Friday, August 11, 2006

WOW: This IS "Cheaper Than Therapy!" (And Kinda Boring--You've Been Warned)

OK, so I'm no Attilla The Mom yet, but I have, as of today, been on my very first foray as an aggressive grocery-bargain advocate, and I'm wildly encouraged! Spurred by ATM's genius four-part series on SERIOUS grocery savings (and to a great extent by my current state of no-money-ness), her absolutely shockingly inspirational example receipts (seriously, check out that last one--!!!!), and even, bless her heart, her encouraging email replies to my confused and desperate questions about the process, I am no longer one of the shopping uninformed. I used to think, when I heard the cashier say, as I checked out, "You saved $6.72 with your Kroger card today," that that was pretty cool. WHAT A FOOL I WAS. A FOOL, I tell you!

So, for the last two weeks, I collected circulars and clipped coupons, and even ventured into the world of online coupon-clipping services (highly recommended--my favorite was The Coupon Master). I drove Alex a little batty, I think, poring obsessively over the papers every night, arranging and re-arranging my coupons in my little photo-album (another suggestion of ATM's) ...and on the Wednesday that my newspaper arrived SANS GROCERY CIRCULAR (!!), my dear husband even went out TO the store to pick up the current sales circular. Because the circular, you see, is CRITICAL to the Attilla The Mom grocery-stealing--er, savings, system. We even discovered that our tiny local city paper carries a different selection of coupons in its Saturday edition than our state daily does in its Sunday edition!

So how'd I do today? Well, I want to point out a couple of things before I reveal my Beginner's Results. First of all, Alex was with me, and we had separate carts, and his cart (the highly-desirable but tragically unweildy racecar model) contained Bella. So as I circled the store like a shark, list--written on an envelope which contained the pre-selected coupons--in hand, intensely goal-driven, he would check in with me every few minutes for an "assignment," then disappear. Unfortunately, along with his directive, he also unfailingly returned each time with something extra. Something NOT on the list, and something NOT on sale and also WITHOUT a coupon. Like fluorescent lightbulbs, giant basted marrow-bone dog treats, bleach tablets for toilet bowls (FIVE boxes of them, thank you), drain cleaner, Tide To-Go stain remover pens, etc. THIS REALLY THREW OFF MY PERCENTAGES. I almost made him check out separately, but I didn't, so just bear that in mind when you view my receipt.For my own part, I am proud to report that I did not buy one single thing that was not on my list. I also, coupon, sale, or no, did not put ANYTHING on my list that I do not regularly buy anyway. I did, however, in order to take the best advantage of the offered savings possible, buy many MORE of some items than I normally would have, but I didn't do that with anything that wasn't shelf-stable or freezable. For instance, I now have 60 individual servings of Bella's favorite Mott's Organic Apple Sauce, in various flavors, and 40 individual servings of Dole fruit cups, in her favorites, pineapples, peaches, and mandarin oranges. Yes, that's a lot of fruit. But with my coupons, combined with my Kroger card sale price, they were FREE. All 100 cups. And we eat them, too. Also free? Crest Toothpaste, priced with card at 10 for $10, combined with my fistful of $1 off Crest coupons. And Yoplait Yogurt smoothies, 20 for $10, plus my coupons =FREE. Let's see...oh--Red Baron frozen thin-crust pizzas, sale-priced, PLUS my clipped coupons, PLUS a "save $.75 NOW" sticker ON the box...not only were those free, but when we opened one at home, we found out that they have a $.75 off coupon on the inner packaging for your next purchase! I cannot BELIEVE that this is stuff I used to THROW AWAY.

I also cannot believe you're still reading this. But, if you're still with me, you're morbidly fascinated enough to want to see MY first "Cheaper Than Therapy" grocery receipt, and I won't disappoint:Again, without the "unexpected" items, I think the total spent would have been around $200, and my percentage saved would have been in the 50's. On my last trip to the grocery store, a week ago, I spent $211. And every bit of that food is now GONE. This trip FILLED my pantry, refrigerator, and freezers--especially freezers. I have so many wonderful things in my freezers now: milk, several varieties of cheeses (slices, bars, and shreds), my favorite Tropicana Pure Premium OJ, breads, chicken, vegetables, chicken, junky pizza and pizza-based entrees, chicken, more vegetables, and more chicken. We are ready for a SEIGE. Or the surgery I thought I was about to have, which I just found out will not be for at least another month. So we can eat until then. My goal for next time is to at least hit the 60% savings mark.

