Saturday, June 21, 2014

a beginner's thoughts on EXTREME COUPONING

So, as of this summer, I can call myself an "extreme couponer".
I began clipping coupons and stacking savings about a month ago and the savings has been incredible!
I am obviously still learning, and use so many resources to do my shopping, but thought I'd share a little bit of my process!

Disclaimer: The savings are amazing, but it does take time. I would guess I've been spending approximately 20 hours per week on couponing, clipping, matching deals and shopping.
I'm a shopper. I love to shop. 
And "extreme couponing" has allowed me to continue my "hobby" AND benefit my family.

Disclaimer 2: So far, I've averaged a savings on groceries, household items, toiletries and pet care at 71% off retail. My trips have been anywhere between 60-100% off. You're not going to walk out of a store with free stuff each time. Despite what TLC may lead you to believe: )

So...this first part of Extreme Couponing is completely thinking of how you shop.
Prior to couponing, I would make a list of what we needed for the month (the weekend after pay day), then go to Costco and Aldi to stock up for the month.
Then I would go to Aldi weekly for milk and fruits/veggies.

I thought I was being savvy by always buying store brand and avoiding the regular grocery store.
I was wrong.

Now, I don't shop for specific items of desire, but I shop what's at rock bottom prices.
Then I stock up.
And by stock up, I mean approximately 3 months worth of the item, if coupons and store policies allow.
So when laundry soap is on sale for $1.49...I buy 4 or 5.
Or pasta sauce is $.23, I buy 6 jars.

I then store the items in an organized storage area of our basement. And when it's time to meal plan, I check my stockpile and know that I can prepare that dish for the most cheap price.

Now building that stockpile takes time.
And you only need it as big as you have space and feel comfortable with.
I know people who want a years worth of items.
So if anything were to happen with their jobs, economy, or a natural disaster they would be perfectly fine.
It's completely up to you.

Also...sales come in cycles. Usually about 12 weeks.
So if you can purchase something at it's lowest price, and buy enough to last 3 months, then you can purchase it again when it becomes that cheap again.
Disclaimer 3: If something is FREE I do stock up for longer than 3 months worth. I get as many as my coupons/store policy allows. If we have an abundance, then we give it away.
For example, 2 weeks ago, Target was having AMAZING deals on body wash. I think I got PAID approximately $1.50 to "buy" 18 bottles. We obviously don't need 18 bottles so we've given several away.

There are a lot of different systems when it comes to getting, organizing and carrying coupons.
Here's what's worked for me.
I buy 2-3 papers a week, depending on how good the coupons are
(you can preview them online a few days in advance)
Then on Sunday evening, I get clipping.

I then put them in my coupon binder.
I use the "baseball card sleeve method".
I bought approximately 100 sheets of baseball care sleeves and placed them in a 3" binder.
I then bought tabs and labeled the coupons into categories so I can easily find them.

I always keep my binder with me, even just to go grab something quick. You never know when you will see something on clearance and need that coupon!

Krazy Coupon Lady lists current deals and what coupons to use to get the best prices. She also has a coupon database, where if you are wanting to find a coupon to print online, you can see if there is one and how to get it.
Penny Pinchin Mom is also great and is from Raymore MO. She posts some local Kansas City deals which are fabulous to see!
Instagram has become my number once resource. If you simply search #extremecouponing, savvy shoppers post their deals and the "breakdown" of how to do the same. I simply see people's deals that interest me and copy them!
Favado app for iphone is also amazing! You select the stores you shop at and it will list the best deals of the week and how to get them!

So each day, I usually check instagram and krazy coupon lady and see if there are any deals I can't pass up. Then make my list of where and what I'd like to do.

The BEST stores for extreme couponing is Target, CVS and Walgreens.
Target offers AMAZING savings in multiple ways, and in the last several weeks have gotten TONS of stuff for FREE!!!
Target deals can be a bit complex. It usually involves a manufacturer's coupon, stacked with a coupon, stacked with a store deal (like a $5 gift card when you buy 3 or $10 off your purchase of $40 or more) and the Cartwheel app which can add on additional savings.

