Frugal Gift Ideas

Copyright Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, December 2008
It’s amazing how many people we give gifts to during the holidays. If only we had unlimited funds and we could give generously to everyone on our
list.  But, unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us. In these harsh financial times, I know very few people who can comfortably give as much
as they would like this year.

The fabulous news is that you can still give meaningful and appreciated gifts to all the people on your list and do it on a reasonable budget.  Frugal
giving is the way to go this year and so is staying out of debt.  We all know that you aren’t doing your family any favors if you have to struggle to
pay bills for months because you bought gifts you could not afford in December. Even if you have a good job today, being frugal now will help you
later if that good job goes away as so many others have in the last few months.

Take a look at the following frugal gift ideas and start thinking about the people on your gift list.  I’ll bet you can find some great matches.

Homemade goodies from the kitchen: Some of the most popular (and loved) frugal gifts during the holidays are edible treats. Choose from cookies,
fudge and brownies baked from scratch, hot chocolate mixes in a mug, soup mixes in a bowl, fudge, pies, homemade bread, fudge, a bottle of wine,
quick bread mixes in a loaf pan and little gingerbread men. Did I mention fudge?!  See
http://southernfood.about.com/od/foodgifts/tp/Gifts-From-
the-Kitchen.htm?once=true& for a number of recipes including brownies in a jar and fudge, of course!

Hobby related gifts:  Many folks have hobbies they love.  Some people collect coins, stamps or glass horses. Some are train enthusiasts or enjoy
taking pictures. If someone on your gift list has a hobby, find a gift that will contribute to that hobby, without breaking the bank.  Buy a  magazine
subscription for the train enthusiast, rolls of film or photo paper for the photographer, specialty scissors, paper or stickers for the scrapbooker,
exotic spices for someone who loves to cook.

Picture perfect:  Some great ways to share your family with loved ones is through framed photos, scrapbooks, photo albums and digital photo
frames (split the cost with siblings for a gift for the parents or grandparents).  Many photo centers in malls (like JCPenney) offer high quality, low-
cost portrait packages for around $20. These often include multiple sheets of the same picture with larger and smaller photos, excellent for gift
giving in an inexpensive frame from a craft store like Michaels.

Arts and crafts: Nothing says love like a piece of artwork from a child or a handmade scarf (which would take me 800 years to produce!).  Drawings
from the grandkids in inexpensive frames, handprint concrete stepping stones (these can be found in kits for under $10 at most craft stores),
knitted scarves, and crocheted blankets all make for impressive and lasting gifts.
Corny coupons:  It may sound corny to give a coupon you made on the computer to someone but it’s not corny to the new mom who could really
use two hours of free babysitting so she can go to the store all by herself.  Or consider a coupon for a homemade dinner for that same new mom
who has no time or energy to cook.  Sometimes just helping with the everyday responsibilities is the best gift of all. Coupons are also great for kids.
Consider a coupon book with coupons for an afternoon at the park, dessert at the local ice cream shop, a trip to the museum, their choice of movie
rental, etc.  None of these outings needs to be expensive and they are great ways to spend time with the kids or grandkids.  

Gift Certificates: Gift certificates are an excellent choice when you aren’t sure what someone would want or you want them to be able to choose
something they can really use.  For the college students on your list, those big box stores have just about anything they could ever need. For the
kids, certificates to book stores make great gifts. For the person on a fixed income, a grocery store certificate would be very appreciated. You don’t
need to spend much. Even a $10 certificate can go a long way.  

Donations to charity: Some folks would rather not receive a gift themselves but would love for the money to be spent on a donation to a favorite
charity.  You don’t have to donate $10,000 for the gift to be meaningful. Any donation is deeply appreciated when it is to a charity the person cares
about.  For instance, we give to the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Duke Medical Center in North Carolina each year in honor of my mom, who
has ovarian cancer and is being treated at Duke.  

Gift Baskets: People love receiving gift baskets.  It is just so much fun to see all the goodies packed into a cute container and then get to take out
each item and “ohhhh” and “ahhhhh”. Look for bargains all through the year and make themed gift baskets geared towards the people on your
list.  For the person who loves to watch movies (or any teens on your list), put together a Movie Theme Basket with movie rental certificates,
microwave popcorn, candy bars and soda.  Other themes include a Baker’s Basket, Chocolate Lover’s Basket, Coffee or Tea Basket, Sewing or
Knitting Gift Basket, Gardening Gift Basket, Bath and Beauty Gift Basket (great for college students) and Kids Craft Basket.  See
http://rubyglen.
com/gifts/giftbaskets.htm for ideas on what to include in many themed gift baskets.  She also has creative ideas on containers to use.  

Holiday cards: The high cost of holiday cards is shocking to me. I love to send cards to all our friends and family and I would go broke sending
cards purchased at full price.  For the last 10 years, I have bought my cards in January when the boxed sets are marked down to 75% - 90% off.
The selection is still surprisingly good at many stores (including Target, CVS and Walgreens) and the cost is excellent.  For those who still need to
purchase cards for this year, consider letting the kids make cards out of high quality construction paper, some stencils, stampers and holiday
stickers. Have everyone sign the cards and you will be giving a handmade gift your family will love.  

Most of my shopping is now finished for this year and I am already thinking about next year.  I’ll hit the clearance sales in January and stash away
cards, decorations and many gifts to use next December.  One of my favorite websites for finding out about holiday clearance sales is Hot Coupon
World at
http://www.hotcouponworld.com/forums/after-christmas-clearance-deals-discussions-2008/. In the next few weeks, they will be posting the
best clearance deals after the holiday.

For a list of 63 inexpensive gift ideas under $10, see
http://www.betterbudgeting.com/articles/money/63giftsunder10dollars.htm.

Just think of all the happiness you can bring to your friends and family with thoughtful and frugal gifts.  Don’t forget the joy you will feel because
you stayed within your budget and avoided those high credit card bills after the holiday.  


Are you Being Overcharged at the Register?
Copyright Faye Prosser Smart Spending Resources October 2008

Have you ever been overcharged at the checkout line? Maybe your pasta scanned at $1.50 a box, even though the ad clearly showed that it was
on sale for $1 per box.  Do you catch price scan errors each time they occur?  

You may find it hard to believe, but during a May 2008 Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspection in Raleigh, NC, one national
big box chain store overcharged customers on 10% of transactions! The law actually allows registers to overcharge on up to 2% of purchases -
which is still too much for me (
http://www.wral.com/business/story/2882841/). Can you imagine being overcharged on 10% of the items in a full cart?

What’s a shopper to do? Watch the scanner like a hawk and review your receipt before you leave the store. While items are being scanned, watch
the price on the register screen. Although this can be hard to do when the kids are shopping with you, at least check your receipt before you leave
the store. If you are overcharged, make sure you get a refund on the amount you overpaid.

Many stores offer a fabulous incentive to scrutinize your receipt - the Price Scan Guarantee (also known as a Scan Right Guarantee). If you are
overcharged for an item, you will receive a refund for the entire amount you paid for the item plus you get to keep the product. So, the product
ends up being free. Most stores require that you have already paid for the item and that you go to the customer service desk for a refund.  If you
purchased multiples of an item (4 boxes of the $1 pasta, for instance), most stores with a price scan guarantee will give you one for free and you
will be refunded the difference of the wrong price and the correct price for the other multiples.

Wondering who has this wonderful price scan guarantee? Many stores, actually. In my area of North Carolina, Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Kroger
and Lowe’s Foods (the grocer, not the home improvement store) all offer the guarantee. I have read that Publix has a price scan guarantee as
well. Wal-Mart used to offer a $3 refund on your order when an item scanned incorrectly, but they stopped offering that guarantee in April of 2008.
They will adjust the price to the correct price if it scans incorrectly, of course.  

The next time you are in your favorite grocery store, ask the customer service person if they offer a price scan guarantee when an item scans
incorrectly.  Then make sure you watch the scanner and check your receipt before you leave the store so you don’t pay any more for your pasta
than you should.  Remember, it’s your money – spend it wisely!

Organized Coupons = Big Grocery Savings!
Copyright Faye Prosser Smart Spending Resources, September 2008

Picture this: Carrie Couponer is standing in the check out line at the grocery store when she realizes she can’t find the coupons she had planned
to use.  She knows she cut them out of the paper. She thought they were somewhere in her purse hiding among the hand sanitizer, loose change,
50 pens and lip gloss (which was free at CVS last week with the sale and manufacturer coupons!).  Where are those coupons?  By the time she
finds them, she has long since left the store with the higher priced items.   Sound even remotely familiar?  

The moral of the story is that being organized when it comes to your coupons will save you a lot more money than being unorganized.  You have to
be able to find your coupons when you need them.  Many new couponers simply give up couponing because they get frustrated with organization.
The good news is that there are some very effective and manageable ways to organize your coupons that will increase your grocery savings
tremendously.  There is no one method that works for everyone, but there are some methods that work much better than others.

