this DVD before our daughter was born and frankly retained very little information. I also tried to read the book and my new mommy brain just couldn’t get through it. I recommend the DVD because it is so clear and shows you exactly what to do to soothe your baby. Some of Dr Karp’s tips include how to swadle, proper rocking technique, soothing sounds and creating an environment that is conducive to sleep.
I had completely forgotten about this DVD when my daughter was about 6 weeks old. We were exhausted as she would wake up every 60-90 minutes all night and to get even a short nap during the day required hours of walking and rocking. I was convinced she had colic since she would scream and scream (due to being overtired) and we were desperate. One night I remembered the DVD and popped it in and literally within minutes we had a quiet baby. That night she slept 3 hours straight which was such an incredible gift!
I highly recommend this DVD for new mommies and suggest watching it after the baby is born. It is a great resource for caregivers that might be a little rusty at caring for newborns as well. Let me know if you are familiar with Dr. Karp and what you thought of Happiest Baby on the Block!
As many of you know I am 32 weeks pregnant and gearing up for the arrival of #2. We have finally started getting ready for this baby, which has entailed digging all our daughter’s things out of storage. With our daughter we got caught up in the need to have everything. We were fortunate that our friends and family purchased a good portion of the things we thought we needed, but we still overspent in preparing for her arrival. With baby #2 we have not made a single purchase. We will likely buy a few things but this time we hope to be much smarter about how we spend our money.
I decided to spend the next five days focusing on certain items that we loved and a few things we should have saved our money on. As with all frugal blogs, the intent of my blog is to make wiser choices with money. This is not an encouragement to spend money you don’t have. What worked for us may not work for you and I’d love to get feedback from other moms as to what they loved and how they saved preparing for baby.
What I loved #1: Formula Samples!
Deciding to breastfeed is a very hot topic and I want to state that it is widely known breastmilk is considered the best possible option for babies. There are a number of wonderful health benefits to the mother as well. I am in no way suggesting people not breastfeed, however it is a personal decision and I hope we can all respect each other’s choices. I hope people will also be sensitive to mommy’s that may not be able to breastfeed or need to supplement with formula. Formula is definitely not the frugal option as it is much more expensive and you will need to fit it into your weekly budget for at least 12 months.
If you are a new mommy that has decided to breastfeed I hope you still consider some of these suggestions for obtaining formula samples as it is wonderful item to donate. The next time you visit your local grocery store take a look at the formula aisle. I bet the Enfamil shelf is nearly empty? Formula (especially Enfamil) is one of the most popular items for shoplifters so it is often kept behind the customer service desk. For parents on a tight budget in a situation where they need to formula feed, fitting an extra $12-25 in the weekly budget may not be an option.
So here are my top tips for stretching your dollar on formula!
* Sign up for every mailing list. Enfamil, Good Start, Similac are the biggest name brands and they will mail out checks just prior to your due date and right after. The checks typically start out at a high value- $25.00 or so and after a few months dwindle down to $3.00 or even $1.00. These checks can be used as cash which means you can stack them with coupons- both manufacturer and store. They are also accepted at any store- including stores like Costco that don’t typically accept coupons. The checks have an expiration date and can not be transferred to another person as they will be printed with your name. The higher value checks are almost guaranteed to get a free can of formula- especially when combined with coupons. There are larger cans which I found lasted about 1 week and smaller cans that might last a few days (depending on the age of the baby).
* Ask for samples at every pediatrician appointment and at the hospital. When you are preparing to leave the hospital you should ask if samples are available. They will likely ask you for a brand preference and I strongly suggest stating that you aren’t sure. You don’t know what your baby is going to like and should you need to formula feed it is much better to have variety than several cans of something you can’t use. Your pediatrician is also well stocked by formula reps with samples. I recommend asking for them at every well baby check up. I had wonderful nurses that would give me several cans at a time and awful nurses that wouldn’t give me any. The doctor will have small cans that are a perfect size for diaper bags. If you have other mommies in the area you might ask them to do the same. We were lucky to have friends that didn’t need formula and were able to pass along several cans.
