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Learning to Coupon

July 8th, 2008 at 04:38 am

I've spent some time the past couple of days looking at some of the coupon sites and trying to learn how to use coupons intelligently and without an extensive waste of time. Here's a brief summary of what I've learned. Lots more detail available at www.couponmom.com and hotcouponworld.com, the primary sites I've been learning from.

1. General goal in couponing: buy when the price is at its lowest, and stockpile anything that you regularly use that's nonperishable. To know when prices are low, keep a price book where you track prices by date, store, and price per quantity.

2. To make it easy, don't clip coupons right away. Just save and date the inserts and file them.

3. There are two separate types of coupons: manufacturer and store. While you can't use two manufacturer or two store coupons on the same item, you *can* combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon for increased discount.

4. Some store will double the value of coupons. Know your store's doubling policy. If you can combine a double coupon with a sale, you might even get an item for free!

5. You generally get the best deals by combining a coupon or coupons with a store sale. To match up sales with coupons, there are a couple of options. Both start with pulling the weekly grocery circulars from those stores you frequent (usually published in the Sunday paper) and browsing through them for sales on items you buy. Then either (a)search though CouponMom's grocery database to find if there are current coupons for those items; or (b) look at the Grocery Game section of Hot Coupon World, which is organized by store and shows the week's sales. On the right is a "find coupon" button that will tell you if there's a coupon to be had in a recent weekly circular. On both sites, the coupons are listed by source (SmartSource, RedPlum, or PG&E) and date, so if you've saved the inserts and dated them, it will be easy to pull the coupons you'll need right before you go shopping.

6. If a coupon + sale leads to a good deal, that's the time to stock up--which means you'll need to get multiple coupons. You can subscribe to the Sunday edition of many newspapers for $1/week (there's a link to subscription savings on the coupon mom site), or ask friends and relatives who don't coupon to save them for you. There are also lots of coupons you can print from your computer; check your store's policy about accepting these.

There's lots more to learn on these sites and I'll explore them more eventually, but I've learned enough for a start. I'll be documenting my savings and putting them towards my $20 Challenge and seeing if I can break the back of the Grocery Monster!

Day 1 Efforts:
Grocery store sale: Buy 4 boxes of GM cereal, get $4 off, + two coupons for same cereals, each offering $1 off of two boxes --> $6 off cereals whose full price would be $15.56. That's a 38.6% savings, and $6 to my $20 Challenge (which I've not been pursuing so far this year).

A good start--we'll see if I can do better the next time!

Market Research Subject

July 4th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Two years ago, during the summer I had no income coming in, I signed up for a couple of market research panels (e.g., Pinecone), after researching which ones seemed reliable and didn't ask you to buy products upfront (which lots of the survey sites do--they promise money back, but you have to give some upfront). I've been making about a couple of hundred dollars a year from this side venture.

One of the panels I ended up on (by invitation actually, this one I don't think you can volunteer for) is run by my local grocery store--actually by the store that *used* to be my main store, before I "defected" and started spending most of my grocery money at a more upscale chain.

The store whose panel I am on is trying to develop more of an image as a health & wellness-conscious store. They've definitely shown great improvement on this front in the years I've been shopping there. But a couple of weeks ago, they recruited volunteers for a special "health and wellness" assignment. I signed up.

Part one was keeping a journal for a week, recording all activities that I did that I personally considered "health and wellness" related and answering some questions about each. Based on the journals, they selected a dozen people to participate in Part two. I was chosen. So on Wednesday morning, two market researchers came to my house and interviewed me for three hours, video taping the interview and a tour of my house, with focus on things in my house that were health and wellness related. The research interview was really pretty in depth, and not very scripted--mostly the interviewers asked me to elaborate on things that I had brought up, rather than asking me a series of "canned" questions.

After the interview, they went with me on a shopping trip to the grocery store that sponsored the research, and followed me around the store videotaping my trip and commentary.

During the interview, I had waxed so enthusiastic about the store that has become my new "store of choice" that they actually came back and went with me on a shopping trip to *that* store, too (though that one wasn't videotaped, as they didn't have permission--they just snapped a few pictures with a cell-phone camera).

All told, I spent about 8 hours with the team, and got to ask them some questions, too (one has a masters in cultural anthropology, the other background in neuro-linguistic programming and design). And I was paid $250, to boot. So I brought in a wee bit of income and had an interesting experience. I'll be curious what comes of the study in terms of how the initiating store changes in the future!

No-Spend day and a Primo Marketing Study Invite

June 29th, 2008 at 01:40 am

Yay, today was a no-spender!