Common coupon organization methods include:

Accordion-style file
Envelope in the purse
A lunchbox or shoebox with dividers
A plastic box made for index or recipe cards
The binder method

Accordion Style Organizers, Envelopes and Boxes

The organization methods that involve filing coupons one in front of the other have their benefits.  The files, envelopes or small boxes are often
small enough to put into your purse and they are usually lightweight.  If you don’t use many coupons, these types of methods may work very well
for you. The downside to these methods is that they make it very difficult to see what coupons you actually have.  When you are in the store
searching for a coupon, you will spend a lot of time flipping through each envelope or section and looking through each stack.  It is very easy to let
coupons expire with these types of methods because you can’t see the coupons easily.

The Binder Method

The binder method involves filing coupons in baseball card holders, dividing them by product type and storing them in a three-ring binder.  This
method takes couponing to a new level of organization and allows you to find what you need, when you need it.  When I first started couponing 9
years ago, I used a traditional accordion-style organizer. It worked for about a month and I new I needed another method. I was frustrated because
I couldn’t find the coupons I needed when I was making my grocery list and when I was shopping in the store.

I discovered the binder method and have used it ever since. I will say that the binder is bulky and certainly doesn’t fit in my purse.  I pretend that
lugging it around is like weight lifting and I am just burning a few extra calories while saving a lot more than a few extra bucks.  Although the binder
method is not for everyone, it is my favorite method and has worked beautifully for me.

Benefits of using the binder method:
A binder organizer can hold far more coupons than most accordion files, envelopes or recipe box organizers.

Each coupon and its value are visible, cutting down on the time it takes to find a coupon when you are looking over the sales ads or shopping at
the store.

Expiration dates are easier to see and you are less likely to let a valuable coupon expire.

You can quickly flip to the pages for the section of the store you are in and see all the coupons you have available.  This is especially important if
you run into an unexpected or unadvertised deal (which happens to me almost every time I shop).

The binders fit easily on the child seat section of the cart so flipping through the pages as you walk through the aisles is simple.

Binder organizers are easily expandable.  As your coupon inventory increases, add more coupon pages to your binder.

Many binders have pockets with room for your sales ads, calculator, pens and store reward cards.  

Create Your Own Binder Coupon Organizer
You can easily make your own binder organizer with any three ring binder (either zippered or not), baseball card pages (found in the trading card
section of most big box stores) and tabbed dividers (found in the same big box stores or office stores).  I recommend labeling the tabbed dividers
by product type so you can see all the coupons for a specific product in the same section.  Here are the tabbed divider labels I use on my
organizer:

Baking
Beverage
Bread
Canned
Cereal
Cleaning
Condiments
Dairy
Deodorant
Entertainment
Feminine
Frozen
Hair
Laundry
Meat
Oral Care
Over the Counter
Paper & Plastic
Pasta & Rice
Pet Care
Salad Dressing
Snacks
Soap
Store Coupons

You will need at least 24 baseball card pages, one for each tabbed divider section.  Soon after you start using the binder method, you will probably
want to add at least another 24 pages.

File your new coupons every week so you don’t end up with a backlog of coupons. Bring your organizer with you to your child’s extra curricular
activities and file while they are in ballet, soccer, music lessons, etc.  If you watch a favorite television show each week, that’s a perfect time to be
cutting and filing coupons. Remove your expired coupons once a month and then send them to our military stationed overseas. They can use
manufacturer coupons that expired up to 6 months ago at the commissaries on base.  For a list of couponers whose families are stationed
overseas and can use your expired coupons, see my website at http://www.smartspendingresources.com/resources.html.

If you want to see a picture of my organizer or (warning – blatant sales pitch coming your way) you would rather purchase the binder organizer
inserts than put them together yourself, see my website at: http://www.smartspendingresources.com/services.html .

Each time you go through the cycle of filing coupons and shopping with your organizer, you will become more efficient and save more and more
money. Don’t be surprised if other shoppers stop you in the store to marvel at your organization and fantastic savings!

Good luck organizing and remember……..it’s your money – spend it wisely!


Finding Coupons for the Grocery Products You Use
Copyright Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, June 2008

What percentage of coupons from the Sunday paper do you actually use? Five, maybe ten percent?  You are not alone. Most people cut out only
a small percentage of the coupons from those weekly inserts.  In order to make a serious dent in rising grocery bills, you need to have coupons for
many of the products you buy, not just a few each week.  The good news is that there are a number of resources other than the Sunday
supplement coupons that provide coupons for your favorite brands.  

Friends, Family, Co-workers: Instead of buying multiple copies of the newspaper, just to get more coupons, share inserts with friends, co-
workers and neighbors.  Once you have cut the coupons you want, pass your inserts around to others and have them do the same for you.  You
will find that many people you know don’t even cut coupons and you will receive complete inserts with all the coupons.

Coupon Clipping Websites:  One of the easiest ways to find multiples of coupons for the products you use is through coupon clipping services,
such as www.thecouponclippers.com. With these services, you pay a handling fee for each coupon and they are sent right to your home.  Because
it is illegal to sell coupons, you are paying for the fee to have them found, clipped and sent to you. Most of these coupons are from the Sunday
papers. Another popular clipping site is www.ebay.com. There are many folks offering coupons for very reasonable handling fees. Most coupon
fees at clipping services are 5 – 12 cents each depending on the face value of the coupon. The benefit of using these services is that you can get
multiples of the coupons you want without paying extra for the entire paper. If I order 5 coupons with a face value of .50 each for a handling fee of .
05 each, I still have a net return of .45 on each coupon. If the coupon is doubled at the store to $1.00, as some stores will do, the return on the .05
handling fee is now .95.  So, for the .05 handling fee per coupon, I can receive .95 off at the register – a pretty good return on my .05 investment.

Coupon Printing Websites: There are some great coupons available at a number of legitimate coupon printing websites including www.coupons.
com, www.smartsource.com, www.pillsbury.com and www.bettycrocker.com.  The coupons are free to print (other than the cost of paper and ink)
and you can print them right away and use them at the store that day. Some of the sites do require that you register, which only takes a minute.

Manufacturer’s Toll Free Numbers and Websites:  One of the easiest ways to obtain coupons for the products you use is to contact the
manufacturer directly.  This is especially helpful for hard to find coupons or for specialty items.  Simply call or e-mail the company and let them
know how much you like the specific product.  Ask them if they have any coupons available at this time and be sure to leave your address if you
are contacting the company via the online customer service section.  You will be pleasantly surprised at how many companies will send coupons,
often for free items.

Magazines, Product Packages, Grocery Store Displays: There are a number of other good places to find coupons including magazines,
product packages and grocery stores displays and shelves.  There are even good coupons that print at the registers.

Rain Checks: Rain checks are those little pieces of paper you get from the store customer service when the store is out of a sale item. Rain
checks are a wonderful way to make your own sale. If the store is out of a product that you use and it is on sale, ask for a rain check. Then wait
patiently until you need the item or you have a great manufacturer coupon to go with the rain check and make your own sale.

With a little extra effort, you can find coupons for most of your favorite brands. Considering the price of food and non-food essentials has
skyrocketed, every bit of savings can help.  As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!



Where Can I Find The Best Grocery Deals?

Copyright Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, April 2008

I am often asked, “What store has the best deals?”     The answer is that no one store has ALL the best prices. Some stores have consistently low
regular prices on their generic products and some stores have even lower sale prices on name brand items. When you factor in coupons,
especially those that may be doubled, your savings potential is even greater.   Whether you are a couponer or not, you can still take advantage of
good sales and loss leaders, and save more of your grocery money by shopping at more than one store each week.  

Loss leaders are the items that stores mark down considerably to entice you into their store.  They may actually lose money on these items, but
they expect you to buy enough additional items to make up for the loss leaders.  Your goal as a smart spender is to go in, buy the loss leaders
(and only the loss leaders) and get out.

Most communities offer a number of different locations where you can purchase food and non-food staples.  Although specific store chains vary
from state to state, the concept of store types remains the same. Knowing what types of stores are available will help you increase your buying
power.

Locations for purchasing food and non-food staples fall into eight basic categories:

Grocery Stores – Grocery stores are the traditional place to buy most groceries. If you target sales (especially Buy One Get One Free sales) and
use coupons with those items on sale, you will find fabulous deals. Those deals are even better if your grocery store doubles coupons.  I buy the
majority of my food from grocery stores, shopping the sales from week to week. My willingness to shop Grocery Store A this week (because they
offer the best sales on the items I need) and Grocery Store B next week saves me significant amounts of money. Since I drive by both stores each
week on the way to other activities, I am not wasting gas making extra trips to lots of different stores.

Drug Stores – Drug stores, including CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens, are excellent places to stock up on deeply discounted bath and beauty items.
Take advantage of the many rebate and reward programs drug stores offer and you will find that you never pay full price for toothpaste,
deodorant, razors, shampoo, aspirin and cough medicine.  Often, these items will be free after rebate. See the “Fabulous Drug Store Deals” article
at http://www.cleverparents.com/2007/08/16/smart-spending-fabulous-drug-store-deals/ for all the details.

Warehouse Clubs – Warehouse clubs can offer good buys on some items. The key is to exercise extreme willpower and diligence when you are
shopping. Just because the store sells a 400 ounce bottle of laundry detergent or a 10 pack of peanut butter, it doesn’t mean that they are selling
it at a low price.  I actually stay away from warehouse clubs because I have a number of grocery stores in my area that offer great sales and
doubled coupons every day of the week.  Good sales coupled with doubled coupons results in greater savings than I could get at warehouse
stores. When shopping at a warehouse club, keep in mind that it is very tempting to buy all the convenient, frozen prepared items and giant sized
boxes of everything.  These purchases do not save you money if you can make the dishes yourself for less or if you use coupons combined with
sales for better-priced packages at the grocery store.  Remember to take into account the annual fee for shopping at warehouse clubs when you
are determining whether to shop at these stores.