*Check and recheck everything. I received a ton of things when I left the hospital and when I had my first pediatrician appointment. One of the items I received from the pediatrician was a black diaper bag from Enfamil with samples and a few coupons. I looked through every pocket and tucked inside was a little card to contact the local Enfamil representative. After leaving my information on a voicemail I received a free case of samples in the mail. I heard from other mommies that they also found the same card. Check the waiting room of your doctor’s office as you never know when they will have coupons available.
*Keep an open mind. With my daughter I was a store brand snob. We started with Enfamil and discovered at about 6 months the extra iron in Enfamil was causing her to have hard stools (or ouchy poops as we called them). We switched to Similac and didn’t have any other problems. This is a reason to request a variety of brands- just in case your little one has difficulties. Many stores have private label brands that are typically 50% less than name brands. Costco, Target, Walmart, Walgreens and most grocery stores all have private brands. Many stores will accept returns on open formula if your baby doesn’t react well. I tried the Costco brand and didn’t like the texture and they gave me a full refund with my return even though I had used half the can. At the drugstores this can also be a great way to roll register rewards or utilize store coupons. I used to always buy Similac at Walgreens when they offered the $5/25 coupons. Many store brands are made by the brand name companies. Our pediatrician recommended certain store brands and told us which company actually manufactured them.
*Watch for bonus packs. Target regularly offers “bonus” cans of formula that contain a few extra ounces for the same price. Watch your stores like a hawk right after these sales as they will clearance the bonus packs when the sale ends. Obviously these cans tend to move very quickly so you have to be very vigilant about knowing mark down days and hitting the stores early. I made it a practice of scanning the baby aisle at virtually every store I entered when I was formula feeding. Clearance on formula is very rare but you never know when you will get lucky!
*Sign up for store clubs. Stores in my area do not offer baby clubs but I have heard of chains that provide coupons and savings for joining baby clubs. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
*Check expiration dates. Formula does expire! You want to keep it in a cool area that is moisture free. If you notice cans that are about to expire you might check with your store manager to see if they will offer a discount. Remind them of how upset a mommy might be to pay the outrageous price of formula- feed it to their baby and discover it was expired. Similarly you might check the dates on the cans you get at the doctor’s office. I recently got several sample packs of prenatal vitamins at my OB appointment. I noticed they were 2 months from expiration and mentioned it to the nurse. She gave me 10 packages out of the new mom kits. They typically have such large amounts of these types of freebies they often have to throw away tons of samples when they expire.
*Put the word out. In our experience, friends and family members were extremely generous with our little girl. Most people prefer to buy “fun stuff” like clothes and toys but it doesn’t hurt to put the word out that you really need formula (and diapers and wipes). By politely explaining diapers and formula are putting a strain on your budget some people might consider helping you stock up on necessities. It doesn’t hurt to put the word out to friends and family- “Johnny uses Enfamil formula with the bright yellow label. If you ever spot a sale or clearance would you let me know right away?” We had a friend tip us off to an Amazon.com sale. They launched a free pick up service in Seattle and mistakenly priced large cans at $10 rather than the $25-30 price they should have been. We bought 10 cans which was incredibly lucky.
*Check Craigslist or Freecycle. If you are comfortable you can always try to find discounted cans from mom’s that no longer need the formula on free sites such as Craigslist or Freecycle. You may want to check the cans very carefully and make sure to check the expiration if you decide to take this route.
*Hoard coupons. Manufacturer coupons are very rare to find. The entire year I formula fed I can recall one time I saw a Similac coupon in the inserts. It was a measly $1/1 but it didn’t expire for several months. If you know these coupons are coming you might check a clipping service or trade to get as many as possible.
I hope some of these tips are helpful to new or soon to be mommies. Although we plan to breastfeed #2 I will still take advantage of as many freebies as I can to take to our local shelter. I have also heard that many moms hoped to breastfeed and were unable to for various reason so it wouldn’t hurt to hold on to a few cans for the first few months just in case.
