Sunday, December 8, 2013

My quest for simpler living

Today, it begins.

All my hours of research and seeking inspiration are finally bearing fruit.

I am officially a minimalist. A rational minimalist to be exact.

I am tired of having piles of clutter around my house. I am tired of stepping over my purse and a box of random stuff to sit at my desk. I am tired of not being able to use my desk because the piles of who knows what multiply and expand and cover it edge to edge. I want to have dinner with my family or sip a cup of tea with a friend or read a good book at the kitchen table without having to clear 50 lbs of clutter. I want my bedroom to be a sanctuary of rest, not a catch-all for everything I want to keep out of my kid’s reach. I want to quit having to use and store baby gates to keep my kid away from the more cluttery parts of my house.

That's a lot to want, but as they say: minimalism is thinking big and being happy. The way I see it, I've lived 28 years, 2 months and 24 days old being someone I’m not. I didn't know it, but I've been in the closet all these years. No more.

I've always been known as a pack rat, a collector of things, a messy person. Not filthy, just messy. My mom and dad always used to joke about how I would cut up a piece of paper into miniscule bits and store them in an envelope in a bag in a box in a bigger box. And it was true. I liked my things. I liked making things; I liked keeping them in bags and boxes. My natural habitat was one so covered with things that it was generally inaccessible, unless you knew the route. It must have been some deeply rooted instinct to keep predators at bay. If they couldn't reach me, then they couldn’t hurt me.

But no more. Today, I'm setting myself free from clutter. I’m setting myself and my family free from over stuffed closets, from unusable surfaces, from weekends and late nights spent organizing stuff. This is freedom from over consumption and going over budget. I'm getting free from all the little bits and bobs of things I've stored over the years but never used. This is it; I have decided. It'll be a long road, and I've taken a few baby steps, but I have a long ways to go yet.

Would you like to come with me? If you could minimize your house, what would it look like? Where would you start?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Joseph Joseph Stacking Mixing Bowls

I found the company Joseph Joseph* a while ago on another minimalist blog (I can't remember quite which one) and fell instantly in love. Practical, colorful, minimalist kitchen tools. Heavy on the tools, light on the gadgets. I especially fell in love with the Nest 9 set, which arrived at my house today! It has a large mixing bowl with no-slip base, colander, sieve, small mixing bowl that doubles as a liquid measurement from 1 fl oz to 4 cups, set of 4 measuring cups (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/4 cup) and a tablespoon/teaspoon. It all stacks neatly in the large mixing bowl. Here's a picture of my new Nest 9 set next to all the stuff it replaced:

It replaced a set of 3 stacking mixing bowls with lids, 2 stainless bowls, a pyrex 2 cup measuring cup, a pyrex 4 cup measuring cup, a small sieve, a collapsible colander, my coffee scoop, a set of measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons. I stacked them up as much as possible and they still take up more than twice as much space as my new stacking set.

It is kind of hard to give away a few of these things. The stacking mixing bowls I found at a thrift store for a steal, they are awesome and vintage and I've loved them every day I've owned them. My measuring cup set is actually a set of stacking matryoshka dolls, and my measuring spoons are a cool vintage tin set I looked for for a long time until I found just the perfect ones. So why am I getting rid of things I love? Because as much as I love my things, I love not having them more. I love having more space, and dare I say, I love my Nest 9 more than I love all my old things combined.

Minimizing your belongings isn't always about getting rid of clutter you don't care about. It's also finding more efficient ways to store and use the things you do love, and sometimes that means replacing them.

Update: right after I wrote this post, I got word of a family who lost everything in a house fire so I gave my things to them. Funny how things happen like that, huh? 

What things do you love in your house? How can you make them work better for you?

*not an affiliate link

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Free hand soap for life!

If you've ever been to a baby/wedding shower, graduation party, housewarming party, etc etc etc, you know there are likely to be favors given away or prizes.

You should know that I am very competitive and I love to win. And I always pick the soap prize. I win frequently enough that I have built up a stash of soaps that I use to refill my hand soap dispensers.