CVS and Walgreens required membership to their saving programs. You can sign up in store or online.
By using the membership, you get the lowest prices. And also, many items on sale will qualify for either "Extracare bucks" or "Register Rewards" which is "money" that can be used toward your next trip. This is what makes for some free deals!!

So Extreme Couponing isn't super easy. It takes time, effort, organization and a lot of math.
But, it has been a blessing for our family and others.
I've been able to get such amazing deals, we are comfortable in many areas of things we need for our family AND have had excess to share. We've never been able to do that before.
And that is one my favorite parts.

With stacking deals you often will wind up with gift cards and extra bucks and such.
There are a few different things people do with those to maximize savings.
Some people simply use those for the next "deal". This greatly reduces any out-of-pocket and keeps "rolling" the freebies.
Other's save them and use them for Christmas/birthday/wedding gifts.
(please note: some do have expiration dates, so you have to watch for that)
Here's what I do: I save some to roll into the next week's deals, to reduce out-of-pocket expense and I save some to use on necessities that don't necessarily have coupons regularly.
For example, I usually make sure I have $4 extra care bucks each week so I can get "free milk", or I will use Target Gift cards from deals to buy meat or fruits and veggies.
Again, no right or wrong, just what's worked for us.

If you have any questions, feel free to email or comment. This is a very quick little overview and is no way comprehensive at all. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

beginners price matching

This week I decided to dabble in the world of couponing & price matching.
I've had a good friend begin this venture and save a TON.
I figured it was worth a shot!
I love shopping AND saving money!

Note: I normally grocery shop primarily at Aldi & Costco, so never really paid attention to weekly circulars and coupons.

So here's how it began.
My friend gave me some ads from last weeks paper and I clipped away.
I then sorted them by category into an accordion file.
I also then wrote down in a little notebook each coupon I had, so that I could easily reference it.

Today, the weekly grocery ads came and I scoured to see if 1) there was anything we really use/needed and 2) any stellar deals.

Most were snooze-worthy for the Free household, except for the Price Chopper celebration ad.
It contained several things we constantly use at cheap cheap prices.

So this evening, I ventured off (alone!) to Target to scour the clearance, coupons in hand and to try price-matching for the first time.
I was a bit nervous!

So here was my set-up as I made my rounds:

Before I even stepped into the store, I checked Target's Price Match policy and coupon policy.
I then went around the store and only found deals worth purchasing we price-matching the Price Chopper ad.
My hope was to price match, plus manufacturers coupon, plus 5% off.
Reg. price $2.50, ad price $1.48 (limit 2)
Jif peanut butter and Smuckers grape jelly

Reg. price $1.59 ad price $.59 (limit 3)

reg. price $1.99 ad price $.89 (limit 4)

reg. price $2.99 ad price 2 for $3, plus manufacturers coupon for $1 off 2

reg. price $2.50 ad price $1.48 (limit 3)

So after grabbing my deals, I nervously headed to Customer Service, where you have to ring up to price match (annoying.)
As soon as I strolled up, they stopped me.
"We don't price match Price Chopper".
I asked why?
They said because it uses a loyalty card for their specials.
I told them the Target site said they would only not honor paid loyalty programs.
Price Chopper's is free.
They called in the manager.
The manager said the same thing.
But couldn't find it in their written policy.
Then said, they couldn't honor it because it was a limited time special
(aren't all ads limited specials?)
He did point out something to that effect in their written statement.
I told them I'd love to support them, but if they wouldn't honor it, I'd go to WalMart.
They said they wouldn't.
I left.

People, this is like the only time I've left Target sad.
Like, ever.

So I put my big-girl panties on, got in my car and drove to Wal-Mart.
I really don't like Wal-Mart.
There is one like 1 minute from my house, but it annoys me like no other.
The store is fine, but the lines....
OH the lines.
They are long, and annoying and take forever.

BUT I was determined to get my deals.

  Same set-up.
I quickly went through the store, snagging the same products and went to the check out, ad and coupons in hand.
(Score one for can check out at a regular register).
I again, nervously showed the ad to the cashier and she quickly and nicely matched all the prices.
Not a single hiccup.
So, $18 later, I loaded my car.