I have read several arguments against shopping at warehouse clubs and for the most part, I would agree that bigger is not always better. Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s are the three most popular warehouse clubs and each requires a membership to join. In California we have both Sam’s Club and Costco, which do not accept manufacturer coupons. I understand BJ’s policy is to allow coupons so they might offer even better savings. Occasionally Costco offers a store coupon booklet but I have found they tend toward larger purchases- such as a mattress or patio set.
One major argument against the club stores is the annual membership fee. Costco charges $50-100 a year depending on what membership options you select. This fee should be factored in to your purchases annually to ensure you are really getting the best price. I am fortunate that my father owns his own business and has a corporate membership. This membership includes two other complimentary memberships per year. For no additional cost, I am included on his membership. I understand a regular membership also includes either discounted rates for additional card holders or might include one other complimentary membership. The cards are specific to the individual so the complimentary membership is typically for the spouse. Although I have a card my husband does not. He can’t do any shopping on his own. If you have single family members that belong to Costco you might want to inquire about piggybacking on their cards or sharing the annual cost.
You can also accompany a member when they shop and enjoy the savings. Costco does not accept credit cards other than American Express (which they have a partnership with)- you must pay with debit card, cash or check.
Another argument against the club stores is the temptation to overbuy. Even the most frugal person will experience overwhelming temptation once they enter the doors. There are sample stations at most aisles offering a taste of something wonderful you had no idea you needed. There is also a subtle peer pressure as these stores are constantly packed and the majority of the people in the stores have carts overflowing with a variety of items. Costco has a bakery and depending on the time of day- the aroma of fresh cookies, breads and pies lofts through the air. Temptation is everywhere- not just food but clothing, household items, specialty goods, books, electronics- they have everything. I am the first to admit shopping warehouse is not for the faint of heart. I prepare myself mentally before I set foot in the store. I have a specific list of items I need and I rarely deviate. My other tactic is to shop without a cart. This ensures a quick trip and I am limited to what I can actually carry.
I have also found there is a common misconception that bigger equals cheaper. Couponers in particular know that the smallest size combined with coupon almost always offers the best value. A great example of this is the cereal aisle. My buy price for brand name cereal is .50 or less per box. This is easy to accomplish with coupons at most stores and is exemplified in my post here.
At Costco the average price of cereal is $5.99- $7.99 for what amounts to two packages. By combining sales, promotions and coupons I typically pay less than $1.00 for the same amount on the same brands.
The last issue with warehouse stores is the overall chaos. These stores are constantly packed. It can take ages to get a parking spot (think the mall on Christmas Eve), there is typically a long wait regardless of how many registers are open. And even if you have one person ahead of you, they likely have a gigantic cart full of items. I have noticed people treat Costco shopping as a form of entertainment which means they take leisurely strolls through the aisles, stop abruptly to look around, hit every free sample station and can drive a focused person over the edge.
Now you may be asking why anyone would bother. Our family continues to shop at Costco for the following reasons:
· Gas. We used to live in an area where the cheapest gas by far was at Costco. The pumps were easy to get in and out of and in extremely convenient locations. Purchases were not required you simply scan your card at the pump and go. The gas savings alone would have justified the membership.
· Cheese. We love cheese and I can never find a good price for cheese. We go through about 32 oz every 2 weeks and the best price I can get at my grocery stores is typically .19/oz. I can only get this price every 6 weeks or so and my budget is too small to stockpile during these sales. Costco has 32 oz of Mozzarella cheese for $3.59 or .11/oz and Cheddar for $3.59-4.59 (price varies week to week) or .11/oz-.14/oz. These are better quality cheeses than the store brands I usually get- particularly the Walmart brand.
· Milk. We go through about 3 gallons of milk a week. I almost fainted once when I paid $9 at my grocery store for 2 gallons of milk. Lately Safeway has had 2 gallons for $3.98 which is a great deal but Costco is still cheaper at $3.59. If the price goes back up at Safeway you can bet we’ll be in line at Costco every week.
· Butter. Butter is another staple I never find deals for. Since I bake a lot we go through a lot of butter. Costco offers (4) 1 lb cartons of butter for $6.59 This is a few dollars cheaper than I can get at my store and is better quality.