I also received an invitation to participate in a marketing study which will require 6 hours of my time but also compensate me $200. I'm a member of a marketing panel run by my grocery store--they invited me on to the panel about a year and a half ago, and every month that I log on and participate each week, they give me a $10 credit towards groceries. I've earned it every month except one, so that's already about $170 I've gotten from participating on this panel.

Last week they asked for participants for a Health & Wellness study. Part one involved keeping a journal of activities and recording them for 5 days; that took about 2 hours and that part paid $50. On the basis of responses, they selected a subset of people to participate in an in-home interview and grocery shopping trip; that will take place Wednesday morning and will pay me another $150.

Nice to bring in a little extra money as I've not been working this summer, just living on my 9-month teacher's salary that gets paid out over 12 months!

Dido's Journey blog has a new name

December 31st, 2007 at 12:49 am

In honor of the new year, I'm renaming my blog to Fiscal Fitness. This not only reflects that two of my main goals for the year are to improve my finances *and* my fitness, but it also reflects my intention to make some additional entries to another blog I maintain under the same name at blogspot (see links). While this is my personal blog, the other one reflects my professional interests.

Getting Ready for a New No (Unplanned-) Spending Challenge

August 11th, 2006 at 02:34 pm

I just got online and made sure that all my bills are set up to be automatically paid when due for the next month, and I set up automatic transfers from savings to ensure that the money is in the checking account when it needs to be.

I'm on my way out of the house and I will stop and buy a $50 gift card for the local convenience store which usually has the cheapest gas and is on my way to work, and a $125 gift card for the grocery store, and then when I get home tonight, I'm taking my ATM card out of my wallet.

So I'll be able to get gas and groceries with the cards--and I have enough cash in my wallet to pay my $4 library fine (oops!!) and dine out one night at Musikfest--and that's it for the month.

Staying within those limits really will be a challenge.

Money is really tight right now--haven't had a paycheck since May 20, don't get another until Sept 20 (41 more days--almost 6 weeks!), so I really had to struggle over a couple of expenditures when I was setting up the automatic billpay. I decided to cancel Netflix just before my next billing cycle on the 20th; I'll start it up again around Thanksgiving. I should be too busy this fall semester to watch many movies anyway! I *was* going to cancel the newspaper, too--but I decided to keep it for a few reasons. In particular, there's a big decision coming down locally this fall about whether or not my town is getting a casino; that news will only be in the local paper and not in my beloved online NYTimes, and not all of the relevant stuff (notices about community groups, etc) even gets into the online edition of the local paper. Plus after an event like yesterday's thwarted terrorist attack, I do get more news hungry. Thirdly, I'm on a special plan where I get the paper for half price; if I stop it now, there's no guarantee that I'll be eligible for the special rate again. I figure I'm just going to have to use at least $21 worth of coupons in the next 13 weeks so that the subscription will pay for itself!

Another no-spend day

August 10th, 2006 at 12:54 am

I've only had two since breaking the no-spend challenge last Friday. Back to the typical pattern. I think of myself as "hating" shopping, but what I mean by that is mall-shopping. The kind of shopping I get sucked up into is at the grocery store, the hardware store....and the bookstore. (At least when I go to the bookstore, I usually just buy a cup of coffee and browse. When I go to the grocery store and usually when I go to the hardware store, money gets spent.

Not today, though!

$10 in free grocery money!

August 1st, 2006 at 09:56 pm

I was invited by email invitation a few weeks ago to take part in an online panel for my local grocery chain (Giant). Once a week they send me a message, and as long as I have one participation a week (complete one survey or have at least one entry on the discussion board), I get a $10 reward credit to use for groceries the next month. Just got the notice confirming my first $10 reward!

My first paid survey check arrived

July 28th, 2006 at 08:27 pm

I can not recall on whose blog I read the reference, but I signed up for Pinecone Research, apparently met their criterion, completed my first survey for them last week, and received a $5 check in the mail today!

Ready or not,, no-spend week, here I come

July 28th, 2006 at 08:25 pm

OK, the car is gassed up; I stopped at the grocery store for yogurt, turkey, soymilk, cheese, and fruit; I bought another big sack of dog food since I only had about two days worth left...so I am commencing with my no-spend week. Of course, I realized when I got home from the grocery that I had forgotten (a) coffee filters; (b) herbal tea; (c) a bag of ice; (d) a frozen treat, but none of those are essentials, so I am going ahead. If I had forgotten the *coffee* itself, as opposed to the filters, it would be a different story! I am addicted to my caffeine. I do have a plastic *tea* filter that fits in my teapot, so that will just have to serve for coffee for the week. I have ice cube trays somewhere (probably in the basement freezer) and can just make ice. I have some powdered ice tea that I will use for the week instead of Apple Cranberry Zinger or whatever it is I have been using for iced tea this summer. And the 5 popsicles sitting in the fridge are just going to have to last. I will stick a couple of yogurt cups in the freezer in case I get really desperate, and I can always try making my own popsicles from the orange juice I have sitting in the fridge.

