Getting Started with Couponing – Organize to Maximize Savings

Since I recently started this site, I have been getting a lot of questions from readers and friends who want to get started with couponing and are curious how I personally go about it. While I am no expert, I am happy to share the method I have used over the past ten years.

Step 1 – Acquire Coupons
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I get the majority of my coupons from the Sunday newspaper coupon inserts. I typically get 1-2 copies per week. Recently, I have also started keeping an eye out for good internet printable coupons. Click here to view the list I compiled of where to find grocery coupons!

Step 2 – Get Organized
On Sundays when I get the newspaper, I go ahead and clip the coupons I will use. Then, I file them in two basic accordian style coupon organizers (pictured below) by category based on the type of food. I purchased these at the Dollar Tree years ago.

Here are the filing categories I use:

-Canned Goods (soups, veggies, fruits, etc.)
-Dairy (yogurts, icecream, cheese, etc.)
-Meats
-Baby Items (diapers, wipes baby shampoo, etc.)
-Frozen Goods
-Beverages (juice, coffee, etc.)
-Cleaning Supplies
-Breakfast Items (Cereal, Oatmeal, etc.)
-Junk Food
-Paper Products
-Bread/Pasta
-Toiletries

This step doesn’t take very long and is so important because it saves a lot of time later when you are trying to find the coupons that you are looking for. If you clip coupons and just leave them in one big stack, it can feel overwhelming and time consuming when you are trying to do your coupon match-ups.

Step 3 – Match Your Coupons to Grocery Store/Drug Store Sale Ads
After the coupons are filed, you are well on your way to saving your family big bucks! My next step in “couponing” is matching the coupons to the store ads PRIOR to stepping foot in the store. On Sundays, I check out the drug store ads and plan my shopping trip(s) based on what is on sale that week matching it to coupons I have in my organizers. I make a list, pull the needed coupons and place it in my coupon holder (pictured below). For you, it could be an envelope. Just anything to have your coupons together, organized and ready to shop!

On Wednesdays when the new weekly grocery store ads come out, I go through the same process, just on a larger scale since I will be using many more coupons at this time. I look at the grocery store ads online (as well as the website SouthernSavers.com and a few others), pull coupons, print any good internet printables that match-up with the items on sale, make a list and as shown in my $60 Weekly Grocery Challenge posts, try to stick to a $60 weekly grocery budget. I used to spend more ($75-$80 week which still wasn’t bad for a family of five), but now that I am staying home full-time, I found I could easily get the amount down even more by staying organized and planning ahead.

Step 4 – Always Have Your Coupons Accessible When Grocery Shopping
Below is a picture of my “coupon bag.” Lovely isn’t it? When I venture into the grocery store, I take this bag with me. It has both of my coupon organizers, the coupons I have pulled for my shopping trip, etc. Then, if I am walking along and happen to spot a great deal, my coupons are right there with me and readily accessible!

My husband says grocery/drug store shopping is like a game to me, and I guess it kind of is. I love saving my family money and I love grocery shopping, so this is something I truly enjoy. I hope you have found this information to be helpful! I will have many more tips coming your way as this series progresses. It take a little effort and time to coupon, but really not too much once you have your system down. Good luck!

On a parting note, I just had to share the picture below! Evidently couponing has become a family affair because my 5-year-old recently made me a homemade coupon organizer featuring one of his favorite foods, D’animals Coolision Tubes! I love the creativity that went into this (notice it even has a nice pocket that he filled with coupons for me)! I love that kid!

Conquer the Clutter Challenge – The Junk Drawer

Today is the day…I will procrastinate no longer! I am kicking off my Conquer the Clutter Challenge here on the homefront. Let me start by saying my house isn’t a total mess…contrary to how the title of this challenge sounds. My house is actually on the neat-side. I would say most days if someone dropped by unexpectedly, the house would be in overall good shape, other than a few toys scattered about. Other days, it may look like a tornado came through, but that is just how it is with young children and a family that lives busy lives.

