Extreme Couponing?

It’s Sunday morning, and you know what that means…COUPONS! It’s a time to grab your paper and pray that the coupons that you saw forecasted online are actually IN your area’s paper (since many offers are regional, and I often don’t live in the right region apparently).

Once you have seen what coupons you have, it’s time to hit the match-up blogs and sales papers to plan your shopping adventure. Plan, organize, clip as necessary, print online coupons, strategize, anticipate stock shortages and create alternate plans…

That’s what I did every Sunday for the several months that I now reflect on as my “extreme couponing” experimentation period. I was good at it too. I would often come home with 75% savings or better. My husband was in awe of my savings skills. My children detested shopping with me.

I had the binder. I knew the rules. I was rocking the shopping scene.

I was also making about 15 trips to different stores every week. I would often visit multiple stores in the same chain to get all of the deals on my list because of stock shortages. I was obsessed with getting good deals. My mind and day were consumed with planning and executing detailed shopping plans to avoid missing out on unbeatable deals.

Was it worth it?

I had a very well-stocked pantry. I had a stash of toiletries that I had purchased for little or nothing.

So why have I not rushed out today to get my 4-6 copies of this week’s coupons? Why do I have absolutely no idea what is on sale this week at the local drugstores? Why is my printer silent?

Here is my take on the pros and cons of extreme couponing.

Positives of Couponing:

  • I saved money on things that we use a lot like mayo, salad dressing, sauces for cooking, etc.
  • I saved money on toiletries. I haven’t bought razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, or deodorant in over a year.
  • I increased my awareness of price cycles, sales gimmicks, marketing strategies, and real prices.

Negatives of Couponing:

  • I spent money on things I didn’t really want/need or never used.
  • I spent time and money on couponing outside of the products I bought (buying papers, ink, etc.).
  • I made extra trips to the store and had the extra stress of trying to shop with my kids without messing up my deals.
  • I had the pressure of making sure that I didn’t violate any ethics issues in the execution on my awesome deals.
  • Couponing consumed my mind.
  • Buying things that I didn’t really need or use led to additional clutter in my home.
  • The time and energy that I spent couponing and shopping reduced the time and energy that I could spend on my home and family (cooking, cleaning, and parenting took a backseat to deals).

For me, the cons outweighed the pros. I returned to shopping without a binder of coupons. I stopped stalking savings blogs for freebies and money-makers. I didn’t leave everything behind though.

Here are the things that I took away from my venture into the “extreme couponing” world:

  • Extreme ANYTHING is usually not a good idea. Moderation is key. Shop smart, but don’t obsess on deals, prices, sales, and stockpiles.
  • Pay attention to sale cycles and base prices for the products that you buy often. Shop ahead when you find a great price. Tomatoes for $0.52/can? Stock up! Just make sure that you only buy what you will USE. It’s not a good deal if you don’t use it up before it goes bad.
  • Don’t waste your time obsessing on the prices of things that you buy infrequently. Does it really matter if you save $0.50 on something that you only buy every 6 months?
  • If you don’t buy it regularly already, don’t buy it…no matter how good the deal! Spending $3 on a $15 product is not a good deal if it then sits in your closet because you didn’t need it to begin with (not that I have an automatic air freshener sitting in the bottom of my pantry or anything…).
  • Check deal-matching blogs if you want, but don’t obsess over “missed” deals.
  •  There’s a price for every coupon you use. Just use what you can easily get and forget the coupons that were in the paper that you didn’t get last week. The paper probably cost more than you would have saved!
  • Make sure you’re not sacrificing a clean and orderly home for a stockpile of “deals.”
  • Put your family and their happiness before shopping trips. Necessities are different—sometimes we HAVE to go to the store amidst protests, but if you’re just trying to “score” the great deal on deodorant…listen to the cries of your children.
  • If you’re too wiped out after shopping to cook, clean, love, or care for your family, you have things backward. Step back, reassess, and reorganize those priorities.

Needs vs Wants: Dishwasher

dirty dishes

dirty dishesEasy call, right? A dishwasher is obviously a need. In these rushed days, who in their right mind would opt OUT of having a dishwasher?

The situation is this…my dishwasher is dead. It developed a terrible sound, followed by a terrible smell, and utterly failed to wash the last several loads of dishes that I forced through it to a decent level of clean. Once I was sure that it was dead, I did what any normal homeowner does when a major appliance bites the dust–I went shopping.

