Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Getting Ready for Summer and Back to School...At the Same Time

Yay! My kids have been on summer vacation for a week and it's awesome. Don't be jealous, though, because school will begin again during the first days of August. But who cares about that right now. It. Is. Summer!

After a week of Field Day, Movie Day, picnics, parties and chaos I am not in the mood to work. I want to just throw down the backpacks and relax. And that would be disasterous. Work would pile up to my knees  eyeballs. If I get all the tedious stuff done then there's more time to relax and have fun. I've found some crazy easy ways to start the summer off right and get ready for back to school all at the same time. Without breaking a sweat or getting stressed out.

End of School:  As soon as we're home from the last day, I gather the backpacks and lunchboxes. They are emptied and we assess what needs to be tossed and what needs to be replaced. If it's tossable (yes, it's a word) then it goes bye bye right that waiting. In quick order, I assess the kids' clothes, school papers and school supplies. Clothes are organized into categories: next size up, to sell, to donate and rags. School papers are pared down to a few examples from the beginning, middle and end of the year. Here's a fun tip: Save a few less-than-perfect samples. Let your kids enjoy the misspelled journal entries that really speak of who they were when they were little. Assessing the school supplies only takes a few minutes. At this point, the smartest thing I do is make The List. I'll print out the school's required supply list and on the back, I'll jot down all those things I know I'll need such as extra ice packs, a spare lunch box, new backpacks, etc. As I buy things, I'll cross them off my list. I start my shopping now because I don't want to spend the last precious days of summer standing in a long line at the big box store with all the other tired mamas and their equally tired and exhausted kids. I'll use those sales to stock up for rainy days and school donations.

Summer Fun:  Aside from trips we may take, I make sure to have plans that fit my, relaxing, free or inexpensive. I check out the library for free movies, summer programs and Dollar Book Days. I look for festivals, fireworks, market fairs and anything that's just a little out of our ordinary routine. I also look for coupons or specials at all our favorite places during the summer. Many places let kids eat free on specific days. I also look for discounts at local attractions. True, we've already seen some of these things, but I promise you, a rainy day at the interactive museum will be fun, especially if you haven't been in a while. By the way, if we do take a trip you can be sure I'm looking for the best deals and savings I can find.

Back to School: I'm already looking for ways to get school clothes at the best possible prices. In one of my favorite stores I was given $20 in Store Dollars for spending a certain amount on a previous purchase. I used those few dollars to pick up three short sleeved shirts that will be perfect for returning to school in August. I've been looking at eBay, consignment stores and my favorite online places to get a jump start as well as looking for great items in my favorite stores. I'm not aiming for a full wardrobe; I just need to fill in the gaps of their summer wardrobe and get a few things that  make them feel like the start of the school year is a special time.

Kids, school and vacation cost money but they don't have to break the bank. Use some creativity and start early to keep ahead of the chaos. Enjoy your summer!

Monday, March 4, 2013

What NOT to do During the Furlough

In a previous post, we covered what could be done to help get you through the furlough. Hopefully those ideas will help make those 22 weeks a little less painful. Now that the Do's are covered, it's time to tackle the Don'ts. It's a gut reaction to eliminate all spending to squirrel away every single penny possible to keep the wolf away from the door. I know, because that's what my instinct tells me to do.

There are going to be some instances where doing that very thing is going to cost you a whole lot more money in the long run. A whole lot more. 

Don't forgo auto maintenance.  It takes time and money to get your oil changed and that $25-40 could buy a lot of of canned goods. Change the oil instead. The cost of new motor would be the kiss of death to your financial well being.

Don't reduce your medicine.  My household spends hundreds of dollars a month on medicine and that's going to be a strangle hold on my financial neck, but so the outcome of eliminating or reducing the dosage of our meds. If possible stock up now. Get as many refills now as possible and put them back. Ask your doctor for samples. My own physician thinks its the greatest thing in the world to send his patients home with a goodie bag. Yours will, too. Also, some pharmaceutical companies will give you one free month for certain medications. Take 20 minutes and hit the web to see what's available.