An already-scheduled service repairman comes tomorrow and needs to be paid; I will not count that against the "no spend" rule.

Hitting the Thrift Stores & Outlets

July 26th, 2006 at 09:56 pm

I took a detour on my way home and stopped by a couple of bargain places. I've decided that I really need a small desk for my living room before the academic year begins. Since the new dog is not allowed upstairs, when I work at home, I've been sitting either on the sofa or at the dining room table and have not made any use of my more comfortable office chair since he arrived. I think I found a desk for $25--I left it there to think about overnight and so I can measure and clear out the area where I will put it. But I did walk away with two used Breuer chairs in good condition for $30 apiece. . Replacing the 4 that I once had that were destroyed by my last dog has been a long-term intention. I can't believe I threw out the frames for the old ones eight years ago since I didn't know then they can be recaned. I'll definitely recane these when worn as long as the frames are still good.

Across the street from the thrift store is an Entemann's bread outlet. I've never gone in before because I'm not a pastry eater. But it turned out that they had not only Entemann's baked goods, but also Thomas's bagels and English Muffins and Arnold's breads and lots of other familiar brands. Most but not all of the goods are near their expiration dates and sell for 50% off. Plus the store has a "freezer special" of 10% off if you purchased $20 or more worth of goods. I ended up spending $27 after the 10% reduction for eight packages of bread, buns, bagels, and English muffins (mostly near expiration date so I put them in the freezer), six packages of New York Bagels low-fat party mix (expiration date 9 months from now), two packages of Pizzelle wafers, and two packs of fruit snacks to take for lunch. *And* they threw in a free box of Entemann's donuts, which I'll take to work.

I *should* put another $27 in my $20 savings account for the savings, but I have no income this month so that will have to wait until paychecks resume.

Fourth No Spending Day this Week!

July 24th, 2006 at 02:44 am

Once I get to the fall and paychecks resume, I'll set an amount (5? 10?) and put it in my special $20 challenge account every time I have a no-spending day, but for now since the money is tight until the next paycheck Sept 20th (8.5 weeks away!), the money stays where it can help pay the bills.

Today was an entirely at-home day. Did some homework, did some housecleaning, cooked a meal with leftovers for later this week, unpacked some of my books now that my big bookcase has been resurrected, mowed the lawn, and spent too much time on the internet.

No spend day and a nifty goal-tracking tool

July 23rd, 2006 at 01:16 am

Yesterday was another no-spend day. Iforgot to say that then. That's two in a row, and three for the week!

I found a great little tool for tracking goals: joesgoals.com. It allows you to input goals and put a little green checkmark (by positive goals, that is, things you want to do) and a red X by negative goals (things you want to avoid doing). So I've set up "no spending" as a positive goal since it's something I want to get "rewarded" for; and I've set up "eating out" as a negative goal. since it "punishes" you with the red X. I also set up goals for aerobic and strength training exercise, maintaining a calorie deficit, updating my "You Need a Budget" files and writing. The site will send you a reminder if you don't update for two days too (you choose the reminder period--I set it for two days since I want to get frequent feedback).

Two no-spend days in a row

July 21st, 2006 at 01:00 am

My accounts need that! I've gone over budget in virtually every category this month--so far I've spent $447 more than I'd budgeted for. (I don't need to spend much if anything for the rest of the month, so I should end the month about $500 over plan). That's the bad news.

The good news is that July's budget was really restrictive (since I'm living on savings at the moment), and that in fact, I'm spending less than I usually do, particularly for food. A semiannual car insurance payment, a large car repair bill, and an unexpected veterinary bill added hundreds to my expenses beyond what I'd planned to spend.

I'm putting a bit on the credit card and borrowing a bit from my mom to make it through the summer. I hate having debts but they'll be gone by year's end, and I'll be launching an aggressive savings program once the paychecks resume Sept. 20th.

No spend day yesterday

July 19th, 2006 at 07:49 pm

and Monday all I spent was 1.50 for a soda to drink during my 3-hour class.

