I love a good bargain – don’t you? But as a busy, full-time breadwinning mom of three, I don’t have time for things like extreme couponing and shopping at three different grocery stores to score the lowest prices. When I’m FI, I bet I’ll be doing those things for fun! (Admittedly, I have an odd sense of fun). And if you have the time and desire to do them, I think that’s great. Right now in my life, I don’t, so I hack my deal-getting (see Tip #1 from Wednesday-make your life a laboratory experiment to see what works for you).
Over the years I’ve experimented with a variety of strategies to get the best deals while not spending tons of time or energy on them. I’m excited to share them with you-hopefully you’ll try some of these ideas and see if they work for you. Be sure to share your own ideas in the comments with your fellow readers! As a community I bet we can save each other a ton of money.
Buy Less – Think Minimalist
When I first started looking at how to save the most money on the things that I buy, I made the rookie mistake of getting too many deals. Something would be a great bargain, so I’d pick it up thinking I would use it one day. After one too many times of doing that, I realized that I wasn’t saving money by doing that – I was spending money. Even when I would find deals that gave me stuff for “free”, it wasn’t worth my time and energy if it wasn’t something I’d use.
Example – I once found a deal for free pot roast crockpot mix. Usually when I make a pot roast, I use beef bouillon and salt/pepper for flavoring, thickening the broth with flour. But this was free, so I decided to give it a try, despite my trepidation about the ingredient list. Sure enough, it tasted terrible, and I had to get rid of the other one.
Even though this was free, it cost me time – time to find and cut out the coupon, time to put it in my cart, time to use it, and time to toss it (it was gross). I learned that day that deals for fake food aren’t deals. I vowed to only use my deal-hunting powers for good-seeking out deals on the things I wanted or needed to buy, rather than letting the available deals control what I buy.
So the first tip is to not buy things because they’re on sale, or a great bargain, or you “might” use it one day. If you don’t have a specific purpose for the item that you’re purchasing, then don’t buy it. This doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of buying things and storing them for later, just make sure you know that it’s something you’ll use. A bargain’s not a bargain if you have to toss it later. It’s just wasted money and resources.
One Stop Shopping – Bulk Up
This strategy won’t save you the most money in absolute terms, but it will save you time and money in the long run.
Side note – the absolute best way to save money on shopping is to deal hunt between the different stores “loss leaders”. Create a “price book” of the things you buy (either an actual written book or something on your phone) and stock up when the price hits rock bottom. Freeze extra perishable items, and stockpile your deals until you can use them later
I have a family of five and have been shopping at warehouse clubs for almost 15 years now. I am a huge fan of Costco, but a few years ago they built a BJ’s in my town, so now that’s the store I go to. We actually do all our weekly grocery shopping at BJ’s, with a few exceptions.
Although I can sometimes find better prices elsewhere, keeping our core shopping to the warehouse club saves time (no need for multiple trips) and ensures we’re getting a good price. Being a family of five who rarely eats out and takes lunches to work/school, we go through a decent amount of groceries. We get plenty of whole foods and the things to make food – eggs, butter, milk, flour, coffee beans, potatoes, onions, peanut butter, etc.
Exceptions? There are some things we need to get that BJ’s doesn’t sell (like fluff). We also stockpile fruit from local farms during peak seasons, and freeze them for the winter months. Right now I have bags of strawberries, blueberries, and black raspberries in my freezer. We also get a large package of different meats from a local butcher. The price on that is good, not great, but the quality is outstanding. So we’re able to pick up an assortment of excellent quality meats for a good price.
I will also stock up outside the warehouse club when I see a great bargain at a different store on something we use a lot of. Those things are usually diapers, paper towels, and weekday breakfast foods. There’s a local grocery store that runs “buy one get two free” sales every so often, and I stock up and freeze the extras.
Putting a warehouse club at the center of our shopping strategy saves both time and money for our family.
Now I did already mention that I don’t extreme coupon, but that doesn’t mean I don’t selective coupon. Every week, after making out the list of things we need (after is the key word here), I look online at my favorite deal sites to see what coupons are available. I also get a coupon book from BJ’s that I’ll use every week to get coupons on the things I’m going to buy. They also have the same coupons available online, so if there’s a deal offered on something we use a lot of that’s not perishable or freezes well (e.g., bread), we can stock up.