And thus ends my Great Grocery Initiation. I will do better next time, and hopefully each time after that. Next up(although it may have to wait until my next payday), I intend to run the same experiment at Wal-Mart, but with non-food items. My reason for this is that Kroger will double the value of coupons up to 60 cents, but almost all of the coupons for toiletries, cleaning products, paper goods, air-fresheners, medications, etc. are for at least $1, and often more. And besides that, grocery-store prices for those items tend to be higher than they are at Wal-Mart. (I must confess to having already broken this self-made "rule" today, because Kroger was offering 40% off all Cover-Girl makeup products with Kroger card, AND I had SIX $1 and $1.50-off coupons for "any Cover-Girl product." They make eye shadows that I like, as well as a lip-liner and lipstick, so it was easy for me to rack up six items that cost me, like, $4 altogether. And then I had a coupon for a "free CG nail polish with any six CG items," so I was even able to get Bella a free bubblegum-pink nail polish that made her day.)

Obviously, I am WAY, intensely, boringly, mind-numbingly invested in this, and I really apologize if reading this was worse than reading "what I had for lunch" several days in a row (thanks to Peebo for the reference).

But it's not going to stop me from reporting on my Wal-Mart couponing results. Because the RUSH I got when that checkout lady said, "You saved $142.19 on your order today?" All I could think of was, MAN, MY GRANDMOTHER IS GONNA BE CRAZY PROUD OF ME WHEN SHE READS THIS!

And I would feel remiss if I didn't add, in the spirit of my financial guru Dave Ramsey, that if you do undertake such a system of savings, and you suddenly find yourself spending much less on a fixed expense than you were before, that the difference (in my case shown here, $142.19) should be immediately, and without exception, plunked securely into a money-market account, because if you do not actually SAVE your "savings," you're just going to spend them on something else and never actually realize the benefits of shaping up your budget. Personal soap box put away for the moment. (Right now, what with the two-house saga, we're trying to dig ourselves out of a pretty deep hole. But rest assured that, once we're solvent again, we'll be right back on the Ramsey bandwagon.)


  1. OMGOODNESS Belinda! I'm so PROUD of you!

    Ok, Fine, I'm going to try too. I swear that we don't get as good coupons in Canada as you guys down there, but I WILL try. In fact, I'm going to go march down to our mailbox and pick up the free papers RIGHT NOW..(or maybe not.. we'll see how motivated I am after I hit "publish") and see if I can start saving like you!

  2. OK, on my coupons, they are "manufacturer's coupons," and it seems like the manufacturer would honor them no matter where they came from. I'm gonna read some fine-print and see if any of mine say "U.S. only."

  3. we don't get any circulars in the mail since we don't get a newspaper and we ask for no junk mail. i am rethinking that. i also agree with cece abooot the subpar coupons in canada.

    seriously though. this was freakin' fascinating! i was all exciting to see your bill. so there. DO IT AGAIN AND SHOW US!

  4. Hee, hee...I should have showed you my SHOPPING LIST. You'd be ALL hot and bothered! SO much cheese! SO much fruit! SO much cereal!

    I'm sure the Wal-Mart one will be the height of titillation. Trash bags. Paper towels. Razor blades. Shampoo. Febreeze Noticables refills. OOooooh, Baby.

    You should totally run a thing on BlogHer about finding Canadian couponing sites. Cece has already found a few. It'd be HAWT.

  5. And my sorry-you-know-what-coupons DO say that they're good "in the US only." SUCKAGE.

    I guess they figure you guys have it so good on the drug costs, that you don't need to save no money on no stinking groceries. Meanwhile, our fixed income folks have to decide: Which this week, food or medicine?

  6. Holy crap. I never use coupons but I might have to check this out after seeing your crazy savings. I'm just sad that I can't go "Krogering" anymore. I hate Von's.

  7. I haven't stopped by in awhile, but I am glad I did today. I read the whole thing and it put a smile on my face! First, OMG! You saved $142.19!! That is very impressive. I never used a cupon in my life, but this post is enought to convert me. However, it made me think about the fact that Germany does not use cupons. That's right, no cupons. However, we always get the newspaper info, and my husband is always looking for the place that has yoghurt on sale that week.

