Wednesday, February 20, 2008

trying to be a money saving mom

I complain a lot about being "poor." And then I write a post about how jeez, I shouldn't say that, we're not really poor at all and we have everything we need, etc, etc. And to really clarify it, we are certainly not poor. We live in our own house, drive two nice enough cars, have plenty to eat, have hot water and electricity that are in no danger of being shut off, wear decent clothing and shoes, and don't really want for any necessities. We have a decent savings, a few investments, no credit card debt (we use CCs but pay them off each month) and we do not fritter a lot of money away on toys or trips. To many, many people we probably appear pretty flush. And we are definitely very, very lucky that we can make life work on one salary so I can be a stay-home mom.

But the way we do that is by being extremely careful about how we use our resources. My husband works really hard to earn his paycheck, and we made the unspoken agreement years ago that I would be the steward of the finances for our home. Thus it is my job to make sure the money he earns is spent and saved in the most responsible manner possible.

Ever since I was a teenager, I've loved Sunday mornings because that's when the paper comes all loaded with ads and coupons. My sisters and I would sit at the kitchen table eating breakfast - er, brunch - and pass the ads around the table as we finished looking through them. Back then it was "what can we spend our babysitting money on? Who has makeup on sale? How about jeans?" But then in college it became more about necessities like shampoo and soap and school junk for the next semester. I used to cut the coupons for my mom and I loved it. In fact, I still remember when the coupons came perforated so you could rip them out without scissors.

It became an obsession, and it lives on. Last fall my sister brought her fiance home to meet the family, and we all came to my parents' house for brunch on Sunday. I dove straight for the newspaper ads, and he just watched with wide eyes as we 3 sisters divvied up the stuff we wanted. He said he'd never seen such a frenzy over the ads.

As a young wife I would trudge out to the car on freezing winter Sundays to drive up and get the paper from the corner supermarket. I'd ensconce myself in a corner of the sofa while Hubs slept in, merrily clipping coupons and combing the ads for the best deals on everything from cleaning supplies to groceries to personal care items. Then I'd shower, hit the stores, and come home crowing about my deals - I'd often save upwards of $20 on groceries, and get stuff half-price at places like CVS or even Target. I thought I was awesome.

I've continued to do that as a stay-home mom. We have student loans to pay down, and lots of bills (just like everyone), so I save where I can. But I am not nearly as awesome as I thought I was.

I recently discovered Money Saving Mom. I've spent many naptimes and evenings poring over her site, absorbing all she and her readers/commenters have to say about being wise stewards of the family's resources. And while I don't agree with every philosophy she shares (for example I think credit cards are perfectly fine as long as you use them wisely), I have learned A TON about getting better deals from her site. She lists all the best deals for the week for many major chains, and I'm especially fascinated by "CVS-ing" (which, I'm sorry to say, doesn't apply to everyone because CVS isn't nationwide). I have always shopped at CVS here and there, when the ad and the coupons matched up to give me great deals on stuff like toothpaste and deodorant. But it turns out you can do so much more for your budget by shopping there wisely, which I have started to do.

If you're interested, read here to understand how the CVS extra-bucks program works. It's really quite fascinating if you're a math and savings nerd like me. Basically, CVS will pay you to buy stuff at their stores. Seriously!

On Sunday I went there armed with coupons and a list. I got two 35-count packs of Huggies diapers, one package of feminine products, one 4-pack of D batteries, one 12-roll pack of t.p., and a bottle of detergent. All were name brands, and I had coupons for just about everything. My total came to $38 and change. I used lots of coupons (and they take internet coupons, by the way), and $11 extra-care-bucks from the last time I shopped there, as well as a $4 off $20 coupon I got by giving CVS my email address. After all that, I paid $15.86 out of pocket and got back $15 extra-care-bucks to spend next time. So in essence I am only out $.86 for the trip. WORTH IT JUST FOR THE 70 DIAPERS!

If you read through Money Saving Mom, you can see how she really makes the system work for her family. She somehow feeds her family on an astounding $35 per week, and that includes her CVS budget. Now, I'm not seeking to get my family down to that level or anything, but it sure would be nice to cut the $100-ish we spend each week down a bit!

Part of me feels a little embarrassed to talk about this stuff, but I know I shouldn't be. Our goals are to increase our savings and investments, put away some money for Daughter's education, and pay down our stupid student loans. (I recently made the horrifying discovery that if we don't increase our payments soon, we will finish paying off both our loans one year before Daughter starts college. There are not enough bad words to describe my reaction to THAT little discovery. Time to make some changes!!)

Plus I like the idea that if we have more, we can give more in many ways, which is a central theme of Money Saving Mom's site. If I have surplus stuff I can donate it when our church has drives for various missions. At Christmas we can get a really nice gift for the child we choose from the Church mitten tree.

And just in general, if we have a bit more socked away we don't have to live in fear of the car breaking down or the fridge or washer dying or the roof springing a leak.

America is truly a consumption-driven country. I have recently taken a vow to fight that tooth and nail, and to try to teach my Daughter that it isn't important to always get every little thing you want. We got our taxes done the other night and wow, the urge to spend, spend, spend just grips you when you hear you're getting a big refund, doesn't it? Yikes! That money is going straight into our savings account, dangit. And have you thought about what you're going to do with your big George Bush stimulus check when it comes in May? How many of you have it spent already? Hubs and I briefly allowed ourselves to fantasize about a short vacation, but then agreed it will go IN THE BANK.

Well, I hope that didn't come off as too preachy or anything. This is just what's on my mind this week (and always), and I thought I'd share my thoughts. I know everyone has very different views about budgeting and spending - these are just some of mine.


Liz said...

I know I am kicking myself for not using CVS sooner, and I just got a $4 buck from them, and I think it got thrown out with the bag.

Karen said...

You are one savvy lady.

I must confess, though, that I quit clipping coupons because it always seems like I can still by the same store brand item for cheaper than the namebrand item with a coupon. Do you find that to be true in your clipping?

I hate student loans. They are of the devil.

kate said...

Liz - no! Don't throw away the extra care bucks! You're throwing money away! :)

Karen - thank you. I like to think of myself as occasionally savvy. Yes, sometimes it is better to just buy the store brand, and that is what I almost ALWAYS do at the grocery store. But look at those CVS deals I got - it was worth the price of the paper and the time to find the deals in that case. You have to decide what it's worth to you, is all. And yes, only the devil himself could have invented student loans. *shudder*

HangerMom said...

Bummer. I wrote this whole post about a similar sort of freebie deal a friend clued me into at Walgreens, but it appears my comment is lost in cyberspace. Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for the link to the new site - I'll definitely check it out. The biggest issue for me is finding the time and energy to shop a variety of places for the things we need, and to avoid buying things JUST BECAUSE I have a coupon, if I could manage just as well without it at all.

Also, after surfing the Money Saving Mom site, I realized why a lot of what you were saying sounded familiar - I just started taking the Dave Ramsey financial peace course a few weeks ago, and she seems to pull a lot of her technique from there. Funny.