Don't eliminate your business memberships. In some cases, these are expensive and you might be inclined to eliminate them from your budget. Try to maintain them provided you aren't starving to do so. The connections you make just might get you some freelance work or maybe even a new job.

Don't give up all business lunches.  It is true you can provide a tastier, much healthier meal from your leftovers (which makes it free, too.) It's also going to be true that morale at work might be lower because everyone is in the same boat as you are and it's hard to be happy and productive when you're mad at the boss and broke. You need to avoid that mindset at all costs. If you can financially manage it, eat at work one day a week or once every other week. You need to see and be seen. Even during hard times, networking is necessary. There is going to be that one guy who picks up extra work and is willing to tell you how he did it. Or someone is going to mention that Such and Such Company is looking for someone with your exact qualifications. You can't afford to miss those opportunities. And if your employer holds Morale Booster events every month, then by all means, go to it, choke down a few finger foods and open your ears for income making possibilities.  And do not bad mouth your employer.

Don't give up all your fun.  Your money is going to get tighter and you aren't going to want to be spending those precious remaining dollars by throwing them away on frivolous entertainment. But you need frivolous entertainment! Sign up for all the free birthday goodies in your area. Many places provide free ice cream cones, appetizers, one movie/sporting event ticket and many more. Just check your local area and sign up for everything you can. Try second-run theaters. If you love arts and crafts or mani-pedis, try the clearance bins and look for coupons to make the price practically free. Hard times feel harder when you're deprived. Try to find a few things that make the tough times bearable.

Don't wallow in your misery.  It is easy to start wallowing around, overeating, letting things pile up and just being miserable. We all want to do that. The problem is it just doesn't work and makes it all worse.  On your furlough day, get up! Take a shower and dress nicely for the day ahead of you. Make sure you eat something and start your day. Be positive about whatever task is ahead of you. Remember the people around you are going to pick up on your cues and, in turn, you will respond to your own positive attitude.

 Losing one fifth of your income for 22 weeks is about as awful as it gets, financially speaking. It's going to take determination. patience and faith. Hang in there and keep your chin up.

Good luck.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

How to Survive the Furlough

The thought of a looming furlough has many of us mad, afraid, even shaking in our boots.  Many of us are looking deep in the piggy bank and staring at a stack of bills wondering How on earth can we survive? You can and you will. It will not only affect the 800,000 federal employees but also anyone who is breathing. You can't possibly imagine how many things you do/buy are affected by federal employees and what can happen when they are working 20 percent less. Prices will go up and money will go down.

My husband and I will be affected and here are some things that we, and some of our friends, are doing to make it much less painful. Everyone of us is in a different situation but there's something for everyone here.

Take advantage of the warning. A furlough could go into effect beginning the end of April and lasting until the end of September. That's 22 days or almost one month's salary. Don't wait until you see a smaller check or find crazy high prices to panic. Start planning right now.  Take advantage of these next few weeks to put some financial armour between you and the wolf at the door. Make your changes now.

Determine how much pay you're losing. If your employer has provided a furlough calulator, by all means use it today. When I received the email of my husband's calculator, I will admit I felt a sick knot in my stomach. You have to get passed that and figure out how much less you'll be living on. If you don't have a furlough calculator, just get a ball park figure in mind. In a five day week, you're losing one day's pay. Take your check and divide by 5. That's the amount you're losing. Painful, but ignorance hurts more.

Get a new attitude. It is perfectly human and natural to want to pretend it isn't happening or want to deal with it tomorrow. Save yourself the misery. You have got to trade fear for determination or even anger. Forget about I can't do this. What am I going to do? You go look in the mirror right now and tell yourself Well, this just sucks but I am in control of my future. I will not let this ruin me. I am smart and I'm a badass. I got this. Or whatever makes you want to get up, roar and take some action.