This year, I won a foaming hand soap pump from a baby shower! (Best prize to date.) If you haven't used one, it works just like regular hand soap pump, but it foams the soap before it spits it out into your hand. This is marvelous for a frugal household because it uses a lot less soap per pump, I'm estimating about half as much. And because I use the pretty scented soaps I get from other people, I never get bored of the smell! My dispenser is half full now, and I have 2 more bottles of soap to refill, with approximately 2 refills per bottle. That means I have plenty of soap to hold me over until the next shower season.

So, lets do a cost analysis. Soap dispenser: FREE. Soap refills: FREE. Total cost: FREE + FREE = FREE!!! I love free stuff. :)

What marvelous and ingenious ways do you save money on consumables in your house?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wheat free, dairy free pancakes

I just made pancakes for dinner. They were delicious! I really liked the texture, they're not really fluffy, but they're really light, almost like a meringue. They aren't very big, but they are very filling and you don't get the spike-crash blood sugar like you do with regular pancakes since they aren't chock full of sugar and carbs. These would be excellent for someone on a gluten free diet, a diabetic, an elimination diet or someone who's just trying to cut calories.

I got the recipe off of Pinterest, and modified it a little. Original Source
You'll need:
2 large, ripe bananas
5 eggs
1/2 cup rolled oats, uncooked (this is the part I added, it changes the texture a little but it's optional)
Total calories: 520 for the whole batch, 110 per serving

 Plop everything in the blender until it's smooth and fry on a griddle with lots of coconut oil. I used my cast iron on medium low heat, it took about 3-4 minutes on each side to get them perfectly golden brown. They are super delicious with real maple syrup. And now, lets cost compare!

2 large bananas (from Costco, $1.39/8): $0.38
5 eggs (organic, free range from Walmart, $2.29/doz): $0.95
1/2 cup rolled oats (from my stash in the pantry): $0.01 (I had to do some guessing and rounding since I buy oatmeal in bulk)
Coconut oil (organic from, $15 for 1/2 gallon): $0.10

Total for the whole batch: $1.44, or 4 servings at $0.36 each. It'll be a little more once you add the syrup but since it's the real stuff I use only a tablespoon per cake, so it's only about $0.15 per 4 pancakes.

Lets compare to Bisquick:

Say we bought the 6 pound bag for $6.88. There are 68 (40) ounce servings in the bag. That makes the cost of the mix $0.10 per serving. Add a cup of milk ($0.21 at $3.39/gallon) and two eggs ($0.38 at $2.29/dozen) and you're paying $0.69 per serving, or about double.

So, if you are on any kind of restrictive diet and don't eat 20 pancakes in one sitting, these are very filling and surprisingly affordable.

Update: I did make several batches to have some for later, but they didn't store very well. I ended up with a big mass of smushed pancakes so they were harder to reheat and much less beautiful coming out than going in. I would recommend freezing them individually on a baking sheet then putting them together in a container once frozen.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Perfect Homemade Breadcrumbs

Folks, I just figured out the BEST solution to getting perfect homemade breadcrumbs...
Perfect Homemade Breadcrumbs

Tada! Beautiful, isn’t it?

No? Well, just wait till we number crunch...It’ll look like pure gold then.

What’s the secret to my alchemy, you ask?
You'll need:
  • Food processor or blender (I have a small smoothie maker I use)
  • Dried bread (any amount)
  • This tea strainer (the large tea infuser from World Market) or one like it
  • 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup
  • Storage container (I used a quart mason jar)

First, collect all your ancient bread heels and stale buns. Mine are collected throughout the month in a gallon ziploc in the freezer. Then I go to work once the bag is full. This time I had a little extra because I discovered a few stray hotdog buns had gone stale. All together, this came to 22 pieces of bread.

Put all the bread on a baking sheet. The bread can even be placed straight on the rack if you want but I put them on a pan to minimize the mess in my oven. Bake the bread at 350ish till it looks thoroughly dried out. I bake mine until they are slightly brown on the edges and crack easily when broken in half.

After letting the bread pieces cool a bit, break them up and put them into your blender or food processor. Because I have a small blender, I break mine up into pieces with sides no longer than one inch. They process faster this way and don't get stuck. Once blended, put the bottom portion of the tea strainer over the top of a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup and sift the crumbs like so:
A sieve might work too, but mine has a double layer of mesh and doesn't let enough through. If I wanted bread powder, not bread crumbs, I would use my sieve.

