I’m on a budget, and I don’t clip coupons . . .

I actually enjoy grocery shopping.  When I get really good food without spending a lot of money, I feel really clever, like I’m beating the system.  It’s a great feeling.


I have spent hours reading the blogs of supermoms who share their secrets for saving money on groceries. I’ve browsed websites where you can print all kinds of coupons.  And after all that, I hardly ever clip or use coupons.  And I’m okay with that.


There are a few reasons why I don’t clip coupons.  First of all, couponing in the Northwest is pretty much a wash.  We don’t have double or triple coupon days – well, maybe Albertsons still does that, but we don’t have Albertsons in our town.  And when I can only use three manufacturer’s coupons per purchase, it kind of takes the fun out of the whole idea of coupons.


Secondly, coupons don’t always give you the best deal.  Maybe our grocery stores (Safeway and Leprekon Harvest Foods) are just really expensive, but most of the time when I see a coupon I want to use, the discount is not as good as just shopping at Grocery Outlet.  And once in a while neither the coupons nor Grocery Outlet are as good as Walgreens’ sales.  This week Safeway has milk on sale for 14 cents cheaper than the cheapest milk in town and eggs for 30 cents cheaper.  But tomorrow Walgreens will have milk on sale for 20 cents cheaper than the cheapest milk in town and eggs for 70 cents cheaper.


Thirdly and most importantly, most coupons are for stuff I don’t buy.  I make most of our meals from scratch (or nearly scratch), I don’t have a pet or a baby, and I make my own cleaning and laundry products.


Now, I do use some coupons.  Safeway’s “Just for U” program lets you “clip” coupons online to your Safeway card, plus they offer personalized deals.  When I first joined Just for U, I did the majority of my shopping at Safeway and was saving 30-50% off Safeway’s retail prices, which was awesome.  But after the first couple months, I stopped getting so many good deals, and since part of the personalized offers are supposed to be based on stuff I already was buying, I can only assume that Safeway realized they were losing money by giving me 30% off produce on top of the sales on apples, grapes, and tomatoes, so they just cut back on things like that.  So now I hardly ever shop at Safeway, but once in a while they’ll do some really good sales so I have to keep checking every week.


Anyway, so in addition to Safeway, this is how my husband and I save money on groceries:


1) As I said before, I make a lot of stuff from scratch.  Generally, the more stuff you can make on your own, the more money you will save.  I’m sure there are exceptions.  Personally, I don’t make my own cheese or buy sprouted wheat.  I figure I’ll be doing well if I can whip up a batch of mayonnaise later this week.  But the things I choose to make rather than buy, do cost less than the store version.


2)  I plan meals.  This takes a little bit of time (not as much as you might think), but it saves even more time (not to mention money) at the grocery store.  I plan meals based on our schedule (because one of us has to have time to make the meals), current sales, and what we already have in our pantry.


3)  We make a list, and we stick to it.  This is probably the most important thing.  If you wing it at the grocery store, you will definitely buy stuff you don’t need or will never eat (especially if you shop when you’re hungry).  Or you may forget things that you do need.  But making a list is pretty pointless if you don’t stick to it.  I have a bad habit of getting additional stuff that’s not on the list, but it’s usually just to meet the quota I need to get a punch in my punch card, or because there happens to be a great sale on something we already buy.  My husband is a great list shopper.


4)  We comparison shop – to an extent.  This is a no-brainer, but we go where prices are the best.  However, if getting the best price on a product means driving out of town (we don’t have Costco in town), then forget it.  For our family of two, spending $30 on gas per trip plus an annual $50 membership is not worth the potential savings, especially considering that we don’t have the space to store all the items we would have to buy in bulk in order to save money.  Now, I know some people who do make regular trips out of town, shop at Costco, and it seems to work for them.  You have to figure out what works for you.

5) We use cash.  “Cash” to us doesn’t mean a debit card – it means actual physical bills.  We take a certain amount to the store, and what’s left over is our allowance.  For me, personally, using cash is a really good incentive to be frugal because I can actually see how much I have left and how much I’m spending.  For both of us, the knowledge that splurging (buying extra stuff we don’t need) means less allowance money, is great incentive to stick to the list.


Anyway, there are lots of ways to save money, whether it’s on groceries, clothes, toiletries, utilities, or anything else.  Most of the money we spend is discretionary – that is, we have some say in how much we spend.  From time to time we evaluate our current spending plan and see if it’s working.