Here's what I learned:
*I will no longer attempt to Price Match at Target. Too much hassle and waste of time.
I will however keep scouring their own ads for deals that stack well with manufacturers coupons and their Cartwheel app.
* If I see an ad special that I'd like, I will immediately go to Walmart. Save time.
* Having a price book, with written list of coupons I had helped SO much. It really helped me streamline my shopping.

So, couponers and price matchers.
Share your best tips, secrets & deals! I'm a newbie and would love to learn more!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

summer toddler routine + free printables


The last day of school is a month away!
The Free household is very excited about this.

As the school year is wrapping up, and having an energetic 2 year old, I've begun thinking of fun plans for our family this summer.

One important thing, though I'm admittedly not the best at it, is keeping a routine.
Here is what we are striving for:

We have zoo passes, which we want to utilize.

Our PTA is also selling movie passes for our local theater for kid movies each week.
It comes out to $1 per person per movie.
We haven't taken Levi to the theater before, but I am wayyyy excited to try this.
He loves movies and I think he will just love the big screen.
Plus it'll be theater full of kids, which will help mama not worry about a wiggly toddler.

We also have great public libraries with a summer reading program where they can earn free books.
One of the local libraries has a children's area AND a coffee shop.
We've planned to make that a regular stop this summer with some friends.

Kansas City has great activities for kids.
I've kept Friday as time for special outings. 
(Saturday can be this as well)

This could be going to a local park, swimming at Grandma and Grandpa's pool or something from our "Summer Special Activities" list

I am so excited to spend some fun family time.
I am the type though that has to be careful not to try and do it all.
I love being out and about, but know Levi needs down time at home as well.

Here are some free printables you can customize for your own summer plans!
You can print them and write them in, or right-click and save and then edit it in picmonkey and add your text and print off!

Mamas and Kansas City peeps, any things you add or any tips for a memorable summer?
Please share!

Friday, April 25, 2014

When God has placed you in the "not so nice" part of town

Our family lives in small, humble home.
It boasts about 1400 sq. feet (including our finished basement)
It has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a 1 car garage.
It is shaped like a shoebox.

And He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." Luke 12:15

In comparison to many of our family and friends, we live in a very "reduced" state.
(What do they expect...we are both teachers! And I teach part time!)
Not only is our home on the humble is our town.
Our town is not very desirable.
In fact, most people would love to avoid it all together.

There is crime.
There are rougher schools.
Some do not take care of their home and yard.
(For example, our neighbors asked if they could have a piece of plywood. We happily gave it to them, in which they took it and propped it up against their house with an old couch to "finish off" their "fence")

But you know what?
This is where God has placed us.

Our home really fell into our laps.
It was my grandparents and when they needed assisted living, we were getting married and it worked perfectly.
It was affordable and just what we needed.
And God knew that.

We have worked to make our little home work for us.
Like adding a family room and 2nd bathroom.
We've tried to make it a little haven for our family and guests.
A place to serve others.

 God has placed us here for a reason.
Our neighbors need the gospel.
They need to be loved.
They need to be cared for.
Living in a more "affluent" area does not save us from anything.
Yes, the yards and homes may be more beautiful, but the people are just as broken.
It just may not be as visible.

So friend, if you are living in a less-than-desired area, but encouraged.
God has you there for a reason.

 Whether it is a financially wise decision for your family, or a mission-field ready for harvest, where He is going to use you or your family.
Take comfort in knowing He has placed you there.
You are on a mission everywhere you go, and your neighborhood is a mission field you encounter daily.

And on the days where I find myself perusing the real estate ads and drooling over master bathrooms and kitchens that can fit more than one person, I remind myself that I am exactly where I am meant to be for this season.

Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you," Hebrews 13:5

It's not to say we won't move.
God can use us wherever He needs.
But don't let jealousy and discontentment steal the joy and purpose of being exactly where you are in the here and now.

"Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all people." 1 Chronicles 16:24

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

keep em busy basket

I am loving toddlerhood, but it is kicking my butt.