When in doubt, figure out the cost per unit of the products you buy to determine if the warehouse club has a better deal. To figure cost per unit,
take the price of the item divided by the size of the item = cost per unit. A $3.99 box of 14 ounce cereal is 28 cents per ounce ($3.99 divided by 14
= .28).  If the grocery store has that same box of cereal on sale Buy One Get One Free for $1.99 per box, you will only pay 14 cents per ounce. If
you have a 50-cent coupon that is doubled, your cost is lowered to 7 cents per ounce, a 75% savings over the warehouse club price.

Mass Merchandisers – Many mass merchandisers like Wal-mart and Target offer good, low cost generic and name brand options.  They accept
manufacturer’s coupons at face value which helps lower the prices of name brand products.  If you don’t have any grocery stores that double
coupons in your area, you will find some good buys at the big box stores.  Because of the all the great deals I find at drug stores and grocery
stores that double coupons, I don’t often shop the mass merchandisers for groceries. When I do shop these stores, it is mainly for loss leaders and
non-food items.

Health Food Stores – Stores including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are popular for those wanting healthy food choices.  Many health food
stores offer organic produce and other eco-friendly products at a premium price. Not all health food stores are created equal, though. Some, like
Trader Joe’s, offers great tasting organic produce and store brand products at a much lower price than many of the other health food stores.  
Keep in mind that many traditional grocery stores are now carrying organic produce at excellent prices as well.  Not only is it important to be good
stewards of our planet, it is also important to be good stewards of our own money by not overspending at high priced health food stores.

Dollar-Type Stores – Some dollar stores offer very good buys on name brand items you know.  You aren’t going to find fresh produce but dollar
stores do offer some bargains on packaged foods, cleaning and bath and beauty products. Many dollar stores don’t accept manufacturer’s
coupons but some actually do accept them.

Convenience Stores – Convenience stores are generally not a good place to buy food. They are usually overpriced and it is best to avoid buying
your groceries at the local gas station. There are times when gas stations use milk or 12-packs of canned soft drinks as a loss leaders to get you
to buy gas and other items. If they are truly offering a great buy, enjoy your good deal and don’t be tempted to buy other overpriced items while
there.
Farmer’s Markets/Roadside Stands – I love our local roadside produce stands. Here in North Carolina, the summers are rich with beautiful produce
and the local farmers offer delicious, fresh-picked choices. There is nothing like a fresh tomato and cucumber sandwich made with produce picked
that day.  For those items I don’t grow in my own garden (of course I grow my own cukes and tomatoes!), I depend on my local produce stands.
Here in NC, we have Certified Roadside Stands with produce grown by the operator and other local farmers. For more information and a list of NC
certified stands, see http://www.ncfarmfresh.com/CertifiedStands.asp.  Your state may have a similar program so check out your state’s
Department of Agriculture website.  These roadside stands not only offer delicious food, they are often at a better price than you will find at the
grocery store. While the grocery store may be selling tomatoes for $1.99 per pound during the summer, my local produce stand has them for .99
per pound.

You may be thinking that with the price of gas these days, it isn’t cost effective to drive farther to shop at another store.  Although this may be true
if you are picking up only one or two items, it is not the case if a store is offering great sale prices on many items or if a store is doubling or tripling
coupons.  Keep in mind that you may be able to save $40.00 or more during a good sale, which is certainly worth the $3.00 you may spend in gas
to get there and back.  Bring a friend and share the fuel expense as you take advantage of the excellent buys and loss leaders.  Try to incorporate
many errands into one trip to reduce multiple trips and save gas.

I usually shop at one grocery store and one drug store each week. Many weeks I will also make another trip to a different grocery store to pick up
their loss leaders. Those trips are quick and easy and are made while on the way to other activities, so I am not making a special trip.

Shopping the sales at more than one store may seem like a lot of work, but with careful planning, you can be in and out of most stores in very little
time.  If you can shave $50.00 or more off your grocery bill each week, you may find that an extra stop here and there is more than worth your
while.  As I always say: It’s your money – spend it wisely!


To Coupon or Not to Coupon
Copyright Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, February 2008

Grocery coupons have been around since 1894 when Asa Candler handed out handwritten tickets for a free Coca-Cola drink.  Over 100 years
later, in 2002, shoppers saved $3 billion by redeeming 3.8 billion coupons, according to the Promotion Marketing Association.  People of every age
and income use coupons and couponing can make a real difference for a family’s bottom line.  The question is: Can it make a difference for you?

This article will touch on the advantages and disadvantages of couponing. From here, you can make a decision that is right for your family
regarding the benefits of using coupons.  For most of you, some level of couponing will make good sense. With that said, couponing is not for
everyone and it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before investing your valuable time in the fine art of coupon shopping.

Not to Coupon: There are many reasons people turn away from couponing or decide not to try it at all. Here is a list of perceived disadvantages
that keep some shoppers from wielding their scissors and cashing in on potential coupon savings.

Couponing takes too much time.
It is embarrassing to use coupons.
Organizing coupons is too much trouble.
There are no coupons for the products we use.
Coupons are only issued for junky processed foods.
There are no real savings with couponing.

When I first started couponing in 1999, I had many of the same concerns and was skeptical about the benefits of couponing. Thankfully, I took the
leap and soon realized that couponing, when done wisely, can save a tremendous amount of money.  Let’s look at some of the reasons why the
perceived disadvantages are not always accurate.

To Coupon: Successful couponing certainly takes some time, but most of the work is done at home, not at the store with cranky kids while you
struggle to decide what to buy (sound familiar?). Smart spenders look through the sales ads, make a weekly meal plan, create a grocery list and
match the coupons to sales all from the comfort of their home. By the time they get to the store, most of the work is done. All they need to do is put
the items in the cart, check them off on the grocery list and put the coupons to the side, ready to present to the cashier at checkout.  I do most of
my shopping preparation after the kids go to sleep, while I am watching a TV show or two each week.  I also make time for couponing while they are
in music class or other extra curricular activities. I can still chat with the other parents while cutting or filing coupons. Often I am not the only one
clipping away!  If you cut and file coupons while doing other activities, like watching TV or waiting for the kids in carpool, it won’t seem like you have
had to find extra time to coupon.

Although it can be embarrassing to hold up the line behind you while the cashier scans a handful of coupons, it can also be motivating to many
folks when they see the savings from all those coupons.  I always let people in line behind me know that I have a number of coupons and if they are
in a hurry, they may want to try another line. Most stay put, ask questions and want to know how I coupon. What it comes down to is that I know I
am being the best steward of our income. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to know that I am helping my family live within my means.  To me, it would be
much more troublesome if I could not pay my bills because I was too uncomfortable to cut coupons.

Coupon organization is always a frustration for new and struggling couponers. If your coupons are not organized, you cannot take advantage of
the great buys. Most couponers have used the standard small accordion filing system with the 10 or so tabbed sections. Unfortunately, you can
never find your coupons and they are usually expired when you do finally come upon them…..2 hours after you have left the store (again, sound
familiar?).  I started using the binder method in late 1999 and have loved it ever since.  I use a 3 ring zipper binder (started with a 1.5” binder and
now use a 3” binder), tabbed dividers labeled by product type and coupon insert pages to file the coupons.  I am able to see all my coupons and
expiration dates and I can always find the coupon I am looking for. If you are ready for some serious organization and think you might like to make
your own, you can see pictures of my organizer at my website (www.smartspendingresources.com).  

One of the most popular reasons that people choose not to coupon is because they believe there are no coupons for the products they use. That
may be true if they use only specialty products from manufacturer’s that never offer coupons. Some folks have allergies and other special dietary
requirements that don’t allow them to use many name brand items found in the typical grocery store. I believe that most families use at least some
products that offer coupons. Remember, coupons are not only issued for food, they are issued for the full array of grocery and drug store
products. Do you use shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, razors, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, pasta, rice, canned
vegetables, frozen vegetables, hummus, veggie soy burgers, shredded cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, taco shells, peanut butter, jelly,
pickles, ketchup, salad dressing, olive oil, or cooking spray? Those are just a fraction of the products whose name brand manufacturers offer
coupons. I regularly save 60% or more on those items using coupons coupled with sales.

Another misconception is that all coupons are only for junky, processed food. Certainly there are many coupons for unhealthy, high fat or high
sugar foods. The good news is that there are also a number of coupons for healthier foods and non-food items that most of us use. I don’t clip the
majority of coupons in the Sunday paper. I find multiples of coupons for the products I do use so I can stock up. For finding multiples, I use coupon
clipping services including www.thecouponclippers.com and www.ebay.com. I also share with friends and neighbors and they share with me. Your
goal, as a savvy shopper is to steer clear of the coupons you do not want to use and find multiples of those for the products you do use.

