Monday, January 23, 2012

The Coupon Thing

For the last few weekends, my Sundays have revolved around coupons. Now, I’ll never be up to the level of those folks on shows like Extreme Couponing. I don’t have 40 hours a week to devote to this, or dozens of people sending me their coupon inserts. I use a stack of envelopes to keep it all sorted and I don’t have a massive spreadsheet to track it all. BUT, last week I managed to spend $140 on groceries and get $80 worth of that for free. So, it’s proved to be a worthwhile pursuit.

My system is simple. On Sunday, I buy two copies each of several papers. (I am still working out which ones have the good coupons. I have noticed that they all don’t carry the same coupons.) I cut the coupons we are likely to use. Even for brands we don’t normally buy—because if it is free or deeply discounted, I might try another brand over our usual.

Coupons get sorted and go into envelopes that are loosely organized by category like Dairy, Frozen, Meat, etc. As I put new coupons in, I sort through the contents of the envelope. Expired coupons get tossed and soon to expire coupons get clipped to the outside of the envelope. This also lets me see what I have coupons for and I tend to remember them when I go through the weekly circular to make my BUY list…More on that later.

What I Clip

My ongoing debate between going eco-friendly with chores or leaning on convenient products is often exacerbated by coupons. Eco-friendly does not win as much as I would like when I shop, but I will continue to work on that.

Brand loyalty gets questioned more when I am using coupons. I start asking myself if I buy one brand over the other because I am used to that brand or because I actually like that brand better. For example, I won’t choose Pepsi over Coke—even if they are giving it away, because saving money on something I won’t use is more wasteful than buying something at full price and actually consuming it.

On the flip side, I use a lot of jarred pasta sauce and have tried a few new brands when I have coupons AND they are on sale because my brand loyalty was mainly about laziness and buying what I knew.

I try to avoid clipping coupons for things we should not be eating. I allow for a few treats, but try not to introduce any new junk into our diet. I know I have to be careful about not letting coupons influence me to buy what we don’t need just because it’s a bargain. There are always temptations in the coupons. This week it was frozen White Castle Hamburgers—something that looks tasty but also something we really shouldn’t be eating. So I keep thinking of that Monty Python routine where the ladies are having tea. There is an engine on the table and the one woman asks the other, “Why did you buy that?” and the other woman answers, “It was a bargain!”

It’s good to remember that companies don’t put out coupons to do us favor in these hard times. They issue coupons to get us to buy things we would not normally buy.

This is not to say that I don’t clip some coupons for things we don’t need. I have an envelope in my coupon box labeled “Karma Coupons” In the envelope are coupons for diapers, dog food, and sanitary products that I don’t use—items that may be an expensive necessity to someone else. Those coupons are for leaving on the shelf as we shop. More than once, I’ve had a stranger hand me a coupon for something I was looking at—most recently, cat litter. So I think it’s a good idea to pay it forward.

We’ve been off credit cards for a long time out of necessity, but once we get our financial world back in order (and the couponing is a step in that direction) the rule will still be cash only when shopping for food. There is no point saving money if you lose that savings in credit card interest.

Two Lists

When I shop, I have two lists. The BUY list is the list of things I have gone to get. This list is based on things we’ve run out of and also the weekly circular. For items from the circular, I have the item, the sale price and whether or not I have a coupon. Our store lets you go online and make a list by clicking on the items in the circular. I print that list and add notes as to what coupons I have.

Sometimes I have to have two sets of coupons and break the order into two purchases. I try to organize the BUY list according to the aisles in the store to avoid doubling back. Things get crossed off the BUY list if it turns out I don’t have a coupon and we really don’t need it.

Once I’m in the store, I cross off items on the BUY list as I go.

I do allow myself to go off the BUY list. Sometimes I forget to add something or I find that something is on sale that I missed in the circular AND I have a coupon. My BOUGHT list keeps me from going overboard.

My BOUGHT list is the list of everything that is in my cart and how much I expect to pay after sale and coupon. I write it all down as I shop and add it up as I go, so I know how much I am spending. (Remember it’s a cash purchase so I have to be careful not to go over what I can spend.)

I keep an envelop with the BOUGHT list. Coupons that I am using get clipped to the envelope. If I have to split the order, they get clipped in separate batches. My store doubles but the coupons are usually limited to one per purchase, so I find this is worth the effort.

Does all this take longer? Yes. Our major shopping trips are now more involved from planning through execution. BUT it’s worth it to save money while stocking our pantry as items come on sale and have long-shelf-life items like tea bags, pasta, canned or frozen veggies and soup on hand when we need them.

If nothing else, it gives us something with short-term, measurable results that help me feel like we’re going to get through this rough time. I can look at the product of our efforts—both in loaded pantry shelves and that number at the bottom of our receipt that says how much we saved and get a sense of accomplishment.

Out next step will be to do some comparison-shopping. The grocery chain we use has online shopping, so it’s relatively easy to check prices even if they aren’t in the sales circular. We’ll be checking those prices vs. the warehouse club we belong to and we’ll also check out Aldi.

It may be that shopping becomes even more complex, but if the time we put in is well compensated by dollars saved, we’ll stick with it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Say No to SOPA and PIPA

You may have found some of your favorite sites to be blacked out today. This could be a regular occurrence if we're not careful.