· Flour. I recently purchased 25lbs of flour for $6.99. This is a ton of flour but since I bake fresh goods weekly I can go through that amount within a few months. The overall savings isn’t that significant but for me it is worth it to always have flour on hand.
· Tortillas. 30 large flour tortillas are $2.79 at Costco. Whole wheat are $4.99. This is what I pay at my store for 10.
· Produce. I always buy giant containers of fresh sliced mango when it is in season at Costco for a fraction of what other stores charge. I have also purchased large bags of sweet potato fries for $2.99 that last for weeks. Today I got 3 lbs of bananas for .90. Yes .30/lb for bananas.
Other items I have found to be priced extremely well include plants/trees. We are in the market for citrus trees and I found great looking orange and lemon trees today for $17.99. Many people prefer to buy from Lowe’s or Home Depot since they offer a 1 year replacement guarantee but I have found the size of the plants and the price to be much better at Costco. Plus are you really going to dig up your tree and take it back to get your replacement? They also have fantastic prices on flooring- tiles, hardwood etc.. My husband and I purchased beautiful white marble tiles for $1 a tile two years ago.
Things move quickly at Costco. The citrus plants I mentioned will likely last a week or two and will be gone. Outside of the staples, you are not guaranteed to find the same thing on every trip. I have also noticed prices do fluctuate. Over the past 3 trips I purchased cheddar cheese for $3.59/ 2 lbs, then $3.99/ 2 lbs and today $4.59/ 2lbs.
My final words of wisdom for surviving the warehouse clubs is to find a spot and park there every time. I have a particular row I aim for every single trip- I never get the same spot of course but I instinctively head for my aisle. There is nothing worse than having an armload of groceries and wandering the endless parking lot looking for your car.
Go at off hours. I have the flexibility to hit Costco a few minutes after it opens. I can get the few items on my list and be out the door in 10-15 minutes. I have also been in the store around 8-9pm and found it to be very quiet. It would take a lot of convincing and perhaps a free slice of their incredible pizza to get me into the store on the weekend. (Think Walmart the day after Christmas.)
Here are a few more great articles on the Costco experience:
Note Chief Family Officer links to a great post from Common Sense with Money that details why these clubs do not offer the best bang for your buck. make sure you check it out if you are trying to decide if a membership is the right option for your family.
I was curious about mystery shopping and decided to apply to an agency to investigate the process. I applied about two weeks ago at GfK Mystery Shopping and was immediately accepted. The application process takes awhile as you have to fill out a questionnaire, read several pages on what the process is about and then fill out a quiz. I got a perfect score on the quiz but it would be easy to miss questions and if you don’t get 100% you can’t move forward.
The company emails you when opportunities are available, you then log in to your account and check the visits available. They provide the name of the business and address and a brief description of any special requirements. A special requirement might be existing service from the store you are shopping.
The first shop I was offered within a few days at a Sandwich shop that was 60 minutes from my house. I declined that opportunity. I was then offered an eletronics company audit that required traveling to another state which I also declined. I accepted the third assignment which was a visit to a cell phone store location. The location is just minutes from my house and is in a shopping center that I had already intended to visit. Additionally, I am currently looking at various prepaid cell phone options so the mystery shop was very convenient.
I accepted the assignment and was given an online briefing about what I needed to look for and say during the visit. I was asked to take another quiz. You are required to get 100% on this quiz but I found it very straightforward. I was given a day they wanted the visit completed and was allowed to choose the time that worked for me.
When I arrived at the location I had to take a photo of the outside of the store. It took about 15 minutes to complete the shop and I got the information I needed on the prepaid phones. The visit would have been shorter but I had to wait several minutes for someone to help me. You are required to get a business card from the person that assists you during your shop. This particular shop did not require a purchase but many shops will offer a small budget in addition to your compensation. The sandwich shop offered a $5 budget and required the submission of a receipt.
You have 12 hours to complete a report online or you will not get paid. You also need to upload the business card and the photo you take outside the store and submit it with your report. The actual report was extremely time consuming- it took about 40 minutes for me to finish. The wording was confusing on some questions and it would be easy to make mistakes if you are not concentrating.
