Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How I Save Money--My List of Dos

Yesterday I reflected on a few of the things I've tried in an effort to save (or earn) money that I found unhelpful in the long run.  Today I am going to share a few of the things that I have found to be helpful.

1. Clip Coupons (in moderation).  While buying six newspapers is a bit excessive, I do still subscribe to the Sunday paper and "steal" my Grandma's coupon inserts every week.  Occasionally if there is a really fabulous coupon that I could use more than two of, I will purchase more.  But that only happens rarely these days.

2. If you find a great deal on things you use, buy lots.  While I no longer purchase things just for the sake of it being free (or pennies), I do get very excited when I find a great deal on something that I actually want.  In which case I will buy a lot.  My grocery store has been running a deal the past two weeks where if you buy a $25 gift card, you get $10 off a pair of jeans.  Last week, with a sale on the jeans, this deal made the jeans free.  Between my mom and I, and multiple trips to the store that we were making anyway, I ended up with six pairs of free jeans for the kids.  This week the jeans were no longer on sale, but the deal still netted me jeans for only $3. I bought two more pairs for next winter.  If the deal is still running next week, I will pick up another few pairs.  I am always on the lookout for rock bottom prices on items that I use.  When I find them, I stock up to last me until the next time the items will be on sale.

My latest red pepper haul--cut into strips and freeze for later

3. Know the sales cycles.  When I started doing the grocery shopping on a regular basis, I noticed sales trends.  Condiments, hot dogs, and pop are always the cheapest in May.  Ground beef seemed to be the cheapest in the fall.  Berries in the summer.  Baking products around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  By paying attention, you will notice that every food category has a sales cycle.  You will learn when and how much to stock up to last you to the next sale.  I buy 20-30 pounds of ground beef every fall when I find it under $2.00/lb.  I buy 20 red peppers which I cut and freeze every summer when I find them under $1/lb and we use them all winter when they're $3/lb.  I stock up on hot dogs in May to last me the whole year.  I buy berries by the case every summer and freeze them to last us through the spring.  By knowing the sales cycles, you will learn what the rock bottom prices are for the foods you buy, when you should buy things, and to buy lots when they hit those prices.  While the initial upfront cost is higher, it saves you money over the course of the year.

4. Calculate the cost per ounce or item before buying.  I always carry a calculator with me in my coupon binder so I can figure out the cost per ounce or item to decide if a sale is truly a good sale.  In general, bulk buying will save you money.  But not always.  Yesterday at the store I noticed that the smaller cartons of sour cream were on sale.  In general I buy the 24 ounce cartons because they are cheaper.  But after calculating the price per ounce of the smaller carton using the sale price, I discovered the smaller carton was now cheaper by $.01/oz.  So I bought the smaller carton.  I never just assume a sale makes something a better deal.  I always do the math first.

25 lb bag of beans was cheaper per pound than buying 25 small bags

5. Make a list.  Never, ever, ever enter grocery store without a shopping list.  You will end up walking out of the store spending more than you intended, buying random items, and probably not having the ingredients you need to make dinners for the next week which will result in another (budget-killing) store run.  I do not go to the store without first making a weekly dinner menu and a grocery list based on my menu.  I try very hard to stick to my list and only deviate when I find something on sale that wasn't in the sale ad.

6. Stockpile.  By combining all of these things, I have created a stockpile that I maintain.  By building up a stockpile, I rarely purchase things that aren't on sale (fresh produce not included).  When I go to the store, I am only buying a few items that we will actually be using that week.  About 70% of my shopping is items that I will put in my freezer or on my pantry shelf for another time.  The other 30% is fresh produce, dairy, bread and a few random items that I don't have but will need for meals.  This means that I am mostly cooking out of my stockpile, using items that I bought at their cheapest, and supplementing with a few needed items that I got for a good price, but not necessarily a great price.

By using these six techniques, I have saved a lot of money over the years.  I rarely run out of things.  I rarely have to make a second store run to pick up things we need but ran out of.  I almost never pay full price for anything.  I would rather go without something than buy things not on sale.  Over the summer there was a decided lack of sales on snack items (crackers and pretzels).  When we ran out, I didn't go buy more despite my children begging for them. They weren't on sale, they were a terrible price, so we would have to make do.  Until the end of August when they were back on sale and we stocked up.  I bought 20 boxes of crackers, 10 bags of pretzels, and 8 bags of chex mix all in one go.  We looked like total junk food addicts, but that's just the way I roll.

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