I'm trying to limit grocery shopping for my "pantry challenge," but I am allowing myself to replenish perishables...milk, yogurt, fresh fruit & veggies. I should add a 12-pack of soda to that, since that's far cheaper than getting the soda at the vending machine or convenience store. I stopped to get yogurt today and was pleased to find a grocery store that offers my preferred yogurt (Dannon's Activia) for significantly cheaper (17%) than the store I usually buy it at (which in turn is 8% cheaper than the store at which I do the bulk of my shopping). It means adding one more store to the list of places I shop, but this store isn't too far out of the way and I'll just have to stock up when I'm there.

Finally, a no spend day!

July 15th, 2006 at 02:48 am

I needed one after yesterday's excess!

Over the weekend, I'll do a small grocery shop for perishables and dog treats and fill up the tank with gas...can I make that the last spending (other than the mortgage, utility & insurance bills which all come due around the 20th and are already set up on automatic billpay) for the month? (Well, I'll probably need a second trip for perishables around the 22nd or so).

Dial America came through

July 13th, 2006 at 12:45 pm

Back on June 23, I decided to cancel a subscription that I had just signed up for during a phone solicitation (I really have to learn to JUST SAY NO to phone solicitations--normally I do, but the particular magazine was one I'd subscribed to for 10 years and finally decided to let lapse). Someone else on the blogs said they'd had trouble with Dial America, so I wasn't hopeful, and indeed, there was no email followup to the form I completed on their customer service page, but a check came in the mail ~3 weeks after the request, for the full amount of the subscription (even though I'd received 3 issues by that time).

So $42.97 goes into the challenge fund. Current total: $171.97 (and yes, it IS in a separate bank account).

Win some, Lose some

July 7th, 2006 at 12:03 am

Today was another no-spend day--I think that's the third this week.

Tomorrow won't be. The dog's been having repeated tummy troubles so I've scheduled a vet visit for tomorrow morning. That won't come cheap. That's going to be another item added on to the VISA bill that won't get paid until paychecks resume in September. (I almost always pay my VISA off immediately, but I'm having to live off of savings/without a paycheck for 4 months, and while I have enough for the bills, this will be the second "emergency" item that goes on the VISA for a couple of months.

Hopefully they'll have an answer to my poor baby's troubles and that answer won't cost too much!

TWO no-spend days in a row

July 5th, 2006 at 12:29 am

Spent the day at home...didn't even take the dog for a real walk since it's been so hot & muggy all day.

Puttered, worked on homework, and in the afternoon DBF came over and took apart and reassembled my big bookcase. Two friends--both retired professors in their 80s--had volunteered to help me put it together back in April, and while it was great to have the help, the whole thing was so unsteady once it was together that I never dared put the books in it. DBF took it all apart and reassembled it, so it's sturdy now the way it always was. It still needs a couple of finishing touches, including bolting it to the wall, before I can fill it--we'll get to that next weekend. Then I can unpack the 32 boxes of books that have been sitting in the middle of the floor of that room since I moved in Nov. 1 and get that room organized and usable. It's 1/4th of my living space, and I've been fine without it, but it will feel nice to feel like I'm finally finished "moving in" 7 months after the fact!

I made a homemade pizza for dinner for us. My recipe calls for beer in the crust, and all I had was dark beer that a friend had brought. That and the whole wheat flour and a bit too much cornmeal on the bottom--the crust didn't come out well and neither of us ate much of it, but the toppings were good, and I'll remember all of that for next time. With the bread machine, it's only 15 minutes of work to make the pizza (and 2 hours for the bread machine to do its job, and 15-25 minutes for the pizza to bake once it's ready for the oven), so it's a pretty easy recipe that I should use more than I do.

So between the bookcase help--which would have cost me at least $150 for a handyman to do it, and the homemade pizza (let's call that $12 for a large pizza with mushrooms, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, onions, and pepperoni), I "saved" at least $162 today that I could easily have spent.

Finally, fireworks tonight are free. I live up on a hill half a mile from the place on the river where they set them off, so I have a great view when I go out and stand in front of the neighbor's house.

A No Spend Day

July 3rd, 2006 at 10:34 pm

No $$ out. I'm taking summer school classes, so I worked on homework, mowed the lawn and did a bit of gardening, went to the gym, walked the dog. I *did* stop at the grocery store briefly but decided there's enough at home to last me a bit--probably 2-3 more days til milk runs out and then I'll go. Tonight I'll do more homework and either watch one of my NetFlix DVDs or play a computer game.

Unexpected $$

July 2nd, 2006 at 02:22 am

Today in the mail I got a check for $15.73 from my insurance agent listed as an overpayment. Not sure what I overpaid for--that wasn't indicated, and as far as I recall, I just paid the amounts listed on my bills--but I'll happily deposit the check!

I saved 640.98 today!