Sift out all the big bits and return them to the blender. Continue until all bread has been processed.

Voila! Perfect breadcrumbs.

My 22 pieces of bread nearly filled up a quart mason jar.
And this method is made even cheaper since I get all my bread at the Franz outlet bakery up the road. Today I got 10 loaves of organic bread and 2 bags of ginger snaps for $12.38.

And now for the best part: the Math! If every loaf cost a dollar, and there's 18 slices (including the heels) in each loaf, that's $0.05 per slice. My jar held 20 slices of bread (the two hotdog buns were from a package that was given to me for free, so I'm not including them in this calculation). So the whole quart of crumbs cost me $1.00 and about 20 minutes of time. Not too shabby.

If you look at this from another perspective, for every 10 loaves of bread you buy, you're throwing $1.00 worth of bread in the trash if you don't use your heels. And that's if you get your bread for a dollar a loaf. If you pay the standard $2-$4 a loaf, then you're throwing away $1 every 3-5 loaves.

Kinda shocking.

So, give this a try! Save money… you know you want to.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Line Drying

Drying clothes on a line might be portrayed as breezy and beautiful...

... but reality looks more like this:

Even though it's not pretty, and it takes up quite a bit of room, line drying saves a considerable amount of money since dryers can use upwards of 20% of your monthly electricity. Plus, line drying is very easy and isn't nearly as inconvenient as it's often made out to be.

To prove line drying is worth the effort, I will do a test and compare the findings. I’ll time myself doing laundry two ways. I’ll include how long it takes to load, set the time, then unload and fold a full load of laundry when using the clothes dryer versus how long it will take to set up, hang and fold a full load of laundry dried on the line. I’ll shoot for 3 full loads of each type (about two weeks of laundry for us). To keep the experiment as genuine as possible, I’ll also compare the same types of loads. For instance, I’ll time how long it takes to dry a load of baby laundry, a load of adult clothing, and a load of other household laundry in each method.

My hypothesis is this: It'll take the same or less time to line dry clothes than it does to dry them in the machine.

For those of you who love science are are total and absolute nerds (like me) and want to know more about how electricity works, watch this video. He gives a much more concise and sensible explanation of voltage, amps and ohms than I could.

According to, use the formula below to calculate the daily electricity usage of your appliances.

(Wattage × Hours Used Per Day) ÷ 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption

Don't worry, it's much simpler than it looks, and I'll help do the math. The energy consumption rate (watts or volts and amps) should be listed on your machine's name plate usually mounted on the back or bottom. If the name plate doesn’t show how many watts it uses, simply multiply the volts by the amps. I couldn't find mine and didn't want to turn it over (which brilliant designer seriously put the info plate on the bottom of the machine…), so I picked an average use level based on the range given by I picked 3400 watts, which is right smack dab in the middle of their 1800-5000 range. So to figure the daily wattage of my clothes dryer, I used the formula thus:

(3400 wattage X 1 hour) / 1000 = 3.4 kWh per day

For me one hour equals one load of laundry dried. I usually only do one load a day, so if you do more laundry in a day, adjust as appropriate.

To find how much you pay per kWh, look on your electricity bill. Mine lists the average kWh per day and the average cost per day. If I divide the daily cost by the daily kWh, I get $0.12 per kWh. So every time I run the dryer, it costs me $0.41 ($0.12 * 3.4 kWh). I dry about 5 loads a week, making my weekly cost $2.05 and yearly cost $106.60. Adds up fast, huh? Since I've been line drying, I only dry one load in the machine per week which cuts my cost by 80% or by $85 a year!

Currently, I have 3 drying racks. My little drying rack cost $20 from amazon, my large drying rack I got in trade for other things, so there was no cost to acquire that, and the garment stand was $12 from Ross. My total equipment cost was recouped in about 4 months.

To cut my costs even further, I make sure my machine is running smoothly. I clean the lint trap between each load, I check the dryer hose frequently for clogs and I add tennis balls to the load to agitate the linens more and dry them faster. Recently I ran water over the lint trap and the water beaded up on top of the mesh, instead of going straight through. Even though I don't use fabric sheets or softeners, the person I bought the machine from must have and the wax from the dryer sheets melted in the heat and clung to the mesh. I simply ran really hot water over the mesh and scrubbed it clean. That removed the waxy build up and decreased the drying time by about 15 minutes.