A good example of finding coupons (and good deals) for healthier foods was the sale at my local Harris Teeter grocery store last week.  They have
a deal where you buy one box of Green Giant vegetables and you get 2 (yes, two!) boxes FREE. Each box is regularly priced at $1.99 so with the
sale, each box is only 66 cents. Then, Green Giant is offering a deal that if I buy 5 boxes in one transaction, the register prints out a coupon (called
a Catalina coupon) for $3 off my next transaction. Plus, my store doubles coupons with a face value of .99 or less. Here is how I worked the deal to
buy healthy, delicious frozen Green Giant veggies for next to nothing:

9 boxes x .66 each = $5.94 before coupons

I used 3 manufacturer’s coupons from the Sunday paper and online coupon portals (such as coupons.com and bettycrocker.com) for 50 cents off
two boxes (policy is one coupon per buy-one-get-two-free deal) = $3.00 off total

Then I used a Catalina coupon for $3 off my order from the previous veggies transaction = $3.00 off total

My total with tax was 2 cents for 9 boxes of vegetables!  

Obviously, I took advantage of the promotion several times before I left the store and the $3 coupon printed out for each transaction. I just used it
for the next order each time and paid 2 cents for every transaction of 9 boxes. Needless to say, we are well stocked on frozen veggies. There were
plenty on the shelf at the store, so I didn’t even come close to clearing them out (which I try never to do).  Although that deal is a little more
complicated than many, it is a great example of this week’s best buy.

I often buy name brand whole wheat pasta, veggie burgers, hummus, and other healthy foods at 75% off or better using sales and coupons. I
rarely ever pay for shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant anymore. With coupons and sales, we usually are able to buy
those items for nothing at all.  It’s simply a matter of choosing not to use the coupons for the unhealthy food and making sure you have multiples of
coupons for the healthier choices and non-food items so you can stock up.

The last perceived disadvantage is that some people think that there are no real savings by using coupons. The truth is that there are excellent
savings on some items, but that you won’t be able to use a coupon for every item on your grocery list. The key is to stock up on the best deals for
the items you use then use the savings to pay for meats, fresh produce and other items that don’t offer high savings.  All those 50 cent coupons
add up to big savings. We have paid off both our cars, have no debt other than the mortgage and will have the house paid off by the time the kids
start high school, in six years.  Knowing how much we save, I expect that I will coupon for the rest of my life.  

So, the question remains - is couponing a good choice for you? It is if you can say yes to the following:

You use (or want to use) name brand food and non-food products from traditional grocery stores and pay less for them than the store brand costs.
You are willing to look at sales ads for good buys.
You are willing to clip and organize your coupons.
You are willing to make a meal plan to maximize sales and your overstock.
You want to stretch your income much farther, spend less and have more groceries to show for your efforts.

Disclaimer: I have been a serious couponer for 8 years and our family saves over $5000 per year by clipping those little pieces of paper. My
budget is now $55 per week for food, paper products, cleaning supplies and pet food. Although my cost is only $55, I actually bring home over
$150 worth of product most weeks by combining sales with coupons.  I have a stocked pantry, fridge and freezer and most of it is because of
coupons.  I also have a life outside of couponing, so I have found a healthy balance between stretching our hard earned income and everything
else.  

I look at couponing as another household responsibility. Just as I need to do laundry, wash dishes, clean house and cook meals, I also need to
coupon. My husband fully supports my efforts because he sees the impact couponing has had on our budget.  

My recommendation is that you try couponing for 4 weeks.  If you are not saving enough money to justify the expense, couponing may not be for
you.  Jump right in by cutting the coupons from your Sunday paper (ask for your neighbor’s coupons as well) and see if you can save a few extra
dollars this week on your groceries.

Remember – it’s your money, spend it wisely!


Grocery Challenge 2008

Copyright January 2008 Faye Prosser

Happy New Year smart spenders! As we ring in 2008, it is time to look at your household budget. Now if that doesn’t sound exciting, you are
missing out! This is your opportunity to hit that budget hard, line-by-line and determine if you are on track to pay off debt, save for college
expenses and eventually… someday… hopefully….. retire.

If you are not one of those budget driven spenders/savers, you need to be - period, end of story. There is no getting around the need for a
realistic budget. This all-knowing tool allows you to have an accurate financial picture and keeps you on track to reaching your short and long-term
financial goals. Your budget guides all your spending and saving and should be seen as a friend who has only your best financial interests at
heart. If you listen to that friend, you will head towards financial freedom and a debt-free life. If you neglect that friend, you may be doomed to
dance with debt forever.

THE RISING COST OF FOOD: In nearly every family budget, groceries are a tremendous expense. I know families who spend $200 per week to
feed a family of four or five. That’s $10,400 per year! Gone are the college days of being able to live on ramen noodles and peanut butter for
weeks on end. Children require nutrition and variety in their diets and food costs are increasing at an alarming rate. According to a 2007 story from
ABC news, food costs are up almost 4% from 2006. The article goes on to say that in California, the price of milk has risen 30%! Here in North
Carolina, milk is at $4 per gallon and rising. Clearly, our hard-earned money does not buy as much as it used to at the grocery store. Experts have
predicted that prices will continue to climb in 2008 because of the demand for corn and rising energy costs, so be prepared for continued high
prices.  What does all this food inflation mean for your grocery budgets? Are you destined to blow the budget before you even see the middle of
January? With careful planning and creative shopping, you can conquer those high prices and stay within a reasonable budget.

Each month, for the next year, I will write about a different money saving topic related to grocery shopping. We will be covering couponing, using
rebates, understanding retail tactics, meal planning, where to shop and much more. My hope is that by the end of the year, you will have cut your
grocery bills significantly while still eating the same variety of healthy, tasty foods you now enjoy. Not only will I address food items, I will also touch
on non-food expenses including toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and paper products.

THE CHALLENGE: For this month, I challenge each of you to take a long critical look at your food budget. How much are you spending per week
on: fast-food, take-out, coffee from the pricey specialty shop, lunches at the office cafeteria, school lunches and snacks, convenience store chips,
vending machine crackers, drug store sodas, grocery store purchases and all your other food expenses? Tally those numbers for the month and I
am betting that most of you will be SHOCKED at how much money you and your family have spent on food each week. Once you have an accurate
picture of how much you are honestly spending, look closely at the expenses you can cut back or totally eliminate.

Consider trying a few of these suggestions to help lower your food total:

  • Make double batches of freezable meals like lasagna or enchiladas so you always have a meal to throw in the oven for dinner.
  • Send leftovers for lunch with the kids and your spouse.
  • Put a stop to vending machine and coffee house purchases.
  • Buy larger bags of snack foods (ideally when they are on sale and you have a coupon to go with them) and package snack size servings in
    reusable plastic containers instead of buying from the vending machines or the school cafeteria.
  • When you do go out to eat, only drink water. Beverages at restaurants are overpriced and run up a food tab quickly.
  • Eat at home - use a meal plan to make dinner stress free.

You will be amazed at how much less money you have spent when you cut out the non-essentials and stay out of the fast-food lane. Even if you
only cut back on the extras a couple days a week, you will see a positive difference.

I would love to know how you are doing with your tracking as the month goes on. Please post your results and we can all get a good idea (and lots
of empathy I am sure!) about what it costs to feed our families. My monthly grocery budget for our family of 4 (2 adults and 2 elementary age
kiddos) has been $50 per week for years, but I am finding that it is challenging to stay in that $50 budget each week as prices keep increasing. I
am a long-time couponer and meal planner with a great overstock pantry and an extra chest freezer, so my monthly grocery expenses are usually
less than most. I hear from people nearly every day about how hard it is to feed their families on a budget. The techniques I will cover in the next 12
months will give you the tools to cut your grocery bills and hopefully ease some of the pain of those rising grocery costs.

For more information on creating a budget see: http://
www.bankrate.com/brm/news/Financial_Literacy/Jan07_budgeting_howto_a1.asp?caret=2a
and http://
www.betterbudgeting.com/budgetformsfree-basicbudgeting.htm

Now, let’s hear your food budget stories and savings ideas and start slashing those grocery bills! I wish you all a happy, healthy, financially
responsible year. Remember, it’s your money – spend it wisely!


Fabulous Drug Store Deals

Copyright August 2007 Faye Prosser

Do you remember what you spent on your last tube of toothpaste? Was it on sale or did you pay full price (gasp!).  The average tube of name
brand toothpaste is $3.00. That is about $3.00 too much for me!  I can’t remember the last time I paid more than a few cents for toothpaste,
toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, or body wash. Don’t be alarmed – our family still uses all of those items daily. In fact, not only do I find fantastic
deals on health and beauty products, but many of the best deals are for higher priced national brand products. Smart spenders know that many
national drug store chains offer excellent buys on health and beauty items through in-store promotions and rebates. The secret is to use these
promotions to stock up and never pay full price again.

Drug stores chains including CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens offer rebate promotions that result in free and almost free products every week. Each
chain has weekly and monthly deals that include rebates on name brand items as well as store brand products. The weekly sales begin on
Sundays and end on Saturdays. Last week, hand sanitizer was free after rebate at Walgreens. Colgate toothpaste and Lady Speed Stick
deodorant were only 13 cents at Rite Aid using manufacturer’s coupons. By combining sales and coupons, Schick women’s razors are free this
week at CVS.

