Apr 8, 2011

Coupon Frenzy Part II: Organizing your spending

Have you ever gone on vacation, checked into your hotel, just started to slip into that amazing vacation relaxation mode...when you realize you've forgotten something??? Whether it's your razors and shaving gel or the batteries for the camera - you've got to have them! So down to the hotel convenience store you go to pay the most astronomical price imaginable for these things. But you do it! Why? Because you have to have them. The cost of not having them (no pictures for your vacation? Hairy legs at the beach? No way!) is too much to pay! They charge an arm and a leg, because they know that if you're buying them there - then you're desperate! When you have to have something - you loose your bargaining power. You have no other option than to pay $10 for a 4 pack of AA batteries - so you've got to do it! I have friends who do not like to stock-pile for various reasons - but one common response is: "I don't buy things unless I need them", they say "When I run out of shampoo, then I buy more shampoo; I don't need 50 bottles of shampoo". In their minds, it is wasteful to spend money on things that you don't need. My answer to that is: when you wait until you need something to buy it - you turn every shopping trip into a visit to the hotel convenience store. If you have to have shampoo (because you're out) - then you have to pay whatever the price is at the store regardless of sales or coupons. You are paying the most you could possibly pay for that item, every single time you buy it. So if it is something you use all the time, that isn't perishable - why not stock up? To me it's a no-brainer! 

But, with all of the great deals come some challenges. For everything that is worthwhile, there has to be a little discipline - right? So, how do you keep yourself from spending TOO much? If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may think that's impossible with deals like the ones I've mentioned before, but it definitely is! You can easily get so caught up with how much you're saving, that you forget and loose track of how much you're spending. I am far from all the answers and I am relatively new to aggressive couponing, but I am a cautious spender - so hopefully some of these tips will help!

1) I have a flexible spending account. I deposit money in this account that I want to keep separate from our family checking account that we pay all of our bills out of. I use this account when I need to pay anything that's a joint gift or expense (friends going in together to buy something and people are giving me money for it that I have to turn around and pay for at a later date), or when I purchase a piano book for a student and the parents are going to reimburse me. Every now and then I'll get a little surplus from this or that (normally when I sell a piano book to a student that I've had on my shelf for a while, or have a garage sale, or sell a book on Amazon). This is my "free money". When I want to buy something out of the ordinary that is not budgeted, this is the account that I use. So, when I found wooden refrigerator numbers set from Meritline on sale for $1.50 (shipped), I knew I could buy it without having to check the budget. When Target had a daily deal two weeks ago for t-shirts, I was able to buy 3 super cute, soft, comfy t-shirts that I really needed for tennis (but weren't in the budget) for $13.60 - shipped - and not have to even think about whether or not I should do it or not! This is a great way for me to keep a handle on my spending: if it's not in my flex account, then I can't buy it...no matter how good of a deal it is! If it's in the flex account - then I can "splurge" on my great deals to my heart's content.

2) I pay cash for all my non-necessity deals at CVS, Target, and Walgreen's and I write down everything I spend in a little log that I have. This way I'm at least aware of what I'm spending and if I don't have cash to cover it (unless it is an absolute necessity) - then I can't get it! When I get gift cards and credit as a result of purchases, I make sure those GC/Credits go towards the things we really need and not on splurges. I used to feel like cash ran through my fingers like sand a sieve - but now I feel like it is a real checks and balance for me. It is a tangible thing that helps me gauge what I can spend. If I only have $5 in cash - then I have to be creative in my transactions so that I don't spend more than that. It makes me more savvy!

3) This is kind of a re-iteration of the first paragraph - but I buy ahead. When I buy things that are on sale with coupons, I eliminate the necessity buying by a huge margin. For instance, if I went ahead and stocked up on toothpaste 2 weeks ago when I could make money buying Crest Pro Health - then the temptation to buy Colgate this week at $.50/tube is eliminated. I don't need to the toothpaste - so I'm not forced into buying it. My husband laughed at me a couple of weeks ago when I was contemplating the purchase of some John Freida Shampoo and Conditioner. It was on sale at Target for $5/bottle. I had a Target coupon for $3/2 bottles, and then I found coupons hanging on the bottles for $2 off each one. So that made the total cost only $3 for two bottles. Later that week I was at CVS and they also had the same shampoo and conditioner on sale - but it was $6/bottle, and I had 2 coupons for $2/1...and it was also going to generate a $3 Extra Care Buck. So - the total net cost of these two bottles was going to be $5 at CVS. It was a good deal, but I decided not to buy them because they were going to cost be $2.50/bottle rather than the $1.50/bottle I had gotten them for at Target. My husband laughed because $2.50/bottle was still a great price - more than 50% off! But - I knew that I had gotten better before, so I was in a position to refuse a good deal in favor of holding out for a great deal.

4) No matter how well you plan and organize, there are always going to be things on your necessities list. Hopefully as you get better and better at organizing and stock-piling, that list will dwindle, but there will always be a few things. Those things have to come first. If you have a $100/week budget for all groceries and toiletries - and you find all kinds of amazing deals and are able to get $1,000 worth of stuff for only a $100 - but still haven't bought milk, bread, and veggies...then you've been careless in your spending! You have to get your necessities first and then stock-pile.

5) Couponing is not extreme - it's smart! You do not need to get so obsessed with this that it takes over your life! I'm sure most of you have heard the hype about Extreme Couponing. While it is amazing what these people are able to do, that's not what your average couponer is doing! I think what Colin said on hip2save was really quite good - so I'll just refer to you that here.

So you have to have some discipline and some organization, but it's totally worth it. There are many more aspects to the saving, organizing, and discipline issue - but I'll probably leave those to our coupon guru, Hollie. Check back later this month for her next installment on coupon organization! Please leave your ideas in the comments section! If you have trouble leaving a comment, just email me at lisahuntington1979@gmail(dot)com! 

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