Here is a good resource if you want to know more about cleaning your machine. And for some inspiration, visit my Pinterest Home board for cool ideas to use in your laundry room and all around your house.

See you again soon with the results from my experiment!

Making Big Purchases & Negotiating

Coming up to winter here in Montana, if you have a 2 wheel drive Honda, you're gonna need studded tires. For us, since our ‘big purchases’ are anything over $100, buying studded tires for my car was a 'big purchase'. We had already had $600 put away because we budgeted $100 into savings every month specifically for car emergencies and expenses. We needed tires for my car plus new front seats for our Ford Explorer. We decided to budget $450 and only get tires since that's all we could afford and still have a little buffer left over just in case.

When considering what is a “big” purchase make sure to discuss how big is ‘big’ per your family’s set budget. Is it $50? $300? Collaborate and agree with your spouse even before budgeting for something specific. Also, decide whether it’s something that needs to be bought new or if you can settle for used (usually the cheaper option). Pre-planning is key throughout each step of making a ‘big purchase’.

Getting a retail quote is helpful when pricing things so that you know if someone is charging you more for something used than you would pay new. Remember, retailers mark up their items, usually 50-100% to cover their cost of operations. You don’t have to pay this markup when purchasing used goods from private parties. This happens often with furniture. If you find a piece of used furniture you like, just run a quick search on the brand's website,, Ikea or maybe a furniture retailer's website. You’re looking for something to give you an idea of prices. I won't pay more than half price for used furniture, no matter how new or wonderful it is. If they say they paid $3000 and are 'sacrificing' for $2500, too bad. They shouldn't have overpaid in the first place.

Before we started looking for tires, I went into a tire shop and had them run a quote for four tires and rims for my car. The quote for tires came back $671. That tells us our budget was reasonable and chances were good we would find newish tires with little wear. With that information in hand, we started searching our local Craigslist and Facebook classifieds. We decided ahead of time how much wear was acceptable, and how much we were willing to spend ($450). And while buying used items online is also a risk, if you plan really well, then a wonderful world of amazingly good deals opens. You will have to give up things like warranties, return policies and custom options. However, if your budget is tight and you are willing to go without those things and can handle a little wear and tear, you will save huge amounts of money. I’m talking 50-80% off retail prices.

Also, PLEASE know what to look for BEFORE you go searching. It’s not a good deal if you’re getting something you can’t use. For our purchase, my husband already knew how to buy tires. Just by looking at them, he can tell how much wear is on them (people will lie about that), how they were stored (which is important since the rubber can break down quickly if stored improperly) and if they'll work for our car. I wouldn't have had half a clue. If you're looking for furniture, measure the space where you're going to put it AND the door you're bringing it in. If you're buying electronics, meet somewhere where you can plug it in and test it and ask the seller to bring the user manual with them if they still have it.

My husband found a few different options with one set of tires looking especially promising. I think the guy was originally asking $450 for 4 tires on rims. We contacted the seller, but somewhere along the line he stopped contacting us. We thought that opportunity lost but then he reposted the tires shortly after for $400. So when husband went to go look at them, he offered $300 and the guy took it! For much less than half price, we got snow tires and rims for my car. Granted, they're badly painted black and pink and my car is white, but whatever. A little sandpaper, masking tape and a leftover can of spray paint and you’ll never know. We saved $371 off retail and $150 off our budget! Lesson learned: Don't be afraid to ask for a deep discount, you never know if they'll agree or not. However, if you're the one selling, don't be afraid to refuse to give a deep discount if someone asks for it.

Since we got the tires so cheap, we were also able to get seats for the Ford for $100, putting us at $50 under our original budget of $450 just for snow tires. Cha. Ching!

Additional points to remember:

Don't get sucked into good deals. There are LOTS of good deals out there, and when you see one, remember this mantra: If you see an elephant for sale for a quarter, it's not a good deal unless you have a quarter AND you need an elephant.

Treat online shopping like you would Goodwill shopping. Have a list of specific things you're looking to buy and stick to your list but keep a little part of your mind open for unusual and wonderful things. You never know what treasures you’ll come across.