With different store promotions offered each week, your best bet is to choose those deals that appeal to you most.  Nobody wants to drive all
around town looking for every deal. Focus on the great buys for your family’s needs. The more flexible you are with brands, the more money you
will save. If you are willing to use Crest, Colgate and Aquafresh, for example, chances are good you will be able to buy at least a couple free tubes
per month.  Even if you are somewhat brand loyal, you will still find many good deals on the brands you love with these promotions.

Following is a description of the rebate promotions for Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS. To see the weekly and monthly promotions for each store, go
to their websites at
www.cvs.com, www.walgreens.com, and www.riteaid.com.  Sale ads and rebate booklets are available at your local store, as
well. If you are not sure which of these stores is in your town, go to the store websites and click on store locator. Enter your zip code and you will
see a list of the stores closest to you.

Walgreens offers a traditional rebate program. They publish the monthly Easy Saver Catalog rebate booklet. Buy the promotional items listed in
the catalog, send in the rebate form and receipt and receive a check in the mail. You can also request your rebate in the form of a Walgreens gift
card and they will add an additional 10% of your rebate amount on to the gift card. If your rebate amount for the month is $20 and you choose to
receive your rebate on a Walgreens gift card, they will add an additional $2 (10% of $20) for a total rebate of $22.  Then, each month, you pay for
your rebate items using your Walgreens gift card you earned from the rebates in the previous month. This is called “rolling” your gift card so you
have very little out of pocket expense from month to month. You simply use the gift card from the last month’s rebates to pay for the current rebate
items.  You send in the rebate form for the month all at once and there is one rebate per household per month.  Easy Saver Rebate Catalogs can
be seen online at http://www.walgreens.com/store/rebateclub.jsp and can be found in the store.

Rite Aid also offers a traditional rebate program with a rebate booklet that shows the available rebate deals. The biggest difference is that you can
request your rebate online at
https://riteaid.rebateplus.com/ instead of sending it in via snail mail. You can also check your rebate status at anytime
from the Rite Aid website. Rite Aid just bought out Eckerd and Brooks and they are currently changing over those stores to Rite Aid stores.

CVS has an interesting rebate program that offers ECB’s (Extra Care Bucks) instead of a cash rebate. ECB’s are CVS store coupons that print out
at the end of a qualifying sale and can be used to purchase almost anything in the store (except prescriptions, stamps, tobacco and a few other
items).   For example, Aquafresh Advanced toothpaste was on sale last week for $2.99. There is also an ECB August monthly promotion that offers
$2.99 in ECB’s when you buy one of the Aquafresh Advanced toothpaste tubes. If you have the $2.00 Aquafresh Advanced manufacturer’s coupon
from the 7/08/07 Sunday newspaper, you will pay 99 cents plus tax for your toothpaste. At the end of the sale, on the bottom of your receipt, you
will then receive your $2.99 ECB coupon. The smart CVS shopper will then turn around and “roll” that ECB into another ECB deal to earn more
ECB’s lowering the out of pocket expense.  Last week they also offered a $20 ECB when you bought $20 of Kraft, Nabisco and other products. So,
if you bought $20 in qualifying products (such as Planters peanuts, DiGiorno pizza, Post cereals, Wheat Thins), a $20 ECB coupon printed out at
the end of your receipt that can be  spent on anything in the store.  You also earn $1 in ECB’s for every 2 prescriptions that are filled at CVS. For a
much more in depth tutorial of CVS ECB’s see Hot Coupon World at
http://hotcouponworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=28157.

Remember to read all the rebate details before buying an item at any store. Make sure the rebate is still valid and that you are purchasing the
correct brand and size. When filling out rebate forms, be sure to follow all the directions on the form including circling rebate prices on the receipt
or enclosing UPC’s. Whenever you are sending in any rebates to drug stores or manufacturer’s, make sure you keep a copy of all the information
you sent. If your rebate is lost in the mail or there is a dispute, you will need the copies. Most drug store rebates take 4-8 weeks to receive except
the weekly ECB’s from CVS, which print immediately.  

Now it is time to take a look at your weekly sales flyers and rebate booklets and discover what you can purchase for pennies this week.



Looking for Great Grocery Coupons? Try Flattery!

Copyright March 2007  Faye Prosser

How many times have you wished there were more great coupons available for your favorite grocery and drug store brands? Week after week, you
thumb through the coupon inserts in your Sunday paper wondering if you will find the elusive coupons for the products you love.  Unfortunately,
week after week you only cut out a few coupons. Lament no more. There is an easy and FREE way to find coupons for the products your family
loves - flattery. Whoever said that “flattery will get you nowhere”, clearly did not have e-mail!

Since September, I have been sending e-mails and making toll-free phone calls to manufacturers who make the products we like. The e-mail I send
is nearly the same for each company.  First, I let them know how much our family likes their product. Then I mention that I am a stay at home mom
who needs to stick to a budget.  Next, I politely ask if they have any coupons available.  Finally, I thank them again for such a great product.

Here are the results of my little coupon request experiment:

E-mails and phone contacts made: 74
Companies that sent coupons: 51
Companies who refused: 20
Companies that have not responded yet: 3
Face value amount of coupons sent: $200.30

I average three contacts per week, mostly made via e-mail once the kids have gone to sleep at night.  To date, I have received coupons worth
$200 for products we use all the time. Even better, in three grocery chains in my area, and in many stores throughout the country, they double
coupons. If a company sent me a coupon for 50 cents off one product, that coupon will be doubled to $1.00 at Harris Teeter, Lowe’s Foods and
Kroger stores in my area.  My family loves Green Giant frozen sugar snap peas. So I e-mailed Green Giant and they sent four coupons for 50
cents off any frozen or canned Green Giant products.  I waited for the frozen sugar snap peas, which we love, to go on sale for $1.00 each. Using
the 50 cent coupons, I was able to buy four boxes of FREE vegetables once the coupons were doubled.  

That $200 worth of coupons was actually worth more than $300 once the stores doubled the coupons that could be doubled.  Another surprising
result of this experiment was that many companies sent coupons for FREE items including free yogurt (Dannon),  cereal (Kashi), canned tuna
(Starkist), jelly (Smuckers), paper plates (Zoo Pals), and tissues (Scotties). Dannon even sent stickers and magnets for the kids and a t-shirt for
me! Wasn’t that nice?!

Your homework for this week (and every week if you want a reason to look forward to going to the mailbox):  
*Look through your pantry, fridge and freezer.
*Choose three products your family likes and look on the package to find the website addresses of those companies. You can also do a Google
search to find the website addresses.
*Once on a company website, click on Contact.  
*E-mail (or call) the companies using the format below.  

Sample letter:

“Hello, I am writing to let you know how much our family loves the boxed Green Giant Sugar Snap Peas! Even my 5 year old, who is very picky, eats
them all up and asks for more. If you happen to have any coupons available for the sugar snap peas, I would really appreciate it. We are a one-
income family, on a budget, and I use coupons whenever I can.  Again, thank you for offering a healthy product that my picky 5 & 7 year olds love!
Best Regards, Your Name.”

That wasn’t so hard, was it? For just a few minutes a week, you can offer valuable feedback to companies and fill your mailbox with coupons for
products you know your family likes. Now wait patiently for your coupons, use them with good sales and enjoy your great deals.  Remember, it’s
your money – spend it wisely!





It’s January and Time to Shop!

Copyright January 2007 Faye Prosser

What? Time to shop?  You may be thinking, “No…please…NO MORE SHOPPING!”  

Think again.  ‘Tis the season to save, save, save on everything from festive holiday wrap to great birthday gifts.  Retailers are clearing out holiday
and winter merchandise and that means huge savings for the savvy smart spender.

January is the time to stock up on items that you can use year-round.  Take advantage of great deals in January and save shopping carts full of
money (or at least a gift bag’s worth) during the next 12 months.

Make Your List and Check it Twice:  Start by making a list of those you buy birthday, holiday and anniversary gifts for throughout the year.  Keep
the list in your wallet so you always know for whom you need to shop.

Think Outside the Gift Box:  Holiday clearance has much more than just once-a-year wrap and bows.  When searching markdown sections,
remember the following tips for finding year-round gifts in the clearance section:

*Shop now for deep discounts on toys at online and brick and mortar retailers.  For example, Target stores mark down aisles of toys from 50% -
75% in early to mid January.  Buy birthday gifts for your kids and their friends, tooth fairy presents, stocking stuffers, and holiday gifts for next year
at super savings!  When shopping online, search a coupon website first for discount codes to your favorite online stores.  Good sites to search for
codes include www.gonicofish.com and www.flamingoworld.com.

*Purchase gift sets that include items such as a cheese plate, cheese knife and a block of cheese.  Eat the cheese and save the other items to use
as a gift anytime of year by simply adding another block of cheese.

*Buy solid color red paper plates, cups and napkins to use at your child’s Valentines party at school.  Use the green paper products for your St.
Patty’s day party.

*Stock up on solid color wrapping paper – you can use it for almost any occasion.

*Buy up the markdown bags of chocolate kisses and freeze them to use later for baking.  Remember this tip during the post-Valentine’s Day
clearance as well.

*Purchase winter clothing in January.  Holiday/winter sweaters, dresses, children’s outfits, socks, hair clips and other clothing and beauty items can
be found at 30% - 75% off.  Many of these items can be worn all winter long or given as gifts for the next holiday.

