Category Archives: Controlling the Chaos

A Hodge-Podge of Helpful Hints

Don’t you just love it when you stumble on a great idea? I do!

Time savers, money savers, energy savers (both electrical and human), maybe even sanity savers.

I have a couple I thought I’d share with you, but I’m selfishly hoping you’ll share yours with me.

Fresh and Free Bread Crumbs

I’ve always thought it was a huge waste to throw the ends of the bread away. But I don’t want to eat them either. My solution? I keep a bag in the freezer and everytime I finish off a loaf of bread, I toss the ends in. When I need bread crumbs for a recipe, I pull a couple out and put them in the food processor, blender or Magic Bullet. In just a couple minutes I have fresh bread crumbs that didn’t cost me a dime. Sometimes I add Italian seasoning or some cheese to spice up the flavor. I’ve saved money and reduced waste.

Natural and Inexpensive Multi-Purpose Cleaner and Odor Eliminator

If you’re not using vinegar all around your house, you’re missing out! The first place I started using it was in the laundry room. I have four young children. Diapers leak, they get sick, they wet the bed. Their clothes and bedding get smelly. My towels were smelling musty too. I used to buy Febreze Laundry. Effective, but really expensive!

Now, I keep a jug of vinegar next to the washer. I add a half cup to a cup to the loads that are stinky. Works like a charm! And, no, the clothes don’t smell like vinegar. I also use it as a liquid fabric softener and more in the laundry.

I also use vinegar to clean my kitchen and bathroom. It wards off mold and mildew. It doesn’t disinfect, so it’s not the only product I use in those rooms. But I use it a lot. And, no, my house doesn’t smell like vinegar. It also doesn’t smell like chemicals.

My best tip related to vinegar? Take an old baby wipe container and fill it with equal parts vinegar and water. Fold some clean rags and place them in the solution. I actually filled mine with two cups water and marked a line on the outside of the container with a magic marker, then added two cups vinegar and made another mark. Now I don’t have to measure my equal parts.

When you’re ready to clean, take out a rag. If you need another one, don’t dip the dirty one back in, just pull out a new one. No paper towels! Again…saving money and reducing waste. When you’re finished cleaning, toss the rags in the wash. The vinegar they’re soaked in helps freshen the load.

There are so many other uses for vinegar! Give it a try. You’ll be over the smell in a couple days.

Organizer for Coupons

I wrote an entire post on my coupon strategy, but the key is really how I organize the coupons using a mini photo album and Post-It notes.

Coupon Organizer

There you have it. Three of my time and money savers. What are your favorite tips and tricks?

Chaotic Coupons: Taming the beast and saving some dough.

Who doesn’t like to save money on groceries and more? I sure do! One of the best ways to do it is through coupons and some people are really, really good at it!

Take this mom from Massachusetts who feeds her family of six on $4 a week!

She’s my hero! But, I’m not her.

For the last couple of years, I’ve struggled with finding just the right system to maximize my savings while minimizing my time and space commitment.

There are several websites out there and although they each have different approach to couponing, they all have certain things in common.

I would call these Couponing Truths.

  • THE number one rule for saving money is to buy items when they’re on sale, NOT when you need them. Plan your meals around what’s in the pantry and the freezer, don’t plan your grocery list around your menu.
  • Second, you really MUST subscribe to the Sunday paper–the one with all the grocery ads and coupon inserts. We subscribe for the minimum subscription offered by our paper–Thursday, Friday and Sunday. It costs about $25 every three months. Today, at only one store, I saved $30.75 using coupons from the paper. (I only bought 48 items)
  • Shop weekly.
  • Shop multiple stores. This is easier said than done. You have to take into account the cost of your time. For me, there are two grocery stores and two major drug store chains on one corner a mile and a half from my house. I do drive about 20 minutes occasionally to another store in the area when there are several deals in a given week making it worth the extra time and I only go to the drug stores once in awhile.
  • Don’t be brand loyal. That’s true for me on some things…I don’t really care what kind of toothpaste I use, but hot dogs are another story. If it’s not a Ball Park, I don’t want it, even if it’s free!
  • Make a list and stick to it!
  • Oh yeah, if the store has a loyalty or preferred shopper card, SIGN-UP! They aren’t going to steal your information or come and T-P your house. They aren’t going to sell the secrets of what you purchase to terrorists, but they just might send you really good coupons for the things they know you use!
  • Print coupons from the internet on sites like www.redplum.com and see if your store allows you to load coupons directly onto your loyalty card via their website.

So while all the experts and I agree on these points, each of the websites I’ve tried have other points that don’t work for me.

I like Coupon Mom the best. One reason is because it’s free. You choose your store and your state and the database will show you every item in the current ad, coupons that are available to use on that product and the % you will save on the item. I also like that Coupon Mom encourages people to buy things for little or no cost (sometimes even better than free) and to donate them to charity. Who can argue with that?

Another site I’ve used is The Grocery Game. What I like about this system is that it not only tells you the sale price of the item, the availability of the coupon and percent saved, it also tells you if it’s a good sale price. I learned from this site that most stores cycle their items and that most items hit their lowest price about every 12 weeks. The down side here is the site is not free. I did subscribe for awhile but found the only thing I was really getting from The Grocery Game that I wasn’t getting from Coupon Mom was the “buy it now because it’s a good price” feature.

What doesn’t work for me is this: The basic premise is that you no longer cut out coupons. You simply take the entire coupon booklet, write the date it was in the paper on the front, and put it in your box, file, etc. Then, using the database, find the ones you need and cut only those out and take them to the store with you.

