Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Stocking Up"

As part of my shopping to save strategies, I often check out blogs with a money saving theme. Some of the comments I have seen regarding couponing and the "drug store game" are critical of people who use coupons, or those who stock up.

The first group contends that couponing takes more time than it is worth. Daughter Jeana has figured out what her hourly "wage" for couponing is, by calculating what she saves weekly, compared to the time it takes to get read to shop. Her hourly rate is more than I make at my job. Of course, couponing is not a full-time job, but it certainly is worth doing, if one is a careful and thoughtful shopper. Besides, most of us can "walk and chew gum at the same time"--that is, we can watch t.v. or have a conversation while clipping coupons.
This group is often also critical of those who coupon, as if they are lower class for trying to save money. Statistically, more middle class, better educated people take advantage of coupons than do people in lower socio-economic groups. Even if I were rich, why should I not save my pennies? In fact, couponing may be one way many middle class families stay in the middle class.

Those who are critical of stocking up contend that one saves more money by making a list of only what is actually needed that week, and sticking to the list faithfully. Now, if you are one of those impulse shoppers who mindlessly throws stuff into your cart as you shop just because it is new, or because it is eye-level, or because it sounds good at that moment, then listing probably would help you stay on track with your spending.
However, those of us who faithfully try to match coupons with sales and items for which we receive ECBs or Register Rewards or rebates--we are shopping from a list, but our list includes not only what we may be out of this week, but also what we know we will need next week, or the next, or sometime in the future.

Stocking up, creating a stockpile of nonperishable items which you or your family uses regularly, is one of the best money-saving tips I can offer. If I let myself run out of toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoo, or body wash, I may have to pay regular price in order to have that product right now. But if I have faithfully shopped specials, rebates, and coupons, then I have the item in stock in my own pantry, cabinet, closet, or bin, purchased on sale, and often free by combining coupons and sales.

My mother-in-law and my own mother were both depression babies--that is, they grew up in a time when every penny had to count, and people had to rely on many strategies just to keep food on the table. One of their favorite sayings was

"Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Or do without."

My MIL in particular was great at stockpiling. She had two of the largest freezers sold by Sears and Roebuck on her service porch. They both stayed full all the time, with the bounty of foods she found at great prices. She never paid full price for dried beans, flour, cornmeal, cake mix, meats and poultry, etc. She also stocked up on canned goods whenever they were on special, buying a case at a time of corn, peas, tomatoes, or green beans when they were ten cans for a dollar. When Wick and I married, he taught me the lessons he had learned from her.

I learned from my mother and grandmother too, about growing a garden and canning the produce. The summer I was expecting our second child, I canned all summer--squash, tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato relish, tomato juice, pickles, anything that could be put into a canning jar. Throughout the following year, if bad weather kept Wick from working on the construction site, we still had plenty of good food on the table.

Stocking up also means that in times of need, I have an abundance to share. When a baby is born, a new couple marries, someone takes an unexpected trip, a family has a financial crisis, I will have the wherewithal to create a basket of useful items at little or no cost.

I think God expects us to be good stewards of the bounty with which we are blessed in this country, and playing the "drug store game" and clipping coupons helps me to be a better steward.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Saving Money at CVS

Saving money at CVS has become one of my hobbies. Daughter Jeana (daystocome) piqued my interest, and then I discovered, where you can find weekly scenarios for saving lots of money.

Wick is fascinated with CVS sales and Extra Care Bucks (aka ECBs), and how much stuff I bring home, with so little out of pocket. ECBs can be spent like cash in any CVS. In order to get them, you will need to fill out a form at the store or on line, and get a loyalty card.

Yesterday I had a list, some coupons, about $7 in ECBs, and a $3 off $15 purchase coupon, so I was ready to prowl the aisles at our local CVS.

Here's what happened when I went to CVS yesterday:

1. I had a rain check from last month, when Soft Soap Spa body wash was $4.99, with $4.99 Extra care Bucks (ECBs), for 4 bottles. CVS was out every time I went in last month, so I got two rain checks, for a total of 8 bottles. (Their rain checks are available for any product they run a sale on, and do not expire.) Instead of the ECBs, which were for last month, I got 4 bottles of body wash for free, a 19.96 value.

2. I had a coupon for Tums 3 pack, plus ECBs equal to the purchase price--meaning I actually made money on that deal.

3. Same with Rolaids.

4. Tide $5.99, with $1 coupon, plus $2 ECBs on each, and I bought 2 bottles.

5. Aquafresh toothpaste, $2 ECBs, plus a $1 coupon, so I got overage (more in return than I spent) on that.

6. I had a $3 off $15 purchase coupon from CVS (sign up to receive e-mails from them), and my total of merchandise was over $15.

7. Allergy meds CVS brand, received ECBs equal to the purchase price.

8. Excedrin, received ECBs equal to purchase price of $1.99, plus had a $2 off coupon--in effect, they paid me to take the product home.

9. I bought bandaids on sale, even though I didn't have a coupon, because I was out of them, and didn't get them when they were an ECB item.

I walked out with a total of almost $45 in products, paid $11.76 out of pocket, and received $11.78 in ECBs to use next week, so I "made" two cents for shopping at CVS this week.

If you get serious about doing this, buy the Sunday paper in the double bundle (two papers for $2), and start clipping coupons (I learned that from Jeana). Usually the best deals will be a couple of weeks after the coupon comes out, so hang on to it. I have a little coupon file with dividers to keep things organized--a tab for health and beauty, a tab for paper goods, a tab for dairy, a tab for canned/frozen, etc. Keep it in your car, so you always have access to it when you are out and about.

Kroger will double coupons on certain days, so watch the sales, match the coupons with the sales, and shop on double coupon days.

One thing I have learned is that I can not be "brand loyal" if I want the best deals. Another thing is that we now get better quality stuff (brand name shampoos, toothpastes, and so forth) for less money than the generic. And by stocking up when stuff is free, I have an abundance to share with those in need.

On the moneysaving mom blog site, she has a CVS 101 and Walgreens 101, to help people get started, and to explain how each store's system works. Look in the left hand list of previous posts.

CVS, to me, is simpler than Walgreens; many of Walgreens' best deals involve rebates, which I am bad about filing and mailing for, but some people really like getting that check in the mail periodically. Or you can now have the rebates loaded onto your Walgreens saver card, to use like cash at any Walgreens store. They also have what they call Register Rewards, similar to the ECBs at CVS.

In addition to saving money, shopping this way has become a game. If I walk out with at least as much in ECBs as I walked into the store with, I feel as if I "won" this week. I'm no expert, but I am learning to play the game, save some money, and enjoy the process.

Also, learning to shop this way is a sort of dress rehearsal for retirement, when it will be even more vital to make every penny count.