I'm grateful to sleep through the night, but once we are up, it is full on energy. Everywhere I turn there is a new mess to clean up, Levi is climbing somewhere he shouldn't and I'm attempting to get regular clothes on or heaven forbid, take a shower.
One particularly stressful time of day is dinner prep time. Levi usually wants to help, which is awesome, but sometimes our tiny kitchen just doesn't accommodate. There are nights I simply need to get in there and whip dinner out ASAP. Any mamas relate?

Anyways, I decided to make a basket of special activities just for during that time. Here's what's currently in our basket:

We have color wonder paper & markers (can I get an AMEN on how awesome these are?! Levi's been experimenting in "graffiti" and with these there isn't a problem!)
Also stickers & a dishwasher basket hat we use to stuff Pom poms into for fine motor practice.
The basket is placed in our dining room next to his high chair so he can easily grab it.
I plan to rotate different items regularly to keep things interesting and keep his attention. This idea is also great for other hectic times, like attempting to get ready in the morning or if you are tending to another child. 
Ok mamas, what other awesome ideas do you have to keep little ones occupied when your attention is needed elsewhere?

Monday, April 21, 2014

diy sunburn relief spray {using essential oils}

So this past weekend was GORGEOUS in Kansas City.
And luckily there were lots of wonderful events to do outside.
However, this usually means one thing for a redhead like me.

We went to a Kite Festival, where hundreds of kites were flying.
It was so much fun and beautiful weather.
I loved being barefoot in the grass, flying a kite. 
Can't get much better than that.

I put on sunscreen like crazy.
I missed a spot.
On the back of my left arm.

And boy did it get red.

So this weekend I applied my usual aloe vera to it, but then decided to experiment with some other ingredients and came up with this wonderful Sunburn Relief Spray.
It's fantastic!
It soothes, heals and cools!

It has 4 ingredients:
aloe vera
Aloe Vera helps with sunburn through its powerful healing activity at the epithelial level of the skin, a layer of cells that cover the body. It acts as a protective layer on the skin and helps replenish its moisture. Because of its nutritional qualities and antioxidant properties, the skin heals quicker.
witch hazel
Healing damaged skin is one of witch hazel's specialties. But as sunburn is also a type of skin inflammation, witch hazel is ideal for treating this too (despite swelling not being obvious). Treating sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking.
lavender oil
Did you know that Lavender has tissue regeneration and healing properties that quickly relieve sunburn? Yes, lavender also reduces scarring and minimizes pain associated with sunburn!
peppermint oil
Peppermint oil has incredibly cooling properties to it. When the heat of a fresh sunburn is bothering you, the peppermint oil will help cool the skin down and bring relief.

This concoction worked wonderfully for me. It helped me sleep with minimal stinging and heat. The next morning it was noticably lighter in color and not nearly as painful.

And it was fantastic because I already had all these ingredients at home! I now leave it in our medicine cabinet ready in case of another burn.

Let me know if you try it or have another sunburn relief to share!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

75 Toddler Easter Basket Ideas

My most popular post thus far has been last year's 50 Toddler Easter Basket Ideas.
So this year, I obviously had to up it!

Here are some ideas:

* Stuffed Bunny or Chick
* Easter- themed books (see list below)
* Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible is highly recommended)
* Chocolate Bunny
*Preschool Devotional
* Toddler Snacks (gold fish, fruit snacks, puffs, etc.)

Summer Fun
* Swimsuit
* Sunglasses
* Beach towel
* Water wings
* Pool toy
* Sand bucket and shovel
*Inflatable swimming pool
* Sidewalk chalk
* Kite
* Water/ Sand Table
* Lawn chair
* Tent
*Gardening Supplies

*CD's (Hidden in my Heart lullabies, Songs for Saplings, etc.)
*Games for Tablet (leap pad, innotab, etc.)
* Misc. board books
* Educational DVDs

* Color Wonder marker set
*Coloring book
*Do a Dot Markers
*Art kits
* Crayons
* "My First Paint Set"
* Construction Paper
* Stickers
* Apron
*Play dough
*Play dough stamps 

* Sippy Cups
*Disposable dining mats
* Bibs
* PJs
* Summer clothes
* Shoes
* Easter outfit
* Shampoo/Lotion
* Girl accessories (hair bows, etc.)