  8. WOW! Wanna come over and show me how to do that? My hubby would be so impressed!

  9. Ohmygosh....I'm totally inspired to become a coupon fanatic now! I LOVE, love, love grocery long as my husband doesn't come cause he screws up my system. It's like the equivalent to yoga for me. So this should make it an even more exciting experience! Seriously. Yeah, I'm a geek too. (Too means "you TOO"..haha)

  10. Belinda, Sam has been doing this for years! He does the grocery shopping and after every trip I have to guess how much he saved, how much something cost before and after his coupons!

    Around here, we OFTEN have triple coupons on the 50 cent and under ones and double up to $2 on the others. Today he had just over a 50% savings again, only one items he would have bought anyway----or *some* bargains that were just too good to pass up. ;o)

    Our bill today was around $50 for a weeks worth of groceries for the two of us.

  11. Don't know if you have a Walgreens or a Menards nearby.... but they often run adds of Buy X and get it free with rebate. Menards being a hardware/lumber store - that also carries some "household" stuff - light bulbs, trash bags, the like. Only their rebates are always towards another purchase there. But, my mom figures she's spent $10 once - and has respent that same $10 about a dozen times since- as each time they have free stuff-she spends the coupons for more rebates. She right now has about $70 worth of rebates - last time I needed a couple of folding tables - I got them free off of her rebates.

    And with Walgreens... if you agree to getting your rebate on a Walgreens shopping card (instead of a check - which is an option) - you get 10% more. So - you buy $10 worth of tampax and pads (say - my last STEAL), get $11 back... How cool is that? They pay you to take the things you need from them???

    And since both stores also take manufacturer's coupons - there's a lot of times, you get cash back on things... I love getting more money back than I spend!

    I haven't been watching their ads so closely lately - but you've re-inspired me!

  12. Inspirational, Belinda! We just stopped by the grocery store and spent $32 on ingredients for crepes for tonight's sleepover (this is what comes of allowing the kids to watch the Food Channel) and a couple other things. This is the kind of silly spending that will kill our new, tight-beyond-belief budget! I didn't even know you Could use coupons at Walmart. I've been planning to sign up for something called the Grocery Game when we move next week to NC. Have you heard of it? I think they are supposed to help coordinate the coupons with the best sales. I've never been a couponer, but if we could manage savings like yours, our new budget might actually work!

  13. I didn't know you could use coupons at Wal-Mart either. I pull the coupons out of the paper on Sunday, but I can almost always get a better deal at Aldi on most everything I buy.

    But you've inspired me! I'll have to check the Kroger ad tomorrow. I thought their "10 for $10" deal was usually on store brands. I have to pay my own way to BlogHer next year, so I have to start saving wherever I can!

  14. Neat, I am going to have to really try this. I could use a little extra with my budget stretched so tight right now.
    I gree that if you don't put the savings away immediately is becomes spent quickly.

  15. Wal-Mart not only takes coupons (with manufacturer's coupons, any store, including WM and Aldi's, who sells that manufacturer's products MUST honor their coupons--the store just doesn't have to offer their OWN coupons), but they told us that they will honor ANY competitor's advertised sales. So you can take any grocery or other circular into Wal-Mart and get the same prices. I haven't tested that yet, but I will, and then report on it.

    I used to grocery spend like Melora is talking about. I'd pick a recipe, the more exotic the better, and just go get everything for it (would never already have stuff in the pantry, because it would be ridiculous ingredients). One of my all-time masterpieces was a roast of beef tenderloin (think filet mignon, before it is sliced into individual steaks), smothered in a heavily-reduced gravy of roasted shallots and fresh was so good. I don't even remember the side items, but I do remember that the ingredients for that one meal cost $70. And the punch-line is that, while we were cleaning up, Delta (standard poodle) snuck the leftover tenderloin off the kitchen counter and ate it. So yeah, you gotta plan ahead, keep a well-stocked pantry, then when you want to make something special, hopefully you'll only have to buy fresh ingredients.

    I'm glad to hear of the Walgreens tips---I'm assuming that with a Walgreens gift card, you could pay for your prescriptions? And I love the make-up selection there, and the skin-care products, etc. Alex has to go pick up my painkillers and Xanax there today, so he's gonna pick up their circulars. We don't have Menard's, but will check with Home Depot and Lowe's, both of which use heavy circular advertising.

    And if we had somewhere that TRIPLED coupons or offered doubles up to $2, they would have had to OWE my money on my groceries yesterday! Dang. Indianans, you hear that? You have NO excuse!

    melissa, come over sometime and clip with me; we'll share. And if we can grab our mom's papers, too, all the better. It's the SUNDAY and WEDNESDAY ones we want, as well as the SATURDAY "Leader" (which maybe sometimes comes on Friday?) We could also share from the online sites--there is a really good one, but it has a minimum of 5 coupons of each thing, so we could share those. And then you can play with puppies.