Here’s my problem…and it may really be only my problem. The coupons started to take over my life and my house. I became almost paralyzed by the thought of going to the store, seeing an item I needed or that was on sale, knowing I had a coupon for it, but the coupon was at home! On top of that, I ended up saving coupons for things I would never use, just in case I could maybe get them free at some point before the coupon expired.

 

There’s a new site out there called Grocio.com. I think it shows a lot of promise, but it hasn’t come to my market (Toledo, Ohio) yet. If it’s available in your area, I think it’s worth checking out.

Recently, I think I have found a solution to the coupon chaos.

First, I went through and cut out all the coupons I had that I would actually use. This takes 10 minutes or less on Sunday. I threw away a mammoth pile of scraps and coupons that were useless to me.

Second, I used a mini photo album with about 120 slots for pictures and converted it to my coupon organizer.

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I listed categories, cut Post-It notes in half and wrote the category name on each one creating tabs. This way, if I need to create new categories or I want to rearrange them, I can just peel and re-stick the Post-It.The categories are arranged by aisle (for the store I shop at most). Some categories are very broad: i.e., produce or meat. Others are very specific, i.e., Kellogg’s Cereal, Colgate Toothpaste.

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I’ll be honest, this took me several hours to set up because I had so many coupons stockpiled. But if you’re just starting out, the time commitment will be small and you’ll get off on the right foot.

When I shop, the coupon album sits in the top of my purse with the tabs sticking up. If I see an item that’s on sale, I can quickly check to see if I have a coupon to go with it instead of obsessing over the fact that I know it’s at home, but I didn’t bring it with me!

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Third, I sit down weekly, Monday works for me, for about an hour with the grocery ads, my coupon album and a pen. I go through each ad and match up any items that I use with coupons I have. I don’t need the database anymore because I have quick and easy access to all of my coupons at my fingertips. I pull the coupon out, write the amount of the coupon on the ad and start a pile for each store.

Then, I create my list from the things I’ve marked in the ads and add any must have items to the list and I’m off to the store. As for knowing if it’s a good price or not…I kept track of my most used items for about three months. I refer to that list when I’m not sure. Mostly, a little common sense goes a long way: buy fruit in season, stock up on baking supplies at the holidays, buy lots of school snacks in August, get your ketchup and mustard just before the summer holidays. You get the idea.

That’s pretty much all I do.

Here’s a summary of my trip today:

  • I bought 48 items.
  • I saved
    • $42.86 by having a loyalty card,
    • $24.50 in coupons and another
    • $6.25 (because the store doubles coupons) for a
    • total savings of $73.61 .
  • Total sticker price of my purchase was $150.89,
  • total paid was $77.28 for a savings of 49%!

I hope you found some tips here to help you save money, too. The most important take-away? One system doesn’t fit all. Check a few out, take what works from each and toss the rest to create a hybrid that’s just right for you!

Have other tips or resources that work for you? Leave a comment and share them with us!

Lights…Camera…Action!

$30,000 in stunning cabinetry from Merillat Cabinets!

$30,000 in stunning cabinetry from Merillat Cabinets!

Today marked the official beginning of our journey into kitchen remodel-dom.

We were pleased to welcome Merillat representatives Mark Ayers, vice-president of marketing, Susan Cross, communications and public relations manager, and “Elliot the intern” from Eastern Michigan University. Joining them was Karin Bottomley, marketing manager of KSI Kitchen and Bath as well as several members of  Hanson, Inc. (web developers for Merillat).

The purpose of their visit was to present me with a giant-size “check” in the amount of “$30,000 in stunning cabinetry from Merillat Cabinets.” A check I will be more than happy to “cash” thank you very much!

In addition to all of the above named individuals, the two major tv news channels in Toledo, Ohio, WTVG and WTOL were on hand to interview Mr. Ayers, Ms. Bottomley, Michael and me and to photograph the heck out of the kitchen (the before pictures)! That was also the purpose of the Hanson, Inc. folks being here.

If you know me at all, you know I can not be described as obsessive compulsive when it comes to keeping my house in order. I used to be. Then I had four kids and got a puppy. You relax your standards a little more with each additional mammal in the house. I practice something I learned from Good Housekeeping Magazine. It’s called “Good (Enough) Housekeeping.” I also identify with British sitcom character Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet by her-and only her) from the show Keeping Up Appearances.

So all these people are coming to shoot video and take pictures of my kitchen…so what’s “Good Enough?” Besides your basic kitchen cleaning of counters, stovetop and sink, I dusted, I mopped, I got the cobwebs from the corners, I cleared all the junk that had gathered in the room, I weeded out the “stuff” on the front of the fridge, I washed the windows and I even picked the dead leaves off my plant. That should be “good enough,” right?

Sure! Good Enough for the human eye, but not good enough for those lights (capable of spotlighting dirt my 40-something eyes missed), and that camera–you should have seen the zoom on the camera! Oy! They spent nearly an hour videotaping my empty kitchen! Then, horror of horrors, they started opening cupboard doors and drawers! Oy!…oh-well! My secret’s out!

The lights and the cameras are gone (for now) and it’s time for the action! I have homework. We have to measure the kitchen and I have a questionnaire to fill out before I meet with our designer at KSI (Amy Wuest who happened to go to Cardinal Stritch High School with my husband). I’ve also been looking through the brochures Kim gave me about Merillat Classic Cabinets and I’m finally getting a sense of what I really want to have included in my new kitchen. It’s finally starting to sink in and I’m so excited!

Oh yeah! and I have to thoroughly clean out and scrub my cupboards, refrigerator and stove one last time lest the contractors think I’m anything less than an immaculate housekeeper!