Save what you can.  Try to save as much as you can now to offset the amount you're losing. Let's suppose your check will be $300 less. Could you start living on less now and save $150? Do that with every check and you'll have a fair sized buffer between you and the wolf. Go one better and determine the entire 22 days of lost pay and then calculate how to put that amount in the bank before the furlough begins. Score!! I know. That's a big stretch for most of us, but that's okay. Just save something, anything and start yesterday. Do not touch it.

Stockpile responsibly.  Here is a way to really save responsibly. Stockpile expensive, necessary things without going overboard. Meat inspectors are federal employees and if' they are working less you can bet the farm the prices will skyrocket even higher than they are now. Every trip to the grocery store, buy something you can put back. Think: canned chicken, tuna, Spam, sausage, hot dogs, basically any meat/fish you know your family will eat. And if they hate Spam, do not stock up on it, no matter how many coupons you have.

Buy less processed items. My kids love cookie mixes and I've found it's just tons cheaper to have some of the raw ingredients on hand. Take the time to bag up the dry ingredients and write the directions and other ingredients on the outside of the zip bag. There you go! Prepackaged cookie mix.  Stay away from those seasoned microwave veggies coated in cheese. It is the easiest thing to make at home and you will be surprised how good it tastes. Do this with all kinds of things and you'll see significant savings.

Make some changes now. If you wait until the last minute to make changes it's going to be overwhelming. Make some now and many will hardly be noticeable. I've got two kids that will eat everything that isn't nailed down. That bag of chips that went from 2.99 to 3.49 is now 4.99. Um, I don't think so. I'll get a bag but when it's gone, it is gone and I don't do special trips for chips. I've already switched over to healthier alternatives that happen to be cheaper. When Crunch Time hits, they won't even notice we're cutting back. That goes for every category. Start driving less. If you aren't giving up your expensive gym membership then find a cheaper gym now.

Save as much vacation time as possible. If you just cannot make ends meet, you may need to use your vacation/holiday/annual leave time to make up the financial difference in your check. Save as many days as you can just in case.

Creative savings.  If money somehow vaporizes before you can deposit your savings, then get creative with how you save. I've been buying grocery store gift cards every time I go shopping. True, they're only small amounts but a handful of $10 gift cards will come in handy when we need milk and lunch meat. I do the same thing with gas cards. Just buying one or two now could make the difference in me running out of gas and getting stuck on the side of the road. This isn't for everyone but I'm trying to convey thinking outside the box so that these hard days don't control you. You control them.

Love thy neighbor.  My brother is very generous and shares with me the blackberries and figs he grows. I love them and there is always a ton more than I can ever use so I share them with my neighbor who has lovingly shared the garden vegetables her brother shares with her. It's a funny circle but we all benefit. I've learned that to offset her financial loss, my neighbor has found a way to save on after school care. Another neighbor is a stay at home mom and is willing to pick up all the children (two) and bring them to her house until the mom gets home from work (about an hour) in exchange for pizza take out on Fridays. Brilliant. There's tons of ways we can all help each other. Last week, my neighbor and I were both going to the store for a gallon of milk, so I picked up hers too.  Next time,she goes she's agreed to grab me a gallon. We both save a few pennies and a good half hour.

Find multiple streams of income.  With so many people on furlough and probably an equal amount hurting financially, it might be a little hard to get a part time job or change jobs completely. Don't let that stop you. Take the time to make your resume the best and submit it anyway. While you're waiting, you need to find more ways to boost your income. There's always the old tried and true methods like  yard sales, ebay, etsy, etc. Stick with those and add a few new ones. Could you tutor students one day a week? You could meet them and their parents at the library on Saturdays. Are you artistic or musical? Try getting a gig at the local art/music store. I know someone who is doing hand calligraphy on children's party invitations during the evenings. She's not getting rich, but her car always has a full tank of gas.