Ideally, you have a single place to store your fantastic deals until you need them.  A gift closet or cabinet allows you to find items easily when you
need them.

Don’t delay, the New Year is here and so are the deals.  As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!

How To Cut Your Grocery Bills in Half

Copyright: Faye Prosser
January 2006

Want to buy much more for less? Imagine filling your cart with your favorite groceries, but only paying a fraction of the total cost. By mastering the
eight essential techniques, every shopper who buys groceries can get the most out of their hard-earned money.

Learn the art of couponing. Smart shoppers know, without question, that using coupons wisely is the greatest money-saving technique when it
comes to buying groceries. They know how, when and where to use those little pieces of "paper gold" and they know just where to find the best
coupons for the products they prefer to buy. Their coupons are well-organized and accessible so they don’t ever miss an unadvertised sale. Smart
spenders pay for a good portion of their groceries using coupons and save more than 50% off their weekly budgets each and every week.

Compare apples to apples. How do you know whether something is really a bargain just because it is on sale? By developing a Price Book, you
are able to compare the price per unit of one size package to another. This allows you to compare the 200-ounce box of warehouse club bran
cereal to the 20-ounce bag of the same type of cereal from the grocery store. Smart spenders know the surprising news that often the smaller
container is less expensive per unit than the bulk container when used in conjunction with coupons and sales.

Gain leverage from sales flyers. By reviewing the sales flyers that stores issue every week, you can plan your weekly menu, decide where to
shop, determine what to include on your grocery list, and choose the best money-saving coupons to use at the store. Smart spenders realize that
the key to the greatest savings is purchasing the best sale items listed in the weekly flyers and then using coupons for those items.

Be a proud card-carrying member. Sign up for the frequent shopper rewards cards at the stores you shop. Without them, you won’t be offered
the sale prices or special incentives and you may lose out on thousands of dollars in savings a year. Many stores will even mail great money-
saving coupons to members throughout the year. Smart spenders take advantage of the sale prices by using their rewards cards every time they
shop.

little brand name loyalty stand in their way of savings.

Refuse to be overcharged. Many grocery stores carry 30,000 or more items. It is not hard to imagine that there may be a price mistake or two at
the register. Before you leave the store, thoroughly review your receipt to make sure you weren’t   
overcharged. If you discover an overcharge, head straight to customer service and explain the error. Many stores have a price scan guarantee,
which means that you will receive the entire cost you paid for the item and get to keep the product. Yes, this means you will take home the product
for free! Smart spenders never leave the store without reviewing the receipt and requesting the price scan guarantee, when applicable.

Enjoy delayed gratification. Yes, it’s just what you were thinking. Rebates. You buy an item that offers a rebate, fill out the form exactly as
required, send in the UPC, receipt or other necessary proof of purchase, and after a short delay, you get your money back in the mail. If you are
thinking that it doesn’t sound so difficult, you are right! Surprisingly, many people don’t take advantage of the amazing rebates available for
everything from beef to toothpaste to pies. Smart spenders recognize that the savings opportunities are huge, if they are willing to fill out a little
form and wait patiently for their gratifying reward.

Stick to your strategy and avoid the tactics. Do you smell the fresh cookies baking in the deli? Did you taste those free samples of cereal
when you walked into the store? Welcome to the world of store tactics. Their job is to make money marketing the products they sell. Your job is to
steer clear of the tactics and stick to your grocery list. Don’t be enticed by the sale signs when you know something isn’t a good deal. Don’t go to
the store hungry and don’t impulse-shop (unless it’s a good unadvertised buy, of course!). Smart spenders come prepared to shop for the items
that will save them the most money and they avoid the clever methods designed to persuade you to part with more of your paycheck than you
should.

These aren’t the only money-saving techniques used by the shopping experts, but they are the basis for the very best buys.


Grocery Store Tactics

Copyright: Faye Prosser, 2006

Every grocery store hopes that you will do most, if not all, of your shopping at their location. Many use tactics that entice the shopper to stay longer
and buy more. It is important for you to understand what those tactics are and avoid being taken by them. Remember that these tactics are not evil
techniques designed to drain your bank account of every dollar and leave you flailing financially. Marketing to increase sales is their job. Your job
is to learn the skills that allow you to make wise choices that are not influenced by clever marketing. Following are some methods stores use to get
you to spend your money at their location:

What’s That Wonderful Smell?! - Stores bake fresh bread, cookies, chicken, and all sorts of tasty prepared foods right there in the store. The
smell of those items is often enough to get you to buy whatever it is they are cooking. Once again, stay away from the prepared deli foods and
your grocery bill will not burst your well-prepared budget!

Store Layout - Stores often put the more expensive brand-name products at eye-level, where they will be easily seen. To find the store brand and
clearance items, you need to look on the higher and lower shelves.

Is It Really on Sale? - Be aware that stores often place non-sale items on the same fancy display as sale items. Their hope is that you will pick up
both items, especially if the non-sale item is usually used with the sale item, such as ketchup with hot dog buns.

Package Size - Bigger is not always better. When a store has a monster size package of an item you want to purchase, remember that just
because something is packaged in a larger box or a multi-pack does not mean that you are getting a better deal. Remember to figure out the price
per unit to see which size package is the best buy.

Checkout Lines - If you have children, try to stay away from the checkout lines with candy or toys. It will cut down on the whining and begging
from your children and the impulse shopping you may do just to appease them. The same thing goes for adults who have a weakness for
chocolate!


Developing a Price Book

Copyright Faye Prosser 2005

Developing a price book is one of the most important steps you can take if you want to cut your grocery bills.  A price book is simply a list of the
items you use regularly and the best prices they sell for in the stores where you are willing to shop.  A price book is an excellent tool for tracking
prices, sales and buying opportunities.  Prices in a price book should be listed by cost per unit so you can easily compare different size packages
from different stores.  When you see a deal in the weekly flyer or in the store, you will know instantly if it is really a good deal and worth your time to
go out and purchase.  Just because an item is on sale doesn’t automatically make it a good buy.  The regular price at some stores may be less
than the sale price at others.  Your price book is an invaluable tool to help you determine if a sale is really a deal.

You don't have to create the whole book at once, just carry it with you when you go to the store and write down the best prices when you see
them.  You can also use the weekly sales flyers and your store receipts to find the best prices.  If you make an entry in your price book and then
find a better price at another store, change the information to reflect the better deal.  After a while you'll have an excellent price record of the
things you like to buy.  If you add dates to the entries you will begin to see the sale pattern for that item.  You don’t need to include everything you
ever use in the course of a year, just those items you buy regularly.  You can price items for as many stores as you want or just the main store at
which you shop.

Is it a better deal to buy the largest size of an item or the smallest size?  You will be surprised to know that biggest isn't always best!  Larger sizes
can be more economical than smaller sizes, but that is not usually the case with this system.  A smaller size item that is on sale can often be less
per unit than the larger size of that same item.  When you use a coupon on top of the sale, you can really cut the cost per unit.  

Calculating Cost Per Unit: Some stores make it especially hard to figure out cost per unit (ounce, pound, etc.) because they list the prices on the
tags as 3/$5.00 or 2/$4.98.  First you have to figure out the cost of one of the items and then you have to figure out the cost per unit.  You may
think this is difficult, but just take a small calculator with you when you shop so you will not have to figure the cost in your head.   When stores offer
shelf tags with cost per unit clearly indicated, you won’t need that calculator.

To figure out the cost per unit of an item, follow this simple equation:

Cost of item divided by the # of units  = cost per unit.

$1.99 divided by 18 ounces = .11 (11 cents)

In this case, the cost per unit is 11 cents per ounce.  When you see this same cereal on sale elsewhere in a different size package, you can easily
calculate which package is the better deal.  For instance, if a smaller size package of the same product is on sale for $1.15 for a 12-ounce
package, you will have enough information to be able to compare the two packages.  The 18-ounce package is 11 cents per ounce ($1.99 divided
by 18 oz. = 11 cents per ounce).   The 12-ounce package is 9.5 cents per ounce ($1.15 divided by 12 oz. = 9.5 cents per ounce).   As you can
see, the smaller package on sale is a better deal than the larger package at regular price because the cost per ounce of the smaller package is
lowest.  Often the difference is much more than just a penny per ounce and the savings can add up very quickly.

Some people use a small spiral notebook and write in the prices of the items they use. Others use spreadsheets or word processing software to
enter their price book prices.  There are even some high tech options such as downloading a price book program into a handheld computer.  Your
price book can be as short or as long as you wish.  You may decide to list the top 20 items you buy regularly or you may decide to create a 10-
page list of all the items you buy.  How in-depth you make your list is up to you. The key is that it is accurate and that you can reference it easily
when you are shopping.

The following price book sample contains details on sale dates, stores and brands, as well as unit price.  Some price books only include the item,
size and brand and do not get as detailed as this example.  

Price Book Sample:

Department:   Dairy

Date        Store                   Item                        Brand                         Size          Cost        Unit Price
4-24        ABCGrocery        Yogurt                    Store Brand                8 oz         .50           6 cents per oz
8-23        DEFGrocery        Sour Cream            XYZ Name Brand       16 oz        .99           6 cents per oz
4-14        GHI Grocery        Shred. Cheese        Store Brand               8 oz         .99           12 c./oz

Now that you know how to create and use your price book, you will never have to wonder if the sale price in the flyer or the great deal posted in the
store is actually a bargain worth buying!