However, as far as “clutter goes,” if you looked around my house, I don’t have a lot of knick-knacks and items on dressers, countertops, mantles and that sort of thing. Yes, some decorative items, framed photos of the family and that is about it. I feel like I have a good handle on keeping most areas of my house picked up, organized and looking nice.

But, what I am challenging myself to is to work on what lurks beneath…the closets, drawers, cabinet, garage and basement are all on my to-do list. My kitchen, for example, is where I plan to start today with my junk drawer (don’t we all have one those?). It is actually my only problem spot in the kitchen, but boy is it a trouble spot (see below)! Yikes – who knows what is in there! It has become our catch-all for basically anything small we didn’t know what else to do with it. My other kitchen drawers and cabinets are very well organized, but something went bad wrong with this one!

Now that I have publicly posted about my “Conquer the Clutter Challenge,” I feel like this will help keep me accountable and motivated to report back about my organizational progress.

Here’s my plan:

Go through my house, room-by-room and reorganize any needed areas. I will divide items in the following categories:

-Keep
-Give to Others
-Throw Away
-Sell on Ebay
-Sell of Craigslist (bulkier items)
-Donate

…and, I will report in on how I am doing and share any ideas that I come up with that I feel you might be interested in. I love an organized house -it just makes life easier, saves time and makes me more relaxed. I hear a junk drawer calling my name…time to get started!!!

Frugal Friday – Chicken Parm on the Cheap

Tonight I made dinner for my family of five for right at $5.50! Yes, that is right, only $1.10 per person! We had chicken parmesan, salad and garlic bread, so it was a tasty, filling dinner – definitely not a meal that seemed like it was lacking. Below is a breakdown of the costs.  You will notice most of the items from my recent $60 Weekly Grocery Challenge purchases. 

My strategies for saving money on food include purchasing groceries at deeply discounted prices through sales and coupon match-ups (which you have now seen me do through the $60 weekly grocery challenge) and then follow that up with creatively coming up with meal ideas. Of course, there are times that I want to try out a new recipe and have a specific list of needed items, but the majority of the time I guess I plan backwards. I work with what I have on hand.

This is what I used to feed five for $5.50:

Boneless Chicken Breast – $2.83 (Purchased on sale last week at Food Lion)
Spaghetti Sauce – $.50
Mozzarella Cheese – $.65
(Purchased this week at Food Lion, part of the Kraft promotion)
Ronzoni Garden Delight Multi-colored Pasta – FREE (Purchased this week at Food Lion)
Lettuce – $.50 (Used 1/2 of the Dole Lettuce purchased this week at Food Lion)
Tomato – $.30 (Used 1/2 of the large tomato purchased this week at Food Lion)
Pecans – Free from my father-in-law
Bread – $.60 (Used 1 large sub roll, sectioned it off and flavored it with butter and garlic salt)

Grand Total – $5.33
Now, after adding in the cost of a little salad dressing, a few pickles, garlic salt and a little butter, I would say the total came in right around $5.50! $1.10 per person…this resourceful gal was happy with that!

Thursday Time-Saver – Easy Chicken Pot Pie

Last night, I needed a quick dinner idea and I decided on a recipe I have made for years – EASY Chicken Pot Pie. My wonderful mother-in-law made me a booklet of many of my husband’s favorite recipes and gave it to me at my bridal shower (along with other cooking tools and items) ten years ago. I am certainly not a cooking expert now (having a great time learning as I go, though!). But at that time, I REALLY needed all the help I could get! 

This recipe is super simple and takes only a couple of minutes to prepare and place in the oven.  It is filling and gives you a meat, veggies and bread all in one. 

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

1 can chicken (10 oz.)
1 can veg-all (15 oz.)
1 1/2 cans cream of chicken soup (or go ahead and make it 2 cans if you want it extra creamy)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the ingredients listed above in a 9 X 9 pan.

Topping:

1 cup Bisquick
1/2 cup milk
1 egg

Stir together and pour over the chicken mixture.  Bake at 400 degrees approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Be sure not to over bake it because that can make it taste a little dry. Been there, done that! 