An example of this is:
1. Did the associate offer recommendations on any service plans?
yes___ no ___
2. Did the associate not recommend a plan?
If the answer to 1. is no then the answer to 2. also needs to be no. I answered yes and the quiz was rejected and I had to go back through the entire quiz to correct the answer.
I suppose the next shop I complete will likely move faster as I am more familiar with what they are looking for and how they word the questions. I will be compensated $9 for this shop and I requested payment via direct deposit (I will update when I actually receive payment).
I would estimate an hour total for the quiz and the shop. I didn’t include travel time as I was intending to visit a store in the same shopping center anyway.
Overall the return on investment was not worthwhile. I will continue with this process but I will be more selective in the assignments I accept. If the store is extremely convenient I would consider doing it again. I might also accept assignments that offered a budget for a purchase, providing they offer items I am interested in or can use coupons to maximize.
GfK requires you keep the business card and photo for 60 days after the shop. I believe they are currently accepting new shoppers if you are interested in participating.
My freezer is my best friend. It pains me so much to throw food away and my dear friend, Frigidaire, is always saving me from (literally) throwing away money.
1. Meat: I buy almost all our meat on clearance at the grocery store. Since I never know what will await me when I shop and I usually have a menu plan prepared anyway- it all goes straight to the freezer. I save a small fortune on meat by shopping this way and I can ensure I always have something on hand for last minute meals. I haven’t paid more than .99 on bacon in who knows how long- since it is almost always on clearance at Safeway. Once I get home I cook the entire package and put it in freezer bags. It warms up extremely fast and stays crisp. I can add bacon to breakfast in the morning, pastas, burgers, sandwiches whatever in just a few seconds since it is already done. I do the same with lunch meat. I always find very high quality meats on sale at my store near expiration for .99 and if I have a coupon I can get it nearly free. Then I get home, separate a few pieces into sandwich bags label the front ham, turkey etc.. and put it all in a big Ziploc. It is much easier to cut when it is frozen and I can toss the meat into anything I am preparing. My husband makes sandwiches all the time with this meat without any problems and I can make paninis without even defrosting the meat.
2. Snacks: When bread is on sale (like the .99 sale this week at Safeway) I buy an extra loaf and make an entire loaf of pb&j sandwiches. They freeze beautifully and are a great quick grab for me on a busy day. Since I am a vegetarian this is a great way to get a little protein and is certainly healthier than hitting the drive thru. I have found they defrost in about 20 minutes so by the time I actually get my shoes on, wrestle the baby into the car and head out it is ready for me. (This is a great tip for mommies that pack school lunches too. I promise the bread is not soggy and they taste like they were made fresh that morning.) I also do a marathon baking session about once a month. Most recently I made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins to use up my canned pumpkin and a bag of Bliss chocolate that was close to expiration. Just chop the Bliss up and you have chocolate chips. I use dark chocolate to make it a little healthier. Once they are completely cool, I put 2-4 muffins in sandwich bags and then all of the small bags into a freezer bag and Viola! you will never throw away yummy baked goods because you couldn’t eat 18 muffins in 2 days. These defrost perfectly and can also be reheated in the oven in minutes. If your yogurt is close to expiration, toss that in as well and defrost when you are ready for a smoothie.
(PB&J shelf is getting low! Yogurt on the left)
3 Produce: This is the worst for throw away and you are usually tossing the most expensive stuff you bought that week. I look for sales and stock up on veggies and fruit we love. Most recently I bought a ton of apples and red peppers at a great price. Both freeze beautifully- the peppers go in little baggies all chopped up. I top pizzas, add them to pasta, eggs- whatever. They cook in seconds. For the apples I had several that were starting to get mushy so I chopped them up and tossed them in a bowl with a little flour and sugar. Then I put them in freezer bags. These can be baked and added to ice cream or to top pancakes. My daughter LOVES these for dessert (just bake in a ramekin) on their own. I also made a little crumble topping inspired by Ina Garten- which also freezes- and I can make homemade apple crumbles in seconds.
I found an article on yahoo about Extreme Frugality hitting the masses. What do you think? Are you willing to go to extremes like the people profiled in this piece?