The exception to my selective couponing strategy is when there’s a big bargain available on something I have on my targeted stock-up list (like diapers). I’ll check the deal sites once a week, usually on Saturdays, to see if there’s any amazing bargains available. Other than that, I stick to getting coupons on the things I need to buy. My favorite two sites to scan for weekly deals are Hip2Save and the Krazy Coupon Lady. I also will go to Coupons.com and use their “brand” function to find the specific brand I’m looking for (e.g., Skippy peanut butter).
I also never buy anything, online or in store, without checking to see if there’s a coupon available. The kids need poster board for a project? Off to the Joanns, AC Moore, or Michaels coupon sites. I need photos printed? Walgreens photo almost always has coupons. Need to stop at a store to get a gift? Retail Me Not is my friend. I use that in combination with googling “Name of Store/Name of Item + Coupon) on the things I buy. You’d be surprised how often you get get a significant amount off with only a few seconds of effort.
A great example of how I used this strategy was when I wanted to print out a photo book of my soon-to-be-two year old son’s first year. It’s something I’ve wanted for a while, and I know from experience that Shutterfly does the best job on photo books. They also periodically have amazing deals, but you need to take the time to jump through a bunch of hoops to score the best prices. So I waited, and two weekends ago, the deal gods smiled upon me.
First, I got a coupon in my “junk” (aka couponing) e-mail offering $20 off anything at Shutterfly. They also have a deal where if you spend $39, you get free shipping (usually shipping is where they get you). I went online to see if there were other deals offered, and sure enough, there were. 50% off photo books and other items. Free desktop calendar. Free photo magnets. I ordered everything and for only $41 (including free shipping!), I got all of these things-a great photo book, a mousepad, a desktop calendar for work, and four photo magnets. Since the photo book was something I’ve wanted for a while, I pounced on the deal. Savings including shipping discount? $132!
Secret Shutterfly hack – don’t have time to go hunting around deal sites to see what coupons are available? They list all of them on this page.
Develop Productive, Money-Saving Hobbies
This was a tip I first read in The Tightwad Gazette many years ago, and it’s stuck with me. There are two types of hobbies you can have. One type is a hobby that costs a lot of money – golfing, boating, going on expensive cruises, etc. The other type is hobbies that save you money, or are very inexpensive. Those kinds of hobbies might include building furniture, creating art or doing crafts, baking, gardening, hiking, camping, and so on.
If you have expensive hobbies, look to see if you can replace them with hobbies that save you time, money, or can even make you money. Perhaps it’s baking, growing your own herbs and vegetables, canning jam, or tent camping. Going on a nice hike and having a picnic lunch with the family can be fun, get you all fresh air and good exercise, and not cost anything more than you would have spent eating lunch at home. Building or restoring furniture might be a fun way to spend a weekend together. So if you’re spending a lot of time or money on hobbies that are taking you farther away from your real goals, start investigating other options.
Baking, picking fruit, canning, camping, and art – some of my more productive hobbies
Look For Free and Cheap Entertainment
I’ve written about this before – how we have pizza, popcorn, and movie nights for under $5 for our entire family of five, using library passes to get discounted or free admission to places around the state, going to free local events like hot air balloon festivals – the list is endless. You can easily find Redbox movie rentals for 27 cents after coupon (in fact, I just got an offer for that this morning), take some time to look for upcoming free local events, and plan a day off around library passes. I wrote before about having a fun family weekend in CT for only $11. We did just this kind of thing again for Presidents Day – I took the day off, and we had a fun trip to New Haven for almost nothing. We got passes to the Peabody Museum for $14 for all five of us, went out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant (the only time eating out this month-a special treat), and looked around a variety of different stores. Everyone had a great time – I even got to attend Yale University! (OK, by “attend” I mean I went there to look around).
Sandstone at the museum, and Yale!
Yale has a variety of museums you can go to as well – they’re almost all absolutely free. Whether you want to tour their art gallery, or see their musical instrument collection, look at their architecture collection, or look at millions of books – it’s all free and open to the public. You likely have something similar near where you live-you just need to seek it out.
We Want To Hear From You!
What are your favorite tips for saving money and scoring deals? How do you keep your family entertained without spending a lot of money? Do you have any productive, money-saving hobbies? Tell your fellow readers about it in the comments.