Copyright, Faye Prosser  2006


Backyard Garden

Copyright: Faye Prosser, 2006

One of the best ways to cut produce costs is to grow your own vegetables and fruits. Produce from your own garden tastes delicious and reduces
your food bill. Growing a garden is also a wonderful learning experience for children. We began growing our own produce garden ten years ago
and, to this day, my favorite thing to eat is a tomato and cucumber sandwich with vegetables fresh from the garden (although cheesecake is a
close second!). I start daydreaming about 'mater and cuke sandwiches in mid-winter, and by July, when we are harvesting fresh vegetables, my
dreams come true! Following are some tips to get you started with your own garden.

Don’t get in over your head - There is nothing like planting your first garden only to find out you planted more than you can handle. You will
become frustrated, tired and overwhelmed and give up forever. Start with a comfortable 10’ X 10’ area and remember that next year you can
increase the size if you wish.

Location is key - Find a space for your garden that receives plenty of sun. Prep the soil by tilling it with a borrowed or rented tiller. Mixing grass in
with soil adds organic material. You will need to determine what soil type you have so you know what soil amendments (topsoil, gypsum, lime,
fertilizer, organic material) to add. Bring a sample of your soil to your local agricultural extension office to receive a pH and soil analysis. If you only
have a small area, consider container gardening. Many varieties of different vegetables grow well in large pots.

Planting time - Once your soil is tilled and in good shape, it is time to plant. There are many types of seeds that you can start growing indoors in
small containers approximately eight weeks before replanting into the outdoor garden. You can also buy transplants of many of the popular
vegetables and fruits. These little plants work beautifully, are inexpensive, and are good for the beginning gardener who may only want one plant
for each type of vegetable. Good starter crops include tomatoes, beans, peas, zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers. Make sure you plant
after the last expected frost. You can find out about frost information by speaking with your extension office.

How does your garden grow? - Once you have planted, you should put down a layer of newspaper and then a layer of hay straw. This will keep
weeds from growing too rapidly. If you see weeds emerge, get rid of them right away. Plant the seeds or transplants far enough apart, keep them
weeded and fertilize regularly and you will cut down on pest issues. Seed packs and transplant labels will indicate how far apart you need to plant
the seeds or plants.

You can also put up a short wire mesh gate around your garden to discourage children, rabbits and other creatures that may rummage through
your hard work. When dealing with insects, you can choose an organic route, which we have done most years, or use an insecticide from your local
garden supply store. For information on which route is best, see the extension office once again. They can tell you what types of pests are most
common in your area and how to best prevent them. You will also want to know what critters are good to have around because they eat the pests
that can destroy your beloved garden.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor - Pick your produce when it is ripe and don’t overcook your vegetables. Enjoy your wonderful produce all winter by
freezing or canning, as well.

Share the bounty - You will find that as your plants begin to bear fruit, you may harvest more than you and your family can possibly eat. A sure
way to endear yourself to all your friends, family and the new neighbor two doors down is through garden fresh veggies. Nothing says friendship
like a homegrown tomato!

If you are hesitant about produce gardening, begin with one container plant. Find a variety that is suitable for containers and get your feet wet with
a single vegetable. We have grown tomatoes (especially cherry tomatoes) successfully in containers, and once you bite into that first juicy tomato,
you will probably be ready to go tiller shopping!

Growing an herb garden is another easy way to add fresh and frugal flavor to your meals. If you have children, herbs are a good introduction to
gardening because the plants are smaller than most vegetable and fruit plants.

For much more information on all aspects of gardening, check with your local library for books on growing vegetables, consult your agricultural
extension office and speak with other people who garden in your climate. Ask them what works well for them and what problems they have
encountered.




10 Steps to Conquering Back-to-School Spending

Copyright: Faye Prosser, August 2006

As the summer sun warms the thick August air, the real heat for parents of school age children is coming from back to school spending.  With the
price of everyday necessities burning a hole in your wallet, you will be relieved to know that there are many effective ways to cut the cost of those
expensive school purchases. From sneakers to scissors, these 10 steps will help you stretch your school supply budget and still send your kids off
to school in style:

1.        
Make a complete list.  Include clothing and school supplies such as scissors, notebooks, backpacks, lunchboxes and all the other specific
items each child will need. If you already have a supply list from your child’s teacher, use this list when making the master list. If you do not already
have a supply list, ask the school to provide a generic list of items that children in the relevant grades will need. Many retailers offer these lists in
their stores. Call ahead to see if your local Wal-mart or Staples has the list for your child’s school and grade.

2.        
Take inventory. Include both new and used items you already have in the house. You will be surprised at how many supplies you can
check off your list just by going from room to room. Items like scissors, backpacks and rulers may not need to be purchased again for this school
year. You can also use items you already have to spruce up inexpensive supplies. For example, if your child wants the expensive decorated folders
but the plain ones are on sale for 5 cents, he/she can decorate the inexpensive ones with stickers or stencils you already have at home.

3.        
Create a detailed budget. List everything you think you will need to purchase and the approximate cost of each item. Ask for your child’s
input when making the budget, and you will craft a wonderful teaching opportunity. When they help determine how to spend their back-to-school
dollars, they will learn that if they want the more expensive sneakers or jeans, they will have to buy less expensive versions of the other items on
their list.

4.        
Start now. Even if your child doesn’t go back to school for another month, now is the time to start shopping. Actually, the best time to start
school shopping was last year’s back-to-school clearance. If you start stocking up for next year at this years clearance (in late September), you will
have all the essential supplies such as pencils, paper, notebooks, etc. purchased at 50-90% off. There may even be items for this school year that
you can wait to purchase until late September when the prices will come down significantly. Maybe last year’s lunch boxes are still in good shape. If
you can wait 8 more weeks, the brand new ones will be $2-3 on clearance versus $10-$15 regularly priced.

5.        
Consider all your options and compare, compare, compare. There are many places to purchase school supplies and clothing. Some
are much more expensive than others but with a little homework of your own, you can find the best buys.

  • Hand me downs – gently worn items passed down from older siblings, neighbors or relatives are an excellent way to increase your child’s
    clothing choices at no cost.

  • Yard/garage sales – Time to get up early on Saturday morning. Hit those yard sales for great buys on used and new clothing and school
    supplies. Don’t’ be afraid to bargain. Most people will gladly take 50 cents for a shirt or pair of jeans just to have it sold and out of their
    house!  Often you will find clothes with the tags still on them that have never been worn.

  • Craigslist.org – The wildly popular website, http://www.craigslist.org/, is essentially an online yard sale for people in different towns around
    the country and the world.  There are Craigslist sites for many towns and you can click on the link for your town to see what is available in
    your area. Believe it or not - there is no fee for the buyer or the seller. People list their items to sell with no listing fees. Potential buyers
    contact the seller and then set up a time to view and possibly purchase the items listed. No shipping fees are usually incurred because you
    pick up the item in person.  Many people sell children’s clothing items on this site at bargain prices.

  • Clothing Swap – Holding a clothing swap in your neighborhood, religious organization, or club is an inexpensive way to find clothes for your
    children, share clothes with other families and clean out the kids closets. Give away what the kids no longer wear and take home clothing at
    no cost that is “new” for your kids. For more tips on organizing a kids clothing swap see the following Columbus Parent story: http://www.
    columbusparent.com/?story=columbusparent/may/swap.html.

  • Sales at retailers – There really are great sales this time of year. When you combine the 25-50% off sales, store coupons and tax-free
    weekends, there are very good deals to be had. Remember that some stores will be more expensive regardless of the sales and that some
    will always be more affordable. Save the expensive store purchases for major clearance sales and stick to the more affordable clothing
    stores for most of the retail school shopping. When buying supplies, buy in bulk when the deals are fantastic. For instance, the local Staples
    ran a sale a couple weeks ago for 1 cent folders, sharpeners and 12-packs of pencils. That is the time to stock up on those items for the
    next year (or two!). They often set maximum numbers that you can purchase on each trip, but you can always stop back in at the store
    another day that week to stock up again. Search the sales flyers each week during the month before school starts to find the best buys.  
    One store may have scissors on “sale” for 1.50 cents while the store down the street may have those same scissors for only 50 cents. It
    really pays to compare the different sales. If your store price-matches, take advantage of this option so you don’t waste gas driving to more
    stores than necessary.

  • Dollar stores- Although dollar stores can offer some good buys on supplies, remember that during the months of August and September,
    many office and drug store chains will offer much better buys.

  • Cyber Shopping – If online shopping appeals to you, make sure you use a coupon code for free shipping or a percentage or dollar amount
    off your sale. Sites such as http://www.flamingoworld.com/ offer online coupon codes for hundreds of online stores.  Some stores, such as
    office supply chains, let you buy online and then pick up the items at their location in your town to avoid shipping costs.

  • Tax free shopping- Many states offer a tax free days of shopping for school supplies and school clothing. They usually occur in early August.
    If you combine sales, store coupons and tax-free shopping, you can find some excellent deals. To find out if your state offers a tax-free
    weekend, contact your state government or simply do a google.com search for “tax free shopping, name of your state”. For example, to learn
    the dates for North Carolina’s tax free weekend, you would go to www.google.com and type in “tax free shopping, NC”.