I won't pretend to be the most tech-savvy person out there, but I am greatly concerned about the move by some to legislate censorship of the Internet. Some of the senators considering SOPA and PIPA have even admitted that they simply don't understand the technology involved. Yet they may vote to pass these bills into law anyway.

This is a matter of free speech and freedom of expression. The forces behind these bills, the companies behind the money that pays for the lobbyists that are pushing these measures, are out to control what speech, and images, and music can be freely distributed on the Internet. That is not the American way.

I hope you'll take the time to tell your government that this should not stand. While they may still be under the mistaken notion that companies are people, for the moment at least, companies can not vote. Tell your senators that you don't want the Internet censored (SOPA) or changes made that could undermine the security of the Internet (PIPA). And tell them that a vote in favor of these bills will cost them your vote come election time.

I and many others like me are thrilled to live in an age where our words and art can be put out there for the world to see. Let's not turn back the clock on what is amazing progress, I believe, for everyone.

For more information, here are a couple of videos you can watch. And at the bottom of this post, an easy way to call your senator and tell him or her that you don't want SOPA and PIPA and their job is to do the will of the voters, not the lobbyists.

Watch more on Tech Crunch here. 

Click here to call your Senator and tell him or her you don't want SOPA and PIPA made law.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Counts as Vegetables

The Wookie is training divers tonight so I am without my chef.

Wookie tends to be anti-vegetable, though he cooks them for me. So when he is away, my plate runneth red with tomato sauce. Tonight's pizza is covered with broccoli and spinach--and peperoni. (A little protein is a must!)

Add to that Mexican Coke--they say you can't taste the difference between real sugar and corn syrup, but I beg to differ.

It's all brain food for my work tonight as I review student assignments and contemplate more work on my Masters of Celebrancy project.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This Marriage Brought to You by a Fortune Cookie

For the last couple of weeks I have been telling you the story of how Wookie and I found each other and started our life together. Today is the anniversary of our proposal.

Wookie and I had been together for 17 days. And by together, I mean constantly. We took short breaks to go to our respective jobs. On weekends I went to the dive shop with Wookie. As far as we were concerned, we were still on our first date.

In our first week together, we had already established that we loved each other. Wookie said it first. I said it a week later. Life was good. We had settled into a weird kind of cohabitation that involved both our homes as we each had cats to feed.

After about two weeks together, I would occasionally catch Wookie muttering something.  When I asked what he said, he would say, “noting” or mutter something about “too soon.”

I had some fortune cookies stashed away,
but Wookie ate them before I could take a picture.
I let it pass. I was having too good a time.

January 11, found us back in the Manhattan dive shop where he worked. It was quiet day—not a customer to be seen. We ordered Chinese food for dinner. I don’t remember how I entertained myself that afternoon, I remember Wookie was reading a book and muttering. 

“We should get married!” I said. But Wookie was too busy muttering to himself to hear me. 

I went to pick up our dinner.

Dinner was a picnic, right out of the containers, with chopsticks and plastic forks, eating over the glass counter by the register. I reached into the bag our dinner had come in looking for the fortune cookies—there was only one. I gave it to Wookie.

The dive shop has long since closed, but if we were to find our way back, I could tell you exactly where he stood. I watched him crack open that cookie and read the fortune. Something went through his whole body—like a sigh but with more resolve.

“Can you come here?” he asked.

I came around the counter and he took my hands, sighing again.  This time he asked, “So, would you like to marry me, please?”

I know I said yes. I know I jumped up and down like a jackrabbit on speed. Then I said, “Are you kidding?” Actually, I asked several times.

He wasn’t kidding.

For weeks—almost as long has we’d been together—he’d been wanting to propose. All those mutterings of “too soon” were about asking me to marry him. Considering how I reacted to his first I love yous, I couldn’t blame him.

But what had changed?

The fortune cookie was the clincher.


I’d like to say it was a romantic evening after that. But the fortune cookie wasn’t the only surprise of the evening. That night we both had food poisoning. 

Still, nothing confirms true love like how your fiance reacts when you're doubled over with your body trying to turn itself inside out. We took good care of each other that night—and ever since.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wedding Brought to You by Skype

Skype has become my new favorite business tool.

My last two wedding clients' both met with me via Skype rather than in person. For Karen and Wes, it was a matter of scheduling and convenience. Pamela and Scott live in Scotland, so an in-person meeting in advance of their trip to NY was impossible.

The video calls make it possible to for me to see my friend in Canada (sometimes daily), meet clients face-to-face regardless of where they live or what time it is in our respective time zones, and have conferences with my Celebrant students. It's like being on Star Trek--or sometimes Space Balls--I told you never to call me on this wall!

Yesterday, I was able to do something very special for my couple. The bride's mother was unable to make the trip to the states to attend the wedding. So I set up a Skype call and she was able to see everything online. It was a sweet moment when Pamela made her entrance and realized that her mom could see her. Every once in a while I'd glance over and see her on the screen of my tablet. After the ceremony, they took some time to chat. I was so happy to be able to make that happen for them.

I never cease to be amazed that these things are possible and accessible. Sometimes I wonder what will come next!

(See Pamela and Scott's Wedding Video.)