When you find something you want and start to communicate with the seller, be cheery and polite. If the ad is very new, lowballing (in my experience, 30% or more off asking price) is considered rude. If you think it'll still be there, wait a day then make a low offer. If it looks like it's going to go fast, for instance if a few other people are showing interest, pay their asking price or offer just a little lower (maybe 10% off). Most people are ok with bargaining a little, but if they say no, be gracious and either pay the full price or walk away. Remember you both have an advantage, they have a desirable item to sell, but chances are good that someone else is going to sell something similar again in the near future.

Once you meet with the seller, check the item over thoroughly. Don't just blindly throw your cash at them and leave. Most people are honest, and sometimes they make honest mistakes. Some people are crooks. If you get ripped off, then you're not saving money. You're wasting it. Learn to protect yourself from honest mistakes and crooks. If there's something wrong that wasn't disclosed in the ad or subsequent communications, but you're ok with it ask if they'll take a lower price or just refuse to buy it. It's OK to not buy something even though you both took the time to go meet each other. If you're the one selling, be sure to count the money given to you before you send the person away. I'll even tell them to wait while I count just to make sure. Nobody has ever had a problem with that. Just think about when you buy something from a store. The cashier counts your money before they put it in their drawer. It's not rude. It's normal.

I hope these tips help you save buckets of money in the future! Be safe and be frugal!

Friday, November 1, 2013

How to: Cut your own hair

Call me crazy...but I cut my own hair.

This isn't a big deal if you have long hair and can see what you're doing, but I don't and can’t. My hair is very short. To make matters more complicated, this time I needed to cut the back even shorter. These obstacles made it a bit tricky figuring out a plan of action, but I finally came up with this solution:

See my glamorous luxurious slightly-decorated-more-functional-than-pretty bathroom? Do you like the builder grade brass doorknob and chintzy wooden towel racks? Hey, it's a rental and I'm content. Let me say that one more time: I'm content. And for good measure: I am content. It's hard to be sometimes, but really, it is easy to clean and usually stays this tidy. I only had to clean beard hair trimmings (my husband's, not mine) out of the sink for this shot (you're welcome). Also, please note my awesome vintage train case (the blue thing under the webcam). I love that thing! :)

I don't have a picture or video of me actually doing the haircut since I did it in an old scrubby shirt and didn't wear any, er, support, which isn't very photogenic. Besides that, it was incredibly awkward and would probably have been more entertaining than useful to watch. I did however capture the end result.

Here I am real-world style: it's 11:30 at night, I have no makeup on and there’s baby snot on my shirt. Plus, I’m not smiling because I'm not very good at taking selfies when I concentrate.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I didn't do much to the front, just trimmed my bangs a little. But the back was turning into a mullet and I had a little curl over my collar (sadly, I didn't think to take before pics). I took quite a lot off the very bottom of my hair in the back. Next time, I will do a more in depth photo tutorial when I cut my hair so you can get a feel for exactly how it's done. This time I had no experience and no technique to share so I was just trying to figure it all out. I do have one shortish spot where I angled the scissors the wrong way, but you can hardly tell it's there.

I love getting my hair cut, but because I like it so short and it grows so fast, I usually have to get it cut every 4-5 weeks, which gets really expensive. By cutting my hair myself now, I can get it cut by my hairdresser every 3 months (to keep it in a reasonable shape) until it's long enough for me to cut by myself all the time. I will still probably get one professional haircut every 9 months or so, just to keep some good layers in my hair and because I'm not willing to give up haircuts altogether.

Total savings: $33 ($28 for the cut plus $5 tip).

For those who want to try this, here's how I did it:

You'll need a laptop and a USB webcam. The built in camera won't work because you need to be able to see the back of your head while also looking at the laptop. Don't try to put the laptop behind you while looking in a mirror. It's dangerous for your laptop; and it's hard to see anyways. Maybe if you had a tablet, but still, don't risk a $500 device to save $33. Common sense, people.
You'll also need a small chair, a table (like a movie tray) and height adjusters (aka books or a train case) like you see in the picture. And a large mirror. My bathroom mirror happens to be big enough that I can see myself sitting down, if yours isn't, maybe prop a smaller mirror up behind your laptop so you can see yourself over the top.