June 30th, 2006 at 07:22 pm

If only I had that available to put in my special $20 challenge account, but since I'm living off savings this summer, it has to go in the mental tally for now at least (if I can swing it, I'll transfer that amount to the savings account once paychecks start coming in again come September). I wouldn't have spent $547.50 of that if I'd had to pay cash, however.

The savings came from two sources:

1. $547.50: I signed up to audit a course. Because I teach at the school, I can take the course for free. (Because I'm a temporary teacher and was part-time here last fall, I had to fight for this, but got my department chair, the provost, and the HR director to agree that I qualify after all the time I've taught here, even if I don't technically meet the "two full years" qualification because there was that "disruption" in service. [They're making the exception here, but I'm still peeved that they wouldn't for the retirement contribution...that's much bigger bucks, however.] I *could* have saved $1095 here if I'd signed up to take the course for credit--but I'm taking two other credit courses at the community college, and this particular course doesn't directly satisfy a program requirement, so I decided to audit it instead. Anyways, that's $547.50 saved...and because I fought the battle and won for this course, I'll be able to take classes here through next August for free. Not sure how many I'll manage given the other workload, but I'm sure I'll be saving another coupla thousand over the next year in tuition bills.

2. $93.48. Back in April when I got the new dog, I ordered a collapsible "soft" crate for the car. I couldn't assemble it properly--there was a plastic sleeve that one needed to push a button on and slide over other moving parts to secure the crate, and this required more hand strength than I had. I'd lost the receipt, which according to the web site meant I'd qualify for store credit only rather than a refund, and I'd gotten busy enough that I'd put off doing the return, but I finally made it today. I didn't have the receipt but I did have an email confirmation with my order number, and they were able to pull the original and gave me full refund even though it's been over 2 months since purchase. I'd really thought that they'd deny the return after that long and I'd have to donate the crate to charity, but I'm pleased to have my money back--and PetSmart gets more of my business for their great customer service.

Amount to transfer to my special $20 Challenge savings account this week: $108.98 ($6.74 bookstore discount, $3 for three no-spend days, $5.43 and $.33 for members discounts while shopping, and the $98.43 return. Can't afford to transfer the tuition remition to savings, and have had no word on the subscription cancellation attempt, so am not transfering either of those.

Three No-Spend Days This Week

June 29th, 2006 at 05:21 am

Don't know how much has been the almost-incessant rain of the past week (finally letting up today), how much has been keeping the blog, and how much has been anxiety over making my existing savings last 3 more months, but I managed 3 no-spend days this week.

I suppose I should find a way to account for/reward myself for the no-spend days. Things are tight right now, so I'll throw $1 in the savings kitty for every no-spend day now (and move it up to $5 once the income starts flowing again regularly in September). So that's 15, plus the 6 and change from last week (no response on the magazine cancellation request...try direct customer service next time).

On the other hand, $74.20 went out the door to get my A/C installed. Ouch! That was about twice what I thought it'd cost. But I needed to have it done as I do very poorly in the heat. It's too heavy to do it myself, and I'm imposing enough on the boyfriend who spent two hours installing a pet gate last week and promised me another stint helping me put together my full-wall bookcase next week.

Today's $20 Challenge contribution

June 23rd, 2006 at 08:43 pm

About a month ago, Dial America called me up and I (re-)subscribed to Prevention Magazine through them...I had let the subscription expire because I can read the magazine at my library (and all the issues are minor variations on a theme...after subscribing for a decade, I'm not seeing anything really new...and besides, if you sign up for Prevention's email newsletter, they email you links to a lot of their articles, so I can read them even WITHOUT going to the library). But DialAmerica caught me at a weak or busy moment, and I resubscribed. The first two issues (May and June...guess they had leftovers since the July issue should now be on the stands!) arrived this week. Today I emailed DialAmerica's Customer Service and asked them what I had to do to cancel my subscription and get my money back. We'll see what happens and when they respond (and if I need to contact Prevention directly), but that's potentially over $40 back in my pocket! I won't officialy add it to my challenge amount until I've received a response, so my challenge total stands at 26.74.

First Contribution to $20 challenge

June 23rd, 2006 at 12:42 am

I remembered to use my faculty discount card when buying a textbook at the bookstore today. That's $6.74 in the challenge pot!

[I'll keep a running record here and transfer amounts to the designated ING account weekly or monthly.]

$20 Challenge Beginning

June 22nd, 2006 at 01:49 pm

OK, now that I have some idea of what the $20 challenge is, I am going to start participating. I have to think about what I will do to put money towards this, but my first step was to go to INGdirect.com and fund a special account for the purpose from my checking account. When I generate any money towards the challenge, I will put it in there so that the money will get saved rather than spent. A virtual money jar!