I went to Sears first because (1) we have a card there and (2) our last dishwasher was a Kenmore, and I liked it a lot. I found a model that was perfect almost immediately. It had hidden controls (since I have a toddler and don’t like my dishwasher turning on at random times of the day), it had bells and whistles (something like a thermoblaster area for pots and pans…sounded perfect for those dishes that wait a week to be washed), and it had a moderate price tag for a washer with those features ($600…when sitting next to the $2000 washer, that looks like pocket change!). I always shop around though, so we left without even talking to a sales rep.

We went to Home Depot on a whim, but they didn’t have anything that could beat the Sears machine. Since I am not one to snub my nose at a discount, we also went to the local scratch-and-dent store. They had a washer with the hidden controls for $349! Of course, it didn’t have a thermoblaster, but it was also almost half the price.

At this point, I’m about ready to whip out the debit card and go for it. Of course, I know that I really need to talk to my husband about it before spending that kind of money, so I left.

After leaving the stores, I started having those guilty second thoughts. I remembered my efforts to rein in out spending habits. I remembered our decision to stop relying on credit for major purchases. I remembered my budget guide that tells me to save money specifically for big purchases. I remembered my resolution to be a lot more strict about needs vs wants with myself.

So I started washing my dishes.

Know what? My glasses aren’t nearly as cloudy as I thought they were. They actually sparkle. It also didn’t take that long to wash a day’s worth of dishes. Of course, I’m still washing because I had a LOT more than one day’s worth waiting on the new dishwasher.

The time I spent washing my own dishes gave me time to really reflect on the usefulness of a dishwasher and the habits that it creates in my kitchen. Here’s the problem: the more I rely on my dishwasher, the more dishes I allow to pile up.

Think about it this way. If you know that you have to wash the dishes by hand, are you going to let them sit in the sink or on the table overnight? No! Knowing you HAVE to wash them by hand instead of just throwing them into the dishwasher, you are more likely to just go ahead and rinse them off right after dinner. Newsflash: when you wash a dish immediately after using it, it comes clean with almost NO work! Holy cow!! (I know, I know…some of you are thinking that it should have been obvious to me much sooner than 28 years old, but I have always had a dishwasher to depend on.)

After all of that introspection and dish washing, I have decided to do something really crazy. I am going to wait to buy a new dishwasher until I can pay cash for it. I don’t want to put it on a credit card, and I don’t want to undo our progress toward having an emergency fund for a “want” that I can do without.

That means that I will be without a dishwasher for at least 3 months…one of those months, I’ll still be working outside the home. I think that it also means that I will be a lot more conscious of using only the dishes that are necessary when cooking and serving meals. I washed 36 cups and glasses today. That’s A LOT of cups and glasses for a family of 4…especially when we aren’t at home most of the day 5 days a week!

I have had Zander, my niece Katie and my nephew Joe playing at my house today. They have each had a single cup from this morning when they first started playing till now. They will keep that cup until this evening.  I have had to remind them and rescue the cups from the sink a few times already, but  I know that they will get into the habit.

Baby steps.

What do you think? Could you live without a dishwasher? What would you do without before giving up your dishwasher?

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Bake

Ok…I am calling this recipe “sneaky” because it has LOTS of veggies in it, but tastes so good that they don’t even notice! I made this dish for the first time a couple of days ago after seeing this recipe on Pinterest. I knew that I had some frozen spinach at home, and this recipe looked too good not to try. I decided to make a few adjustments though. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Bake

  • 8 oz uncooked pasta (I used two different kinds that I had leftover from other meals)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 (16 oz) bag frozen spinach
  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded
  • 1lb boneless chicken
  • 1 (14 oz) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (8 oz) brick cream cheese
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1½ c shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cook pasta according to package directions. If you’re using two different types like I did, make sure to put the longer cooking pasta in earlier if you don’t want texture differences.
  2. While pasta cooks, cook onion and chicken in a large skillet until nearly cooked through. Season to taste as chicken cooks. I used Nature’s Seasoning, a dash of italian seasoning mix, onion powder, and garlic powder.
  3. When chicken is almost done, add 1/2 bag of spinach and let it cook a couple of minutes before adding zucchini and tomatoes. When mixture begins to bubble, add cream cheese and sour cream and stir until well incorporated.
  4. Mix in drained pasta and spread in a large baking dish. Cover and bake until bubbly, about 30 minutes.
  5. Top with cheese and return to oven until melted.