*Mega Bloks
* Bath toys
* Small instruments
* Little People
* Play food
* Mr. Potato Head
* Small cars
* Slinky
* Stuffed animal
* Doll

* Tickets to the Zoo
* Membership to Gymboree
* Tickets to local children's museum
*Tickets to baseball game

"What is Easter?"
"The Berenstein Bears and the Easter Story"
"Pat the Bunny"
"The Pout Pout Fish"

*Disney (Frozen, Toys Story, etc.)
* Favorite TV show on DVD (Thomas, Sesame Street, Etc.)
*Veggie Tales


Thursday, April 10, 2014

motherhood: a reflection on the first two years

Life has been busy.
And this blog has been neglected. 
Sorry friends.

I thought, now that I've been a mama for a whopping two years, I'd give a check in on how things are going!

Levi is 2!
He is running, climbing, jumping, skateboarding, and tricycling
He has a HUGE vocabulary and is now putting together sentences
He can identify shapes, colors, some letters and can count
He is now in a big boy bed (sniff sniff)
He is now in the 30% for height and 24% for weight!!!! This is HUGE for us!!!!

Levi is the typical toddler. He'd rather play than eat.
He's not overly picky, which is fabulous.
He would love to have a diet consisting of chocolate milk, cookies and candy though (don't we all?!)

cloth diapering
2 years and still going!
We did have to switch to disposies overnight. The wet cloth on his skin for an extended time was causing rashes. Switching to overnight disposables cleared it up. 
Hoping to start potty training this summer when mommy and daddy are home!

I've still been blessed to teach part-time in the afternoons. I've loved our leisurely mornings together. This is when we do preschool time, play outside, prep for dinner or just watch a movie : )

what we love
being outside (I think we are going to basically live outside til October)
movies (this kid LOVES movies)
stuffed animals (he loves to play with them, make them walk, feed them, etc.)
toys (duh...what toddler doesn't love toys!)

random thoughts
so....infancy is exhausting. The whole living life in 3 hour chunks is brutal.
Now that we are in toddlerhood, we sleep through the night (hallelujah!), but it is a whole different kind of exhausting.
My house is never picked up. Not that I don't try. Just as soon as everything is in it's place, Levi dumps his bowl full of cheerios on the floor and jumps on them. Then pulls out every sippy cup we own. Then takes all the towels out of the cabinet. You get the picture.

I love seeing his little personality emerge. I love talking with him and starting to see what goes on in that little noggin of his.

I love seeing him interact with others. Playing with his friends. Telling his family he loves them. Love it.

Motherhood requires a sense of humor. Otherwise you'll go insane.

Find Mommy friends. Luckily, my best friend has a son a few months younger than Levi. Together we can vent, laugh, cry and "get" each other. This motherhood stuff is tough but SO amazing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

DIY Sesame Street Birthday Party {on a budget}

Levi is 2!
I can hardly believe it!

And so far....2 has been absolutely terrific.
I LOVE this age!

We celebrated Levi's birthday with a Sesame Street birthday party.
With a very low budget, we were able to pull off a cute and fun party for Levi, family and friends!
Here's some pics with a few tips to keep costs low!

We used our church to hold the party.
Our home is small and we had about 25 people invited.
This cost us nothing to use (just had to clean up!)
and allowed us access to a full kitchen and gym for the kids to play in

No need to feed a full meal!
A few snacks that are toddler friendly, something sweet and a drink is plenty!
And we skipped the ice cream...just another mess and expense!

Check Dollar Tree and Target's Dollar Spot for favors!
{and favors are totally optional too!}
We included a Sesame Street cup and an Elmo book with included CD.
Each goody bag was $2 each!

 and a few extra pics of the day

Levi thoroughly enjoyed his party and our whole family just got to have fun and celebrate together.
It was a perfect way to celebrate our big 2 year old boy!