What do you do to save money on groceries?


Resolution “Paper-less”: Update

At the beginning of the year, I shared my New Year’s resolution of reducing the amount of paper I use.  I’m probably long overdue for an update.


So this is what I’ve done so far.


1.  I got rid of papers I’ve been saving.  I wrote about this in my earlier post.  Basically I went through every piece of paper I saved from 8th grade through college (because yes, I did save stuff from 8th grade).  I scanned the relatively few important documents I wanted to save (which wasn’t very much from high school – sadly, I lost most of the notes from my Theology classes, which is ironic because those were the first things I transcribed to my computer, years ago – I’ll come back to this).  I recycled everything else.


2.  I no longer keep receipts.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I used to keep the receipt for every nickel I spent, even if I went to Starbucks with a gift card.  I filed them and kept them, seriously.  Then I started doing my tax returns myself instead of having my dad do them, and I realized that there is no point in keeping personal receipts unless it’s for something I might return.  So now I scan receipts that I will need for taxes – anything related to my car, business, medical expenses, etc. – and recycle or throw the paper copies (yes, I admit to throwing away paper and I’m sorry), along with receipts for groceries and other personal expenses.


3.  I back up what I don’t want to lose!  When you back up files on your computer, you need to back up your back up.  When I had my first laptop (ah, youth!), I loaded it with documents – my writing, journaling, poetry, notes from theology class, etc.  Then my hard drive got corrupted and I lost everything.  And that’s the end of the story.  Much like Strong Bad, my approach to backing up my files was along the lines of “Is that a real thing I have to do?”  This was because my original backup was a 3.5″ floppy disk, and then I got a computer that didn’t have a floppy drive.  So now I use Google Drive and Dropbox, which are both free programs that will automatically sync your files online.  You really should back up your files in two locations, preferably an Internet folder and an external hard drive (or flash drive, or what have you).  I put my personal and work files in Drive and keep Dropbox for my dance company files.


The notion of going paper-less (not paperless, just less paper) has actually expanded beyond my original intentions.  I’ve found there are a lot of ways I can cut down on how much paper I use, and I’ve adopted some of them:


4.  I no longer buy disposable cleaning wipes.  I don’t have a baby or a small child, so this wasn’t a huge deal, but I used to clean EVERYTHING with Clorox disinfecting wipes.  They are just so easy!  But they do create a lot of waste, and the cost adds up.  Now I use washable Handi-wipes and T-shirt rags with my homemade cleaners, which last a lot longer and are much less expensive (try $2 for 2 pounds of baking soda).


5.  I cut back on paper towels.  This one is much harder for me.  Paper towels are really convenient for everything from cleaning up messes to microwaving bacon, but have you looked at how much they cost?!  To me, that’s more outrageous than the amount of waste they generate.  Anyway, I am looking forward to creating my own NON-paper towel roll in the near future, mostly because they can be really cute!  There are lots of tutorials on how to make your own reusable non-paper towel rolls – here’s one.


There are lots of ways to cut back on paper in the home; these are just a few.


Are you trying to reduce waste or use less paper?  If so, what are you doing?

Resolution “Paper-less”: Before

This year I made a New Year’s resolution to go “paper-less.”  Not paperless, meaning getting rid of all the paper in my apartment (but if you want to do that, Small Notebook has some really good tips) – just less paper. I just wanted to get rid of the unnecessary paper I’ve been keeping, and to stop accumulating more paper by scanning and filing important documents on my computer.


This was the focus of my paper reduction project:




Most of that is from college (some are even from high school!).  I had so many binders that I kept half of them facing backward so I could fit them all on my shelf.  I also have a lot of photos, and some stationery that I haven’t used in years.


I didn’t want to get rid of all my college papers – a lot of them are useful resources to me now.  But the way they were organized, they weren’t accessible – I actually forgot a lot of what I had in there.  So I went through everything, scanned what I wanted to keep, and tossed the rest into the recycling bin.




Now I have a folder on my computer that is synced with Google Drive (I also have Dropbox but that’s for my dance company’s files), and one of the subfolders in it is for old school papers.


I also made a sub-folder for receipts – not everything, just stuff I can claim on my tax return.


So next I have to go through my photos. . . .


How do you organize old papers?  Do you keep the originals, save digital copies, or do you toss old stuff?