This dish was SOOO good! We ate it with my homemade rolls (the recipe for which I will post very soon), and everyone was raving about how delicious this supper was. I was just thrilled that no one seemed to notice that there were THREE different veggies in it. I knew I was taking a chance on the boys not eating at all that night because the spinach was easily visible. I never dreamed that ALL THREE of them would want seconds!

Just for clarification, that’s a toddler male, a 6-year-old male, and adult male ALL eating a meal without complaints that did not include hamburger or potatoes. They didn’t even TRY to pick around the spinach or tomatoes. This one is a keeper for sure!

Next time I’m going to double the recipe and freeze the second half to bake another night.

Finding Balance

I wrote the first part of this post over a week ago. It is a testament to the last week’s craziness that I am just now being able to finish it. Oh well! It still holds true.  

I am struggling with exhaustion, frustration, and edging toward burn-out. In the past month, I have been trying to live as if I am already a stay-at-home mom while continuing to fulfill my obligations at work. It’s really the essence of what made me want to make this change, but knowing that the end of this season is in sight makes it so much harder to wait for it.

It feels like those last few weeks of pregnancy. You know that your life is about to change immeasurably, you know the change is going to be challenging but rewarding, and you know that there’s nothing that you can do to make it come any faster without creating problems. I have been trying to diaper the baby before it has even been born.

In the last few weeks I have been cleaning, decluttering, baking, cooking, meal planning, bargain shopping, budgeting, and blogging. I do pretty much all of those things anyway, but I have been in super-hyper-overdrive. I have been running myself into the ground.

I am going to have to find some perspective and balance. I am enjoying doing the things that I have been doing, but I have added too much too fast. I can’t expect to be able to do what I have never been able to do just because I quit my job. I still have at least 6 weeks to work before I can really embrace the changes that I am so looking forward to.

The last week at home with a sick baby has both helped and hurt this challenge in unforseen ways. I have had to accept the fact that sometimes, you just have to nap with the baby…even if there are dirty dishes in the sink. I have also lost a good bit of the cleaning head-start that I had achieved with my initial adrenaline rush. My house is a wreck again. Arrgh!

The positive side (and there’s ALWAYS a positive side) is that I have purged so much stuff that my house is cleaner than before even as messy as it is right now. There are about 30 fewer cups and glasses available to BE dirty, so there are fewer dirty cups and glasses. There are about 500 fewer pieces of clothes available to BE dirty, so I have done a maintainance level of laundry washing all along instead of just pulling yet another outfit from my clothes basket.

I am making progress, but I want to do so much more. I want to have the time and energy to do everything. It is frustrating to be so limited, but it is just God’s way of making us prioritize. He will only give us one “tank of gas” per day, and only 24 hours to use it. If we try to do more than we are capable of, our bodies will stop us in our tracks. I want perfection. I have never been close to it, but I am sure that it is lovely.

Just imagine–all of the laundry is washed and put away…maybe even ironed. All of the dishes are clean, and there is a delicious, nutritionally-balanced meal on the table that kids and husband will both love. The bank account is at a comfortable level, and all of the bills are already paid for the month. The pantry is well-stocked with the foods and supplies that we need. We have a family devotion every morning in which we share our prayers with each other and grow closer to God and each other. We never raise our voices in anger, and all….

Ok…I get it. I have watched too many 50’s era TV shows.

Reality is nothing like that, but a girl can dream, right?

I am not really trying for perfection. I have to remind myself of that frequently. I am working for PROGRESS. I am taking baby steps toward a cleaner, better, more peaceful, and more joyful home. Until I am home full-time, I have got to find a way to pace myself. In fact, I will need that discipline even once I am at home too.

For me, for now, I think that finding “balance” means taking a Sunday afternoon nap while my boys sleep. It means that sometimes, the dishes have to wait. It means that I understand that it’s not always a good thing to push yourself to your limit. Sometimes it is needed and necessary, but sometimes it’s just overactive perfectionism and pride.

Now, I have to wrap this up. I’m going to catch a quick nap.