We are very conservative with our spending and shoestring budget would be an overstatement. Since I was just laid off at 7 1/2 months pregnant (and FYI- my unemployment claim is nearing the 8 week mark since they are so backlogged) right now we cut our grocery spending to $30/week. That includes dog food, diapers, 1 toddler and 2 adults. I regularly prepare 3 meals for dinner- one regular meal for my husband, one vegetarian version for myself and something nutritious and wholesome that is toddler friendly.
While I am not cutting my lotion bottles in half quite yet- we are cutting way back on how much we can stockpile. I had found that the hardest part for a new couponer is learning to say no to deals. I did two transactions last week at Walgreens to get diapers and wipes. I could have done several more but frankly I didn’t want the bother of all those register rewards. Did I miss a great deal? Yes! Did I stick to my weekly budget? Yes! The important thing to understand is that most deals will come back around. You can’t possibly chase every bargain and stay on a budget- especially when rebates can often take weeks to get back. In the meantime, you have seriously overspent in an effort to save.
We were already pretty frugal but what this cut in pay had really taught us is to prioritize. It is so tempting to chase every deal out there- especially since it seems the deals are getting a little harder to come by. But in the long run it is way more important that we do everything we can to avoid touching our savings than scoring the best possible price on diapers.
I am also having a lot of fun challenging myself to use my MBA to get really creative with our budget. Since I knew this was going to be the week of diapers (at Wags and Raley’s) I posted five packs of Walgreens brand diapers last week on Craigslist. I sold all 5 for $15 total. A good deal? Yes. But considering I got them all free several months ago I didn’t feel too badly. Those diapers leaked like crazy and gave my daughter diaper rash so using the $15 I earned and coupons- I was able to essentially trade those diapers for 2 packs of Pampers, 2 packs of Huggies and a big bag of wipes. Not a bad deal.
I used to think you needed to shop at discount grocery chains to get the best prices on grocery items. I had two chains that I shopped at regularly despite being out of the way and pretty run down stores. I found I would have to make second and third trips to other stores as the produce was not fresh or the selection was very limited. Then I discovered the art of shopping loss leaders.
I live in a high cost of living area with very expensive grocery chains. In Northern California we do not have double coupons, which makes finding great deals even more challenging. I have discovered higher end grocery chains frequently feature surprisingly low prices on items every week in the ads. Some-like Safeway- also feature weekly store coupons that can be stacked with manufacturer coupons to double the savings. I have been amazed at how much money I have shaved off our weekly grocery bill by shopping at the more expensive chains and simply buying the loss leaders featured in the weekly ads.
Here are my tips on saving money at higher end grocery stores:
* Check the ad weekly and buy the loss leaders (or items featured at substantial discounts to attract people into the store).
* Create a menu plan based upon what is on sale that week- if chicken is an incredible buy you can probably come up with several totally different menu ideas featuring chicken and items from your pantry.
*Stock up when prices hit rock bottom. When my local store had whole wheat bread for .99 a few weeks ago and I had $1 off coupons, I purchased 5 loaves to freeze. This will last us until the next sale cycle when bread hits rock bottom again.
*Look for clearance or discounted produce/meat and bread. Since the quality standards tend to be higher at the more expensive chains I regularly find lunch meat on clearance for .99 that I can freeze, bananas that are perfectly ripe for 50% off and day old bread for 50% off or more.
*Combine store coupons with manufacturer coupons to save even more. Many higher end chains feature weekly coupons in the ads, online or in store coupon books. Look for those coupons and match them with manufacturer coupons. I just purchased 2 packs of Mission Tortillas for .24 each by combining a Safeway store coupon and manufacturer coupon. My local discount chain has the same tortillas priced at $2.99.
So take the time to look through the circulars at all the grocery chains in your area- you may be surprised at what you find! To find the best deals at grocery stores around the country check out BeCentsable’s Grocery Gathering.
Charlene is a busy mom of two little ladies in California. She can be found at My Frugal Adventures and is always on the hunt to bring moms the very best deals to stretch those hard earned dollars.