Keep to the routine.  A routine is what makes us feel safe and secure so you must keep to them as best as you can. If you go to the movies every week, switch to a second-run theatre.  Like to hike? Try out areas of interest closer to your home.  How about that expensive hobby you enjoy? Now is the perfect time to use up all those supplies you have before buying more. You know the old phrase Use what you've got, do what you know. How about a gourmet coffee and gigantic muffin? Perfect! Come on over! I found a new recipe and it is divine! Find inventive ways to keep some of what makes life feel normal.

Keep at it! Times are tough and feels unfair. But we've just got to get over it. We can't run from it and we can't avoid it. But we can tackle it head on and we can get through it. Not every idea will work and some will work wonders. I bet you've already got a list of what you're doing to get through the furlough. Please share those ideas. I can use all the help I can get.

We're in it together. Best of luck to you!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Organizing Your Home for 2013

By this time of the year, you are probably just sick and tired of all the clutter, the junk, the too much of everything.  But next year will be different, you say.  Sure it will.....if you start right now.  No, it's not crazy talk. Just make the effort, start right now and by year's end, you'll be all set.

 Here's the quick and easy steps to get you going in the right direction.

Gather your supplies.  You're going to be tossing, sorting, keeping and organizing so you'll need a few things. Grab a trash bag and a few boxes.

Pick your starting point. Decide where you're going to begin and do not deviate. This is not the time to be wandering aimlessly from room to room.

First, we toss.  One of the biggest time wasters is to organize the things you intend to get rid of. Don't bother. Grab the trash bag and very quickly throw out everything you are absolutely certain you have no need for. Be honest with yourself. If, for example, you plan to donate some old cookbooks, no one is going to want them if they are stained and rippled from liquid spills. Toss them out. The same goes for those puzzles where two pieces are missing. Out they go.

Next, we sort. Set your boxes up according to what you intend to do with your items. My boxes are almost always Another Room, Donate, In the Attic, Yard Sale. So let's assume your sorting will be similar. Again, you're going to be moving quickly. Remember, we aren't wasting our precious time organizing unnecessary things so the next order of business is to remove any items that don't belong in that particular room. There's no need to dash around taking them to their rightful home; just toss them in the Another Room box.  Now that the room has been emptied of the worst offenders, you can breeze through the next step. As you are straightening up the area, you'll come across items and decide if you want them to stay in the room or go elsewhere. That's where the last three boxes (Donate, Attic and Yard Sale) come in. Place items in the appropriate boxes and you're almost all done.

Bye Bye!  Take the Donate Box you've filled and put in the trunk of your car right this minute. No waiting because the more you do that, the more inclined you are to start taking that junk right out of the box again. When you're out running errands, simply drop the box off to your favorite donation center of choice and don't forget to get a receipt. You'll be glad you did at tax time,  Put the Attic box away (which may not be the attic but the garage, just store it.)  All that's left is the Another Room box. Have family members help you put things back in there rightful place.

You're all done. You're almost done!

This step is pretty easy and it helps you avoid getting into this mess again. Whenever you are working on a project, try to handle things as they come along. It's ridiculously simple, but no one ever does it. Ever. As you're putting away out of season clothes, go ahead and toss the stained ones and put the ones you want to donate or give to Cousin Sally in the trunk of the car. If you're putting away your Christmas decorations feel free to toss out broken ornaments, light strings that won't work. I know you're busy but waiting until next year is only going to aggravate you in about 12 months. Do this one step as often as you can and for most projects it only takes a minute or two.

My resolution every New Years Day is to get organized and I bet yours is too. Here's one easy, peasy way to do it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Improve Your Finances in 2013......Start Now

It's the end of the year and you are not even close to finishing your Christmas shopping. Just looking at your unfinished To Do list is making you cringe. How in the world are you supposed to even start thinking about next year's finances?  Geez, lady, are you crazy?

No, not crazy, but I'm hoping that with a little nudge, you'll be able to get a jump start on improving your finances in the new year. Here's a list of simple things to get you started now, so you will already be in the habit when Baby New Year arrives.

Flex Accounts: Make sure you have depleted your flex account before it's too late. Also reevaluate your information and increase/decrease your amounts as needed.