Wednesday Project–Glassware Galore

So…I have been home for two days now with my little man. We determined yesterday morning that he has contracted Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. If you don’t know what that is, be thankful.

I have an almost two year-old with a mouth FULL of BLISTERS. His hands are also covered, and his feet have a sprinkling thrown in for good measure. He is miserable. I am miserable. My efforts toward nightweaning have been thrown out the window.

For the record, we were on night FIVE of nightweaning. That is FOUR nights that I successfully held out and sacrificed sleep for the sake of the dream of a night spent in my own bed after almost two years on the couch/extra bed.

The fifth night was the night that his mouth, apparently, broke out in painful blisters. He wailed, he cried, I crumbled. He still didn’t sleep. He didn’t sleep last night either.

I. AM. A. MOMBIE. (It’s like a zombie, but more maternal…and seeks coffee instead of brains, but with the same passion.)

All of that to say…the project for this week is not going to be impressive, nor is it going to have “before” pictures. I will, however, post a picture of all the stuff I pile up to donate before it goes out the door.

My project was started inadvertently this morning while I was operating on a week’s worth of missed sleep and only one cup of coffee. I was talking to my mom and began gathering up “stuff” that I have been meaning to purge. Coffee cups, old glasses, extra bowls, two extra steam baskets for the one pot that fits them, you get the picture…

I ma going to continue to clear out pitchers, vases, and the myriad glassware that lives in my house for the purpose of collecting dust. I have several pieces that I love and will keep. The cool thing is that I will now be able to find a spot for them to be seen! At least, that’s the plan. Check back with me on Monday to see how it goes!

Cutting the Budget “Fat”

I have been trying to “cut the fat” from our budget today. It’s not easy, but here’s what I have found:

  • I called our telephone company, and managed to cut out a whopping $5/month from our home phone/internet bill. Of course, I could just cut off the home phone entirely, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. Soon maybe, just not yet.
  • I called our auto insurance company, and got a few good ideas about how to cut our premiums, but we’re really using most of the available discounts already. I’m going to get my info together and call about adding our homeowners to the policy to see if we could save on both, but that’ll be a task for another day. No direct savings here.
  • I reviewed our power bill and saw that we have reduced our average consumption from April to May even though it was hotter in May, so that’s good. In fact, we’ve dropped our budget billing amount by $17/month!
  • I’m seriously considering cutting off our satellite TV. It’s $90/month, and we watch a handful of TV hours a week. A little more soul-searching will be required before this decision is reached. I did cut off the extra receiver that we don’t use but have paid for about 6 years longer than we needed it. $5/month saved there.
  • I cut off the DVD service for Netflix, saving $7.99/month.
  • I cut off the Equifax reporting for Michael that I have let dangle for WAYYY too long. There’s another $14.99/month.
  • I cut off my subscription to WildTangent games since I really don’t use it much and don’t need to be playing computer games in my free time anyway. 🙂 $6.99/month saved.

Grand total: $39.97 of cut-off stuff + $17 power savings + lots of things to think about = not a bad day’s work

Baby steps…

Here are some other areas that I’m working on:

  • Using meal planning to cut grocery spending in HALF from May to June
  • Driving less, watching gas prices closer, etc. to cut gas consumption by $60 (getting it within our new budgeted level)
  • Eating at home more…MUCH more…to reduce our eating-out budget by 66%

Do you have other ideas on how to cut the budget?

Media Minimized

DenMedia

The newly minimized living room media center

This project took almost no time! I grabbed the CD cases at WalMart and went to work. I let the size of the cases (28 slots each) be the limiting factor in how many movies and games I kept. Anything that didn’t fit didn’t stay. 🙂

But, I wimped out on throwing out the Harry Potter DVD cases for some reason…maybe I just need a little more time to adjust to the idea of it.  Baby steps…

Zans Media

Zander’s minimized media center

I wish I could have succeeded in getting rid of more of the VHS tapes, but Zander was there…

MediaDiscarded

Here is what was discarded

There were two big piles of movies and games to donate, and three big piles of cases to trash. I didn’t snap a picture of it, but the bottom drawer is completely empty now too. All of the games and movies were dealt with one way or the other. No more discs falling behind the TV or DVD player! Woohoo!

You can see the first part of this challenge here. You can see last week’s challenge here and here.