6.        
Buy Baggy. Not the kind of baggy that makes you want to pull up his pants from his knees and give him a belt, but roomy enough to make
the clothes last a little longer.  Elastic waistbands, long shirt-tails, and jeans with expandable waists all help to lengthen the amount of time that
your children can wear his/her new clothes. Remember you can also turn those too-short pants into shorts and those shirts with the sleeves that
are not quite long enough into short-sleeved shirts.

7.        
Cash and carry. If you have the tendency to overspend and blow your budget when you are back-to-school shopping, only bring cash.
Keep the credit cards at home and don’t be talked into opening a store account. If you have a credit card that offers a reward (like cash back or
travel miles) AND you pay it off every month, then use that to pay for your purchases in order to earn the additional benefit.

8.        
Sell to buy. Need a little extra money to finish up that shopping? Try selling those clothes that the little ones have outgrown on Ebay.com,
Craigslist.org, or your own yard sale. You will be surprised at how many of the old toys your kids may be willing to sell in order to get that new
backpack they have wanted.

9.        
Track your spending. Keep your receipts and tally your purchases each time you shop. In order to stay within your back-to-school budget,
you need to know how much you have spent. It is certainly easier if you do all your shopping on one day in one store, but you will absolutely pay
more if you take this approach. After you have entered your receipts on your tracking list or Excel spreadsheet, keep the receipts in an envelope
so they are easy to access.  If you purchased items that are not needed, you will want the receipts to make returns.  Keep your budget information
for next year so you have a starting point and an idea as to how much you will need to spend. If you stock up at the back-to-school clearance sales
this year for next years supplies, you will have a great head start on lowering next years overall budget.

10.       
 Finally, don’t give in.  No child needs $100 pairs of jeans and $150 pairs of sneakers to wear to middle school, no matter how loudly
he/she protests. Help your children to understand the school supply budget and how it relates to the overall family budget. Stand your ground if
they want to overspend. The responsible spending habits you instill in them now will benefit them all through their lives.

Once you have accomplished your exciting and action-packed back-to-school shopping mission and your little darlings are heading off to their first
day of school, you can sit back and smile. You stayed within budget, spent responsibly and lived to tell about it! When the heat was turned on, you
kept your cool, came prepared and conquered back-to-school spending. As I always say – It’s your money, spend it wisely!


Keep the Joy, Ditch the Debt:
Smart Spending During the Holidays

Copyright 2006 Faye Prosser

Picture this: You are gathered together with your family while they excitedly open their holiday gifts.  The anticipation of this moment has been
building for months. Gift after gift, the kids move from one present to another, in a wild frenzy of unwrapping abandon. In some cases, they barely
glance at the gift before they move to the next. When all is said and done, you are left with a huge pile of torn gift wrap and toys your kids may only
play with once or twice.  But there is one thing about the gift giving whirlwind that will make a lasting impression – your credit card debt.  That $500
or more you spent on all those things will follow you for months and possibly years to come. The toys will be long broken, lost, and stuck in storage,
but you will still be paying for them, plus interest.

Sound like the picture perfect holiday? Definitely not. Unfortunately, for many people, this is exactly what happens every year in December. People
get caught up in the joy of giving and end up spending well above their means.  The result is that they continue to pay for those items long after
they are discarded. If this is a familiar holiday scenario in your house, you will be thrilled to know that there are alternatives to the spend and suffer
debt cycle.

If you sincerely want to enjoy a debt free, joy filled holiday, consider the following suggestions.    

  • Agree on a Budget: If you and your family and friends agree on a gift giving budget or method, everyone’s holidays will be less financially
    draining.  Although it may seem awkward to bring up the subject, ask relatives to agree to stay within a set budget.  This can make the entire
    gift giving adventure more fun and easier to live with in January, when the bills usually start showing up.

  • Pick a Name: If your whole family agrees, you can each choose a name, with each person responsible for buying a gift for only one other
    person. If you set a maximum dollar amount, it will keep costs down even more and ensure the gift exchange is fair for everyone.  Capping
    the gift cost at $15 to $20 per gift is a good rule of thumb.  This method of gift exchange is especially frugal when very large families get
    together.  Everyone will still take home a gift but costs will be contained.  Gift cards are often a welcome present if you are not sure what to
    purchase.

  • Just for the Kids: Another sure way to decrease costs is to buy gifts only for the children.  How many times have you received a gift from a
    distant relative that wasn’t exactly something you would use?  Save your relatives some time, trouble (what in the world should I get for my
    second cousin who I haven’t seen in five years?), and money and agree to only purchase presents for the little ones.

  • Made with Love: Handmade gifts are a thoughtful and frugal way to give during the holidays.  If all the adults agree to a homemade gift
    exchange, you will all save more money and you will be able to enjoy the talents of your friends and family.  Don’t worry – you don’t need to
    be named Martha and have your own TV show to give great homemade gifts. Food gifts are always welcome including baked goods,
    homemade mixes for various foods, chocolate dipped fruit or pretzels, and fruit baskets. If you are crafty consider knitted scarves, themed
    scrapbooks, ornaments, coupon books and homemade cookbooks.  

  • Discount Dining Deals:  One of the best kept secrets when it comes to dining out is www.restaurants.com. You can purchase $25 gift
    certificates to restaurants all over the country for only $10. When you are ready to order a gift certificate, first go to http://www.gonicofish.
    com and select “restaurant.com” from the pull-down menu on the left. There is a good chance you will find a coupon code for 40% - 60% off
    the already low certificate prices. Enter that code in the coupon section during checkout at restaurant.com.  It is not unusual to spend $5 for
    $25 gift certificates when you use a coupon code! You print the gift certificate from your printer and give it to the recipients when you are
    ready. There is no waiting for the certificates to arrive in the mail. Make sure you read the fine print as some restaurants have requirements
    such as a minimum purchase in order to use the certificates.

  • Buy for Next Year: Purchase clearance items from this year’s post-holiday clearance and use them next year. Many of the super stores begin
    marking down holiday décor the day after most holidays. You can find artificial trees, ornaments, dishware, themed tablecloths and napkins,
    holiday cards, gift wrap, candles, and more at savings of 75%-90% off the regular retail cost. Make sure you wait patiently for a couple
    weeks after the holidays for the best buys. Store the items and use them to decorate next year. For instance, buy up those 75% off colored
    glass ball ornaments and place them in a nice crystal bowl as a centerpiece next December. Purchase the clearance gift sets such as
    holiday themed plates and cookie sets or cheese, plate and knife sets. Open the package, enjoy the cookies (you would hate for them to go
    to waste since they won’t keep!) and keep the holiday themed ceramics to give as a gift with your own homemade cookies next year.

  • Gift the Gift of Time: Not sure what to get for the person who has everything? Consider volunteering your time to help them around the
    house. Does your aunt need help cleaning out the gutters? Has your grandmother wanted to paint the kitchen for years but can’t manage
    the job herself? Does your neighbor need a babysitter so she can enjoy a night out with her husband? Offer a gift certificate for a home
    cooked meal to a new mom or an outing to the zoo with your nephew. Volunteering your time can often be the best gift you can give.

  • Go Treasure Hunting:  Hit the yard and garage sales for holiday decorations.  Great décor can be purchased at yard sales for a fraction of
    the retail cost. Often you can find brand new items with the tags still on.

  • Go Natural:  Use natural items like pinecones from your yard or a large bowl of fruit for decoration. Placed in a large glass bowl, they make a
    lovely centerpiece. Use evergreen branches and pinecones on the mantel to invoke the winter theme.

  • Take Baby Steps:  If you are in a new home or just starting out on your own, don’t feel like you have to decorate every corner of the house in
    one season.  Collect a few decorative items each year and add to your decorations after the holidays during those great clearance sales.

  • Creative Wrapping: The $3 you could spend for each roll of wrapping paper that will be torn and discarded can definitely be better spent.
    How about making your own wrap using recycled brown grocery bags cut open and turned inside out (you don’t want the grocery store name
    on the outside of the package). Then let the kiddos use holiday stamps or handprints to add lots of color and cheer to the paper before you
    wrap the gifts. Finish off with some inexpensive twine and a sprig of evergreen from the yard for a real holiday look. Martha would be proud!  
    For a colorful and frugal wrap option, use the comics section from the Sunday paper. Top it off with a colorful bow and you are all set. A
    number of packages wrapped similarly make a nice presentation, even when the wrap has cartoons on them! Remember that you can buy
    holiday wrap at 75% - 90% off during January clearance.

  • Recycle that Bag: Gift bags often survive the frenzy of the holidays much better than wrapping paper. If you received any gifts in gift bags,
    save the bags for next year and cut down on wrap expenses. The same goes for bows, as well. Save the ones that look good and use them
    next year. If you receive solid color gift bags, you can use them throughout the year for most gift giving occasions.

As you prepare for the holidays, remember your reasons for celebrating…..getting deep in debt is probably not one of them. If you focus on giving
reasonably and enjoying family and friends, you will have a much more comfortable New Year. Your family will thank you and so will your wallet!

























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