    SERIOUSLY--everyone: Do NOT be impressed with ME; go to the "Cheaper Than Therapy" (Attilla The Mom) site that I have linked in the top paragraph of this post, and read ALL FOUR INSTALLMENTS of her crocery lecture. I'm trying to convince her to make it into an e-book and sell it, but until she comes to her senses, it's there for FREE. SHE is the inspiration and my guru, and she answered some of THE stupidest emails from me about this that you can imagine. Plus, her blog? Really good. It will be on my blogroll next BR overhaul, which is coming soon.

    Claire, you should get a yoghurt maker! I have made my own yoghurt and kefir for my dogs for YEARS, and it is easy, and costs a FRACTION of what the store-bought costs, AND has WAY more live cultures in it! Seriously. If you can switch from yoghurt to kefir, it's even easier and cheaper and healthier. But you have to drink it, which is...weird.

    Yeah, I have gone on kicks where I clipped coupons before, but I mostly just clipped them, then used them hit-and-miss for a while before losing interest. WIth this system, the payoff is too big to ignore. ATM says that she invests an hour a week in organization, and it pays off in hundreds of dollars. She averages 60-80% off on every grocery bill, and has had some amazing returns (I posted links in my post) of 95, 98, and 99% OFF her purchase!


  16. I'm intrigued. I'm going to have to study up on this. I used to be better at clipping coupons and saving money.

    Then I started blogging.

  17. I'm so proud of you!

    Next we'll enroll you in Introduction To Yard Sales 101. That can be every bit as much fun, and I save tons of money on dog stuff, besides the really neat treasures that pop up at random.

  18. I can totally relate with you on doing this. I'd be more than happy to cut out coupons & mail them to you. Great, great shopping!

  19. Hi, fellow Arkie here who clicked over from Attila's. We're stuck in a spot with only two groceries, one of which is a super Wal Mart that most likely has a mug shot of me stuck in the employee's lounge with darts sticking out of it, but I'm sending hubby to the corner (5 miles distant), TOMORROW, for the Sunday paper to see if I can figure out how to save a little myself.

  20. You know...I am oddly excited by your success. I don't know why.

    This could be the start of something big!

  21. Man, you go! I'm so impressed with your mad coupon skilz.

    I could seriously learn from you.

  22. Thanks so much for the shout! I'm glad you're having success with this! :-)

  23. None of the aldi's stores I've shopped will take coupons. Of course, most of their items are their store brands, but they occasionally have "special purchase" national brand items. But I've been told countless times I can't use my coupons.

  24. Holy Mother of Jehosephat! That's a huge savings! I really need to get better at coupon clipping. I do it for things like baby food, etc, but forget shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper. etc.

    Mental Note: DO IT.

  25. Wow, you go girl! May I ask how much time it took you to clip and organize the coupons, and how much extra time (if any) was added to your shopping trip?

  26. Belinda: This is a truly inspirational post -- moreso than your previous one (which I haven't read yet :). I was just thinking yesterday that the starving artist in me needs to rethink my shopping and now, even without the coupons, I am going to take my bargain savvy husband with me to to the local discount chain and make him shop with me today -- because I can (he just started vacation). Then I'm going to pop over to my fellow Canadian bloggers -- "as seen in Belinda's comments" --blogs and see if they have any hints. I hope you do some follow-up posts.

  27. Way to go!!!

    I've been couponing for three years now, and in those three years we haven't paid for toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, soap, shampoo, conditioner, pads, band-aids, deodorant, pasta, oatmeal, blah, blah, blah -- TONS of stuff, free fre free!! And our stores don't even double coupons, ever. It's addicting, as you're discovering!

    We put in two big sets of shelves in our basement when I started, and they're full most of the time...and one of the best things is being able to take my kids down there once a month to fill up big bags for the food pantry, just from what we have on hand. It's a great hobby, on so many levels.

    You go girl! :)

  28. Someone said something about buying a yogurt maker. You don't even have to do that. All you need is a candy thermometer.