End of Year Medical Receipts: Gather all medical receipts for your accountant because you may qualify for a tax break. Ask the pharmacy and your physicians for a print out if locating your receipts becomes too difficult. Think: braces, medications, canes, medical equipment, etc.

Drop off Donations Now: If you're planning to get rid of old clothes, household items, toys or lawn equipment this is a great time to do it and, happily, you will be given a receipt for your taxes.

Start saving one type of money: Select one kind of money and vow to set it aside every time it crosses your path. Ones, fives, all change or just quarters, whatever you choose. Just make sure you get it out of your wallet and put it some place you won't be inclined to dip into. It's the most painless way you'll ever save and you can use it for debt repayment or perhaps for an irregular expense such as auto insurance. At my house, we have several of these in place. The Giving Jar and The Vacation Jar (which isn't intended to pay for the entire vacation but for and extra special outing or dinner while on vacation or possibly a fun day trip) are used by the whole family. We each have our own piggy banks/jelly jar and the individual gets to use those funds at their own discretion.

Bank the raise. Have your payroll department to deposit your raises into a separate savings account. You're already living without it and the money is available if you really, really neeed it.

Run your appliances wisely: This is another almost too easy kind of thing to do I tend to lower the thermostat considerably when the kids are at school and I can offset the temperature drop by strategically using my appliances. You would be surprised how much heat your dryer and oven generate. Let me be clear: I'm not sitting around waiting for subzero temps to dry a load of towels but  I'm mindful of keeping the indoor chores in line with the outdoor temps when I can and the savings have been very noticeable. Who knew making sugar cookies for Christmas would lower the power bill? Score!

Deposit reimbursements:  Many employers reimburse you for specific expenses such as mileage, meals, professional membership dues and bus passes. Consider adding these to your savings account if you don't need them in your checking account. I've got a friend who travelled for his job and was reimbursed for all the mileage he incurred. He used the reimbursements to make his car payments and used to joke it was the truck that ACME Electric paid for. He drove that truck until it literally fell off the wheels, so double score for him!

Use those Gift Cards wisely: Don't be disappointed your Christmas bounty included gift cards to big box stores. Find a website to swap them out or better yet, just go stock up on necessities. Everything may be so expensive nowadays, but you'll be surprised how much toilet paper you can get for that $100 gift card.

Improve your Lunches: Forget the puny brown paper bag and a piddly PB and J. And don't even think you're going to eat this way for five days a week. Go out and get yourself a nice lunch box (I like the kind that store in the freezer) and a simple thermos. Slice up last night's roast beef and put it on some nice rye or thick hoagie bread. Add your favorite spicy or flavored mustard and pickles. Throw in some leftover salad and add some Greek yogurt on the side. How about some leftover chili? Shredded cheese (the nice kind) and some croutons packaged on the side will make a great topping. You aren't trying to do this every day and you aren't buying tons of expensive  ingredients so by setting reasonable and tasty expectations you can save a great deal money. And time. Who wants to spend their lunch hour waiting in line for a greasy burger and cold, limp fries when you can have a great meal that is free!

Be smart and use your smart phone: Set your smart phone calendar to alert you 3-5 days before a bill is due. Late fees can run anywhere from $20-$100 (yes, you read that right and no, I'm not going to name names,) If you're going to pay out an extra $20 per month use it as an extra debt payment instead of a late fee.

Get a shredder: Financial security includes protecting what you have before some thug steals your identity. All you need is a shredder, cardboard box, one trash bag and very gross leftovers. Put your unneeded documents in a cardboard box. When it's full, sit down with a shredder (they're fairly inexpensive) and start shredding away while listening to some tunes or watching tv. Once that's done, fill the trash bag with your financial confetti and any gross trash you have: the cat's litterbox deposits and anything in the fridge ready to be tossed out works fine. Nobody, not even a thief, is going to want to try puzzle piecing your wet, stinky bank statements.

