Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m not an expert when it comes to saving money. I don’t really do couponing yet. Most of my tips won’t be anything new! But for those of you who are interested, here are some ideas that have been helpful to me.
Bargain or Not? If I don’t need it, it’s not a bargain. Period. If I pay $40 for a $60 item I wouldn’t buy otherwise, I didn’t save $40, I spent $40. I find it far too easy to start buying things I didn’t intend to because “it’s a good deal.” Is this just me?
Used is Better When you buy new, you generally get what you pay for. Furniture is a good example: the Pottery Barn coffee table really is much higher quality than the Walmart coffee table. But if you’re careful, you can often get Pottery Barn items at Walmart prices (or less!). Yard sales and thrift stores are obvious places to start, but eBay can be a good place to check, as well. And I have to share my favorite: craigslist.org has yielded the best results for Evan and me. While we were engaged, I started furnishing his California bachelor-pad — from Wisconsin! I’d shop on craigslist in his area and send him links to furniture I was interested in, then he’d go look at it. It worked well for us! (We even found our apartment on craigslist, come to think of it.)
Shop Sales This is about the extent of my current money-saving in the grocery department. I estimate we pay about 2/3 what we would without sales, so if you’re overwhelmed by couponing, give grocery store sales a try. Since different items are on sale from week to week, we eat a wide variety of foods! Produce is the most fun for me: “Lots of salad this week, lettuce and cucumbers were both on sale!” (Or this week’s buy — five pounds of wonderful navel oranges for 87 cents!) I do this with meat, too. Generally chicken is on sale one week and beef the next, so I buy extra and freeze it for the “off” weeks. Elementary, I know — but hey, I have so much fun doing it that I had to share! Sitting down with the weekly grocery store flyers and planning my list and menu is one of the highlights of my week.
Public Services Another obvious one, but it’s so easy to overlook the blessings that surround us in America. Evan and I have one car, which he needs for work, so I take the bus. It’s surprisingly economical (the local bus is just 25 cents!) and I can get to just about any place I need. And I don’t have to fight traffic or look for parking, either. Another money-saving resource is the library, which offers books, magazines, movies, music, and internet access, all for free. And don’t forget public spaces: if you’re “stuck” in the city with little or no yard, there’s always the option of a picnic in the park!
Keep the Change Every coin is used in the Pederson home. Quarters are for laundry, nickels and dimes become bus fare, and pennies are saved until we have a jar full. I took over $5 worth of pennies to a Coinstar machine in our grocery store, expecting to lose a percentage for having them counted. To my surprise, I found that if you choose the option of a printable gift certificate (to places like J.C. Penney, Target, and Lowes) there is no charge! As my husband would say, “Win!”
A Free “Extra” I don’t have time to be a mystery shopper, take online surveys, or sign up for a lot of programs. I don’t want my email inbox swamped with spam. The one thing I’ll do, because it doesn’t take any extra time, is use a search engine called swagbucks. It works just like Google or Yahoo, but randomly awards you points which can be redeemed for prizes (I always choose Amazon.com gift cards). There are lots of ways to earn additional points, but I don’t have time to bother with them. They build up pretty nicely just with using the search engine. There is no catch to this, and I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. I just got Evan’s birthday present with gift cards I’ve earned…
So those are my simple tips. If you want much, much more information, I’d check out Money Saving Mom. It’s a bit overwhelming for me, but there are some good ideas and links to special offers and coupons. Two other good coupon sites are redplum and couponcabin.
Any tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment!
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