The recipe calls for veg-all, but last night I used a bag of frozen vegetables and as for the chicken, I had recently cooked the split chicken breast that I bought on sale a couple of weeks and used a little of this for the casserole.

I hope you and your family enjoy this quick, simple recipe…that doesn’t look so quick and simple when it is placed on the table at dinner time!

Tasty Tuesday – Make Homemade Eclairs

Guest Post by Amy Schroeder of Mixed Up Cupcake Creations in Denver, NC.

Today, I am excited to share with you my homemade eclair recipe! There are several steps, but the end result is well worth the effort. I suggest making a double batch and freezing some for a later date or for when you need to take food in a pinch to a gathering. For example, this would be a great idea for holiday get togethers on your horizon!

Amy’s Eclair Recipe

Prep: 30 min
Oven: 400 Degrees
Bake: 30-35 min
Cool: 10 min
Makes 12 puffs

Shell:

1 C water
1/2 C butter
1/8 tsp salt
1 C all-purpose flour
4 eggs
3 C whipped cream or pudding (personally, I use jello’s vanilla pudding)

1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter and salt. Bring to a boil. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until mixture turns into a ball. Remove from heat and cool approx. 10 min. Add eggs, one at a time beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition (don’t try to sidestep this; I tried two at a time and it was not a good idea).

2. Fill a pastry bag w/ a large tip attached (if you don’t have a pastry bag, don’t fret. You can fill a large ziploc bag and cut one of the corner edges off; viola, a pastry bag!). Pipe your shells on a non-stick pan (I still spray mine with a little cooking spray). Cook 30 -35 min. Don’t worry if they start to brown, keep baking! If you don’t, the inside will still be gooey. You want the shell of an eclair to get golden brown, firm and dry.

3. After baking, remove and place on a wire rack to cool. Cut slits on the top of each…long enough to get the filling inside (I cut all the way across, but be careful to lightly cut the tops, don’t go all the way through the puff or your filling will leak out of the bottom.) Make your pudding or get the whipped cream ready.

Chocolate Glaze:

Melt 4 oz of coursely chopped semi-sweet chocolate and 3 TBSP of butter over low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from low heat.

Beat in 1.5 C sifted powdered sugar and 3 TBSP of hot water until smooth. Add additional hot water if necessary to reach a drizzling consistency.

Fill your eclairs with the filling of your choice. Add chocolate glaze on top and you now have delicious eclairs to enjoy!

Important note: I don’t fill until ready to serve to prevent the pastry shell from getting soggy. However, for the eclairs you plan to freeze for a later date, go ahead and fully prepare prior to freezing.

Thank you, Amy, for today’s guest post! Click here to check out her other many tasty culinary delights!

Friday in the Fall – Get Crafty with the Kids

Last fall, my sister and brother-in-law made candy corn flower pots (pictured above) with my kids. They had so much fun working on this fall project!

Here are the steps to make your own:

1. Use painter’s tape to cover sections of a 12-inch terra-cotta pot.

2. Paint the rim white, the middle section orange and the bottom section yellow.

3. Be sure to let each section dry before removing and reapplying the painter’s tape to cover other sections.

4.  Spray the painted pot with a coat of exterior polyurethane.

Your kids will have a great time painting and creating and you will have cute pots to display your fall flowers.  It’s a win-win!

Savoring Sunday – Pumpkin Bread and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I finally did it – I made Pumpkin Bread for the first time in my life!  And, guess what, it tasted great! Yay! There are many recipes out there, but this is the one I settled on for my first attempt.

Pumpkin Bread

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. pumpkin
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
1/4 c. soft butter
1 c. chopped nuts or raisins (optional)

Sift dry ingredients together. Combine pumpkin, sugar, milk and eggs in mixing bowl and beat. Add dry ingredients and soft butter. Beat until well mixed then add nuts. Bake in well greased loaf pan for 45 to 55 minutes in 350 degree oven.