Look around you: You probably don't realize that some of your wealthy looking friends are just that --wealthy looking. They appear to be living the good life but are up to their eyeballs in debt. Now look around you again. You come in contact with a lot of people who look like they are living the good life even though they make exactly what you make. How is that possible? Because they are smart with their money and their purchases. Watch and learn. They're are tons of ways to get what you want without paying full price. I recently paid $25 for a $50 gift card at the laser tag center for my teenager by simply signing up at one of those local promotion websites. Ask around and pick some brains. Learn from those who are living the good life.

Do it the Old School Way:  Check out credit unions for Christmas Club accounts. See what stores have layaways (yes, they're back!). Turn in your cola cans at the recycling center for a few pennies. Get creative.

Do it the New Way: Look online to see where you can sell your old electronics or which stores will take your old cell phone as a trade in toward your new one. It may be a good idea to check out the online yard sales to see what's out there. You may find something you need or get an idea of what is the current hot seller.

Set reasonable goals: If the thought of obtaining debt freedom or having a year's emergency fund is so daunting you can't even get started, then reset your goals to something more reasonable. Perhaps having a goal of paying off that $150 credit card balance or puttting aside one weeks' income is more manageable. Once you achieve that, you're going to feel empowered and ready to climb a little higher up your financial ladder.

Money matters aren't easy. If they were, we'd all be sitting on a huge pile of savings with not a financial care in the world. Take very small steps, especially if you're afraid of failure or have the all or nothing frame of mind many of us do. With each step, you get a better understanding of what you are capable of and how far you've come.

A word of caution. Never try everything all at once. Pick a few things and master those skills one at a time before moving forward. This isn't a race. You are building a strong foundation for your financial future to rest on.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Savings Benefit You Later

'I just love being ill-prepared and paying top dollar for everything,' said no one. Ever. And yet, it happens time and again, doesn't it? Admit it. Suddenly you need something right this instant and remember there was a great deal on it.....two weeks ago. So what do you do? Probably grumble and you just hand over your wallet to the cashier and sadly say, 'Here. Just take every last dime.'

It's probably one of the biggest indicators to why our budgets are always a miserable failure. We don't think ahead and we don't prepare like we ought to. If only we could do a better job, we would feel more in control of our money and much more prepared and organized.

That's all about to change and it starts with the Thanksgiving sales. It isn't hard; it's actually a very easy thing to do. Let's walk through the steps.

Buy it now, use it later. Much of the food items that goes on sale now is not limited to Thanksgiving use only. I stock up on some things this time of year because they are a much better price than usual and also because they will come in handy regardless of whether it's Turkey Day or not. Some of what I stock up on includes chicken broth, dressing/stuffing mix (makes excellent bread crumbs and a fantastic dish called Peach Glazed Stuffed Pork Chops. Oh joy!), canned green beans, baking goods like flour, sugar, cookie/brownie/cake mixes, ginger ale, fancy crackers, cream cheese, you get the idea. Buy a few more than you normally do and you've got the start of a well stocked pantry. If you're a turkey lover and you have the space, get an extra one for later this winter. To change things up a bit, just don't serve it with the same trimmings. Try Turkey Tetrazinni, grilled turkey breast with roasted vegetables, sub sandwiches, soups, stews or maybe an artisan salad. The list is endless and you get the idea. If space is limited, try a smaller turkey. Cornish hens, sausage and chicken are also great for stocking up.

There's more to it than food. Not all sales right now are about the food. Manufacturers know that once the feast is over, you've got to store your leftovers or send them home with your guests. Look for great deals on storage containers, zip bags, aluminum foil/plastic wrap, disposable plates and cups. There's also great deals on paper towels and dishwasher soap.

Don't forget to look beyond the season. The days following Thanksgiving will see a dramatic price drop in what is considered 'seasonal' merchandise but you need to think beyond that. Cream, gold and red items can be used any time. I purchase candles and household fragrance items in vanilla, berry and apple to use year round. Wrap a thin ribbon of burlap and a sprig of fir around that vanilla candle and voila! Merry Christmas to you! I just learned the value of having a lighter in the house. Our power went out and because I never replaced the old one, there was no way to light a candle. For about four hours, I growled inside at myself, but I did make up for it by using a coupon and finding a great sale on them (next to the cinnamon candles!) to purchase two.