    Here's what you do:

    Boil some milk. That is, heat some milk until it is 212 degrees. Remove it from the heat. Then let it cool to 115 degrees. Add a few spoonfuls of store-bought yogurt -- anything with live yogurt cultures. Put a lid on the kettle, throw a dishtowel or two over it, and put the whole kit and kaboodle in the oven. If it's winter, warm the oven first (maybe to 200), but then turn it off. Leave the oven light on -- that's enough heat.

    Then leave it alone for four to six hours.

    That's all! Check after four hours. Is it yogurt yet? If not, come back in a few hours. The longer you leave it, the tangier it gets.

    When it's done, put it in the fridge. Add whatever you want -- -sugar, fruit, vanilla -- before you eat it.

    I add vanilla and nutrasweet before I put it in the oven.

    This is way cheaper than buying yogurt and it tastes a million times better. You can make whole-milk yogurt, too, which is almost impossible to find these days.

  29. You're amazing!

    And I love this line: "Obviously, I am WAY, intensely, boringly, mind-numbingly invested in this..."

    I think more of us (*hangs head*... me, included) should be invested in this. You're an inspiration, lady.

  30. Sheryl: When I followed ATM's instructions and got a photo album instead of a "coupon organizer," it took no time at ALL. The ones I clipped myself, I did while watching TV, and was done in mintues. The ones I got from The Coupon Master, it was just a matter of clicking on the item and adding it to your shopping cart. Both times I have used them, I have had the coupons in my mailbox (regular mail) in two days. The advantage (to me) of the professional services are that they save time, and if there is a great deal on some product I use, I can either try to chase down other people's newspapers and steal THEIR coupons and clip them, OR I can pay these guys a ridiculously low handling fee of, like 7 cents, and the send them right to me!

    As for the time shopping, here's what I did: I made my list. I swore NOT to deviate from it. I compiled my list by going over the Kroger circular and seeing what was on big-time sale, then finding matching coupons. As I wrote out my list item by item on the back of an envelope, I would remove the coupons from my photo album and place them inside the envelope with the list written on it. I noted how many of each thing I'd have to get to maximize the coupon savings (hence me coming home with 10 6-packs of Motts and 10 4-packs of Dole fruit cups).

    Some things were just great deals without coupons, and I stocked up. On this day, it was milk and cheese, so I have gallons of milk and pounds of various cheeses in my freezer (they both freeze great).

    Now--the time spent in the store? For me, it actually went MUCH quicker, and I'm talking, like 1/3 of my usual time. But that's because my normal grocery-buying habits are atrocious, as I wander around wondering what I'm going to buy and what's for DINNNNNNERRRRRRRRR. Hope that helps!

  31. Mary--I have so much to atone for, in this year of two houses, to get back in the good graces of Dave Ramsey. At least we still don't have credit-card debt, and ONE of our vehicles is paid for. Let's just say I'll feel a LOT better when house #1 is SOLD, and house #2 is securely MORTGAGED. THEN I can have some surgery, and relax about my recovery!

    Oh, and I just got a new envelope full of coupons from The Coupon Master today (ordered online midnight Friday), and I've had to switch from my original photo album that ATM recommended to an upgrade: A *600* pocket album! SO now I have a separate window for EACH product and EACH coupon variation FOR that product! Wheeeee!

    I am seriously on my way to total geekdom. Thank you for still being my friend. In front of people, no less.

  32. Belinda?

    Can you take a photo of your "Coupon book" so I can see the typ eof book you speak of? I'm a doofus and just don't want to get the wrong type when I start this project. Thanks for the sharing and keep up the great work!


  33. Shash--you bet. I'll take a pic of both the one I started with (which promptly fell apart under my vigorous flippings back and forth), and the one I wound up with, which is a loose-ring binder-type number. The added advantage to that is, if I get, say, a whole group of coupons that I feel need to be sandwiched between an already set up bunch, I can just open the rings, detach a page, and re-set it wherever I want!

    600 photo "pockets" is three times more than ATM suggested, but this way I can have a separate pocket for each coupon, and even for coupons that are for the same product, but in different amounts, AND I can SEE them all at one glance.

    I would imagine that, after practice, my coupons will be ordered rather like the aisles of the grocery store, since that is how I tend to compose my shopping lists, to keeep from running back and forth, OR scanning my entire list at every aisle.

  34. Wow, I am impressed. I am really, really bad about coupons these days. I have so many and I don't even clip them. Once in a while we have triple coupons here and then I try to do some clipping.

    Also look in the store(s) for coupons. Tonight I found a 2.00 coupon for pullups right next to them. Made pullups cheaper than the store brand!

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