First disable the built in webcam if you have one. I'm using Windows 7, so it might be slightly different for other operating systems, and probably completely different for Mac. In which case, Google it. Go to Control Panel > Device Manager > Imaging Devices. Once you get to your webcam, right click on the device (it's probably the one labeled with the same brand as your laptop; mine is "TOSHIBA Web Camera" because my laptop is a Toshiba) and click "Disable." If you get a popup, read it and click the appropriate answer. Mine asks if I'm sure I want to disable the device, because it'll stop functioning. I click “Yes.” This might require a restart. If that's the case, bookmark this page and restart your computer.

Once you're back, plug in your USB webcam device. It should now default to the USB device since the built in one is disabled. If you don't already have a program to watch yourself (I tried Skype, but the picture was too small) you can download the VLC media player. Only download from reputable websites since you can easily infect your computer by not being careful. I like to use or

Next, set up your chair, laptop and webcam so you can see both the front of your head in the mirror and the back of your head on your computer screen at the same time. A little tip... keep a small towel draped over your keyboard so you don't get hairs in all the little cracks. They're very hard to get back out. Trust me on this one, I know.

Now start cutting, but very carefully. Make sure you position your scissors the right direction before you make a cut. Since I only wanted to cut the very back part of my hair, I pinned up all the hair above my ears (make a line from ear tip to ear tip across the back of your head). Once I was done trimming, that hair fell down and covers up most of the newly trimmed section so any mistakes were minimally noticeable. To make the actual cuts, I used a comb to separate out the section I wanted to cut, transferred it to my other hand then cut with my right hand, very carefully. Remember, you can always cut more off, but you can't put it back. It's very scary at first, but it's also very rewarding!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Moderate Couponing

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I coupon to save money on purchases. And if you can believe it, couponing is quite controversial. A lot of people poo-poo it because they believe couponing makes you buy things you don't need. To them I say: nobody makes me buy anything. Another group of people don't want to take the time; and they can pay for the convenience of not cutting coupons if they choose. Yet another group says it's not worth it to spend the time to get $0.25 off a $5.00 item. To them I say: you're doing it wrong. If you're willing to spend a little time (by a little, I mean half an hour or so a week once you have the hang of it), then you can save some serious moolah. This is not Extreme Couponing. It's more like... Moderate Couponing.

Before I get into nitty gritty analytical (nerdy) part of this post, I want to first address your emotions. Yes, food is emotional. It's a huge part of why you're still alive right now, and we Americans associate food with family time and celebrations. Food is important on many different levels. Don't diminish its importance...but don't give too much importance to silly things. Yes, organic is good. Yes, some brands are better than others. However, sometimes these loyalties need to be set aside for a bigger purpose. If you have the choice between eating $5.00/lb butter and all organic, grass fed beef or moving out of your crappy basement apartment into your own house, which would you choose? Which is more important to your family? Keep your priorities in line. I feed my family well; we eat healthy and often organic. But not always. Because when it comes down to it, I'd rather save the money for the betterment of my family.

Another thought: be content with what you need to survive and be intentional when you shop. Be content to not need Febreeze, but instead open a window or sprinkle your carpets with baking soda. Or make your own. Be intentional when you go to the supermarket to avoid falling into marketing traps. Walmart now has flat screen tvs with ads playing around the clock. I'm sure it was a huge investment for them to put so many TVs in so many stores, and I bet they didn’t do it just to entertain you for free. No, they’re making buckets of money off you. Do you know where they put them? In the place they thought they’d get the most return on investment: the cleaning aisle. Women are suckers for cleaners. These things are sold to us like we need them, but really we don't. In the near future I'll show you how to replace heavily marketed, toxic manufactured products with homemade alternatives. It's waaaaay easier than you think and cheaper than dirt.

To begin the couponing process, start with one item at a time. A good one to start with is breakfast cereal. General Mills and Kellogg almost always have coupons available. I never pay full price for Cheerios anymore. We go through a lot of them, but at less than $2 a box, it’s a lot easier on my budget. If you don't eat cereal very much, pick another common item like laundry detergent or toilet paper to focus on. Once you get the system down for one item, it'll be a lot easier to start applying it to multiple items all at once.