Take advantage of the Thanksgiving sales (and clearance) to help take care of your future self. Using the same principles, do the same thing after Christmas and New Years Day.

You have an excellent opportunity to stock up on some basic supplies without breaking the bank, but you need to proceed with caution. Never buy more than you can reasonably use or share  and never buy more than you can reasonably store. Use some practical sense because  you will never need 145 cans of green beans and nobody would want them stored under the tv anyway. Remember to store things in a logical fashion, too. I guarantee if you hide your croutons in the back of your closet on some dark shelf, you will never find them when you need them.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

How to Organize and Save Money with Coupons the Normal Way

Let me give you a little background information: I save money using coupons. And not in a crazy way either.  I don't hoard toothpaste, it doesn't take me hours to shop, I don't steal coupons from recycling bins, I don't leave the shelves empty and, this is important, I never get $300 worth of stuff for thirteen cents. Ever.

But I do save money as in put in in the bank and leave it alone. I do have a nice supply of necessities on hand and I'm able to give plenty to the school food bank fundraiser. Here's my tips for organizing coupons and saving in a nice, normal way.

Keeping up with the Coupons.  In order for couponing to be effective and easy to maintain, you have to store them in a way that is easy for you to understand and in a way that makes you actually want to stick with it. Only you can determine what method works best for you. For me, it was this large, heavy duty file card box made from thick and translucent plastic. It worked like a charm for more than two decades (that's college, single life, married and two babies. Whew! I guess it had a long life!) When it finally died, I switched to an old fashioned, but small, photo album. Like my wonderful box, it's divided into categories that make sense to me: dairy, dinner, pets, baby, snacks, cleaner, medicine, you get the idea.

Be Reasonable.  Know your reasonable expectations of what you will use in a timely fashion and only keep those coupons. I have been known to go online and print coupons for products that don't get purchased frequently. I still don't know what possessed me to acquire seven coupons which expired in a month for bug bite ointment. I wasted time, newspapers, and  printer ink and paper for coupons I couldn't possibly use for a product I probably wouldn't need that much of.I don't need a year's supply of mustard so I don't need to scrounge up ten extra sets of coupons. Maybe one or three will do just fine. The more you overdue it, the less likely you can maintain it.

Maintenance Schedule.  Just because coupon clipping and organizing is an ongoing thing doesn't mean it's painful or time consuming. Get into a rhythm of setting aside a few minutes to remove expired coupons and clipping/filing new ones. I tend to sort/toss mine while we're sitting at the kitchen table doing homework: I'm doing what I need but it isn't difficult, so I can easily put it down and help someone conjugate a verb.  I sometimes do the clipping when I'm catching up on the weather report. If it's taking too long, you need to simplify your plan. You literally only need a few minutes.

Get your Game(plan) On.   Look at the list of things you need to shop for and compare it to your store's circular. Next, match up your coupons. There's no need for trickery or trying to double stack your coupons. Simply buy what you have to, using sales and coupons to lower the price. If your coupon container is small, go ahead and take it to the store with you. Maybe you'll find a great bargain. Just be courteous of the shoppers around you and don't block the aisle looking for an obsure cream of tartar coupon.

Put that Back!  If you love So Yummy! Haggus Soup then, by all means, buy some. But if not, don't waste money getting a cart full. If you won't eat it, you haven't saved money. The only exception is if you want to try something and the coupon makes the product ridiculously cheap. I do that all the time for new products when the coupon and introductory price make something financially attractive. But a whole cart full? I guarantee this will be the one time you hate it and then you're stuck.

 People turn against coupons because they see the near-psychotic appearance/attitude of the coupon hoarders. It doen't have to be like that. A little goes a long way. Slow and steady savings is the way to achieve coupon success.

Happy Clipping!