I think it is important to note that this is not an overly sweet tasting pumpkin bread.  I noticed some of the pumpkin bread recipes included brown sugar, which this one did not.  I think next time I will add a little brown sugar to make it just a touch sweeter.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

 
 
While we are on the subjects of pumpkins, we carved pumpkins with the boys this weekend and toasted the pumpkin seeds afterwards. If you have never done this before, here are the quick, easy steps:
Pre-heat the oven to 275 deg.
Thoroughly wash and dry the pumpkin seeds.
Coat them in melted butter/margarine.
Season to your liking. (We used cinnamon for part of them and chili powder on the rest.)
Bake for 9-10 minutes.  Flip the seeds over and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes.
Enjoy!

Birthday Treats and Tips

I have birthdays on my brain this morning, as I plan to celebrate my wonderful Mom’s birthday today! She is definitely one of my biggest supporters and fans in life! I am very blessed!

As I am off to celebrate with birthday donuts and coffee, here are a few birthday tips and bargains for you…

Birthday Freebies & Coupons

Recently, the website Hip2Save posted a very extensive list of birthday freebies and coupons at a wide variety of restaurants and retailers. Click here to see if your favorites are on the list. PF Changs, Outback Steakhouse, Coldstone Creamery, Applebee’s, Old Navy and many, many others are featured. Sign up now and get treated when your birthday rolls around!

Birthday Alarm

Don’t let the birthdays of any of the special people in your life slip by you! I signed up for “Birthday Alarm” a couple of years ago and it is great! It will email you a reminder about a week away (perfect timing to remind you to pick up and mail a card) and then again on the actual day (perfect timing to remind you to pick up the phone and call). It is a busy mom lifesaver!

Creative Birthday Cakes

Finally, just for fun, click here to view the creative, homemade birthday cakes which were posted on the website, LifeAsMom, earlier this summer! I admire the creativity that went into these cakes. I haven’t ventured into cake-making on this scale yet…but, it is on my list, for sure!

Babies on a Budget – Diaper Reward Programs

Register here for the Huggies Enjoy the Ride Rewards program. Each pack of Huggies diapers and wipes has a rewards code inside. Accumulate these points to redeem for various free Huggies products, music downloads and I even noticed a GAP gift card is available right now for those who have really high point values.

And, while we are on the subject of diaper rewards programs, don’t miss out on Pampers Gifts to Grow! Click here to register! The program works the same way the Huggies program does (find reward codes in packages, enter them online, redeem for prices). Their reward catalog is much more extensive than Huggies. Click here to view. Rewards include toys, photo gifts, Sam’s Club gift card, magazine subscriptions and of course, free Pampers products.

Getting Started with Couponing – Where to Find Grocery Coupons

To maximize my grocery and drug store savings, I use A LOT of coupons.  Typically, I get most of my coupons from the Sunday newspaper; I pick up one or two copies of the newspaper each week. However, this year I have started using internet printables occasionally, as well.  You just have to make sure you are printing coupons you will actually use, though, since ink for your printer cartridges is not cheap!

Here is a great list of free sites from which you can print coupons:

Coupons.com

Red Plum

Smartsource

Target Store Coupons – These store coupons can be combined with manufacturer coupons for further savings!

Food Lion Store Coupons (This link will take you to the shopper’s companion.  Enter your email address and Food Lion will email you store coupons each week, along with their weekly sale ad) These store coupons many times match up with items already on sale for further savings.  A couple of months ago, they sent a coupon for $2.00 off Capri Suns, priced at $2.09.  It was great to pick up Capri Suns that week for $.09! Also, many Food Lion stores now have a coupon kiosk at the entrance to the store that will print coupons when you scan your MVP card.

Vocal Point – I highly recommend signing up for Vocal Point.  I have received full-size items from them, along with high value coupons.  They will email you or you can periodically check this site for free samples and coupon opportunities.

Quality Health.com – A friend just told me about this site over the weekend.  She is able to print free coupons and has received all kinds of samples in the mail.

Free Samples and Coupons for Brand Name Products

Also, most grocery stores have coupon dispensers throughout the store that dispense coupons for particular items. Keep an eye out for these, as well.