The secret to worthwhile couponing is to match up coupons with in store markdowns. Keeping that in mind, you'll be looking at two or three different pieces of information for each store.

1) Manufacturer coupons. These can be found at, in the newspaper, on company websites, on packaging or sometimes at the store. They will be labeled clearly as a manufacturer coupon. It is important to know the difference between manufacturer coupons and in store coupons because you can often stack one of each on the same item. Nearly every store accepts manufacturer coupons.

2) In store coupons are coupons that can be redeemed only at certain stores. They are often the ones printed out with your receipt as you leave the store. Sometimes they come in the form of a survey, but they always have the store's logo or name on the coupon somewhere. Not all stores have these (Walmart doesn't).

3) Weekly ads. Check your store's weekly ads for markdowns on items on your list. When something is on sale in the store and has a coupon, that's when you're really saving.

So now that you have the gist of it, here's what my couponing looks like:

FIRST, I make my grocery list. This is important. If you look at coupons first, you'll add things to your list you don't really need. I have two lists, one of things I need today and one of things I don't need today, but am waiting for a good deal so I can buy them at discount. Now I’m ready to look up manufacturer coupons on the items on my list. I check and the newspaper if I have one. I'll sometimes go into Starbucks at the end of the day on Sunday and ask if I can have their Sunday papers for free.

Once all my manufacturer coupons are in order, I cross check them with the weekly ads for my stores. I have a bookmark folder with all the weekly ads for the stores I patron (Target, CVS and Walmart). As you're looking for the items you have manufacturer coupons for, also be looking for all the other things on your list to see if one store has a better markdown than the other. Since all three stores I shop at sell Dawn dish soap, I look to see which has the best markdown and I buy at that store, even if I don't have a coupon. This is where you'll want to do some tracking. If CVS has a coupon for Dawn, but Target is having a sale with no coupon, which is a better deal? How low of a price have you paid in the past? Track prices by the ounce, since sometimes buying two 10 oz containers is cheaper than buying one 20 oz. Silly, but true.

Finally, I look up store coupons. I do this last because once I’ve checked the weekly ads, I know where I’m buying certain items. This is where you’ll need a little deeper understanding of store coupon policies. Target lets you stack 4 different discounts on one item, not including the store markdown. You can use a manufacturer coupon, a store coupon, any discounts in their Cartwheel app, and the 5% discount for using their Red Card (I have the debit card). CVS has an Extra Care Bucks program where you get store dollars when you buy certain items on sale. Using this system, I can often get things for free. Whatever I can't get on sale and with a coupon at Target or CVS, I buy at Walmart because they have the lowest prices. Eventually I want to get away from shopping at Walmart and keep my dollars local instead, but for now I have to make that sacrifice for my budget. I figure if shopping at Walmart for a little while allows me to save enough to buy a house, I'm actually helping the local economy more in the end.

Now, I go shopping! Which isn't nearly as fun as it sounds... but it is challenging and I like that. Take your lists and coupons with you. By now you'll have notes in the margins about which item has a coupon, which store has the best deal, etc. If you want, you can transcribe your chicken scratch mess onto a fresh sheet and categorize by store. And aisle. And stack your coupons in the same order as the aisles in the store. Or you could not be a crazy OCD nerd and just pay attention to your list so you don't forget anything. When you're at the store, be sure to cast a glance at the store brand, sometimes even with a markdown and a coupon, the name brand price is still higher. One store brand I don't buy a lot of is the Walmart store brand. I have tried it and nearly every time found the quality lacking. Don't let my bad review turn you off, though. Try it because the prices are usually way lower than even heavily discounted name brand stuff. If the quality doesn't bother you, by all means buy it and claim the savings.

Remember, your couponing is ultimately driven by what you actually need. Don't print coupons for things not on your lists or you're not saving money; you're wasting it.

There are tons of other ways to save money with coupons. Keep track of when things go on sale throughout the year, keep a price list, and understand stores' sales codes. Check out my Pinterest board or do an internet search for more in depth information and I promise you will find more info than your brain will know what to do with.

Happy couponing!

*Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, none of the links are ads, they're just put there for your convenience. All reviews of stores or products are merely my opinion*