Monday, January 27, 2014

You Gotta Eat - Extreme Couponing!

I'm very excited to have a guest blogger today! I won't lie - I'm not a devoted coupon-er. I've tried it a few times and ended up spending several hours in the grocery store trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong. So I'm super excited to have a coupon pro (and his awesome mom) to talk about couponing tips today - my second cousin (I think... the counting and "removal" of naming cousins escapes me a bit) Elliot and his mom, Kammy! As I've read through these, there are definitely some tips that I'm putting into place for our family this week.

Kammy is a way cooler blogger than me, so if you get a chance, check out Reflections from the Red Couch for her hilarious and thought-provoking views on life, autism (two of her three children are on the spectrum), and occasionally alcohol and controlled substances. ;-)

Elliot is a man of few words (which I can appreciate), so included with his awesome tips are commentary from Kammy in italics.

FYI – Elliott is a terrific guy who has an amazing memory for numbers & directions, never forgets a birthday, runs 10K races & has autism.  While autism makes some things challenging in his life, it also has provided him with some wonderful strengths that we do our best to encourage. When he struggled with leisure skills, we found that coupon matching was something he loved, and so he started to coupon for our family.When he is able to collect items through couponing above and beyond what we need, he is able to gift them to some local shelters, and thus has learned to help our community in his own way. He’s inspired all of us – as I don’t think I had ever used a coupon in my life until Elliott shared his knowledge with me!

My name is Elliott. I am an extreme couponer and I’m thirteen 13. I will try to help you learn how to use coupons and not get ripped off at paying the regular price.

Getting Coupons: I get coupons from the newspaper inserts and I get coupons online. I get most of my coupons from inserts and online.

Our biggest sources are inserts from the Sunday newspaper and on-line coupons that we print.  We have 2 major newspapers in the Twin Cities, and have found coupons for a 1-year-subscription for $2 for one and $4 for the other.  This way we usually get 3 sets of inserts each week for minimal cost.

Storing: I store my coupons in a binder in my office. I have four tabs in my coupon binder. They are FOOD, BEVERAGES, HOUSEHOLD, AND PERSONAL CARE. I keep my inserts in neat piles by date.

We have a ridiculous purple binder that we keep our coupons in. Elliott maintains it (with help), and if it is embarrassing to take to the store, just remove the coupons you think you will use and leave the beast at home.  That said, we have no shame, and have been able to switch gears by having the binder with us when a store is out of something, etc.  We got one like this, except that ours has crazy red and yellow stripes in addition to the purple.  Our binder has 4 tabs:  Food, Beverages, Household Supplies & Personal Care.  You can have many more tabs if that’s your deal – but we aim for ease so these work for us.

Additionally, we don’t cut coupons out of the newspaper inserts (again, this is a time saving measure).  We just keep them stacked in piles by date (usually about 3 months) and only cut them out when we need them.  Elliott does cut them.

Use Websites: Websites do the coupon matching for you to save time. I use COUPONMOM.COM, AND POCKET YOUR DOLLARS. I USE THOSE THE MOST.

This is key for us – as our lifestyle does not permit a great deal of time each week for these tasks.  We use websites that do all the matching of deals for us by store.  One of the best national websites is – you can look up stores based on your geographic area, click on the store, and it lists the deals by % savings so you know the best deals each week.  Additionally, it lists links to on-line coupons you may need and/or lists which coupon insert needed in order to get the best deal.  You can just check the items you need, print a list, gather the coupons you need, and head to the store.  Likely, you will have regional/local sites that may be even better.  We have – which is fabulous, but geared towards the Midwest.

Last, this is something that may work for some people and may irritate others.  We have signed up for a number of daily emails that compile the best bargains of the day (or week).  These may be grocery related, or often list huge deals on Amazon or let you know when Target puts items on clearance, etc.  Frankly, many days, we just delete them due to lack of time, so we don’t feel overwhelmed by them.  But, if Elliott or I have time to look through them, we have been able to take advantage of some great deals.  Here are our favorites – if any interest you, just visit their website and subscribe for email reminders.  If getting emails drives you nuts, don’t do it!  Most have Facebook pages as well (Elliott does not have FB yet, but I have “liked” some of these pages).

For The Mommas:

Couponing for 4:

Couponers United:

Couponing to Disney:

Addicted to Saving:

I hope that helped you learn how to coupon. If you have questions for me I can be reached at my email address My goal is to save fifty percent or more on the receipt.

Did you read that last line?! Elliot helps his family save FIFTY PERCENT... HALF... on their purchases!

Honestly, almost all of this, especially the websites that will do coupon-matching, is new to me! I will admit that I can be lazy-level frugal, but Kammy's hints and tips make me confident that most of these are things that I can put into place for our weekly grocery trips!

2014 'Do More With Less' Money Challenge #2:

Use at least two of Elliot's Extreme Coupon-er tips to save at the grocery store this week!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

You Gotta Eat - Making a Meal Plan

The first 2014 'Do More With Less' Money Challenge topic is pretty dear to my heart. I LOVE food. And it's practical because, well, you'll probably never eliminate food from your budget or your life. I will be the first person to admit that food is almost always the area we go over our budget, when we do.

"Hey, do you want to go through the DQ drive-thru?" Hell to the yes I do. Always. So I've tried to learn a lot of tricks and tips to help keep the food budget under control.
Today we are going to talk about two ideas:

1. Eat at home more often. I'm not actually sure that there's much I can follow that up with. Eating out will almost always be more expensive and/or worse for you (health wise) than making something at home.

2. Make a meal plan and grocery list for every shopping trip. Don't worry, this point will be a little bit more robust than point one.

Have you ever gone grocery shopping without a list? How has that worked out for you. Because if I walk in to a grocery store without a list and plan, I usually leave with several boxes of TGI Friday's potato skins  or jalapeƱo poppers and some Ghiradelli chocolate. And then I have to come back the next day with a list and actually get legitimate food. Or, even if I'm in a very responsible mood and without a list, I get random meat cuts, too much bread, and random produce that spoils before I can figure out how to use it. Creating a meal plan and then a grocery list based on that plan is one of the easiest ways to avoid that, and I've found it to be more "bang for my buck" than coupon-cutting, deal-seeking, etc. (though I will talk about those too, later this month!)

Here is a real life example of my husband going to the store with a "general idea" of what we needed:

What WAS needed:                                       What was NOT needed, but still purchased:

Meal planning is something that's very unique for each family, based on their preferences and dietary restrictions. I will share some tricks and tips (and an example) below, but I'd love to hear other ideas or advice from any of you reading!

I like to plan meals a week at a time. This was a process of trial and error. I've done everything from a week to a month at a time, and a week just works better for me. I have a Costco membership, but even buying a month of groceries from there didn't amount to much savings. Plus I'm trying to do more fresh produce, and by week four of a month-long grocery trip, you're basically eating cereal and boxed pasta.

Here is our usual process:

1. Start the meal plan with something with the most worthy and simple leftovers. 
For example, this past week, Nate made a beef roast, and we had potatoes, frozen green beans, and cinnamon baked apples. After we were done with our roast, Nate cut the remaining roast into thin strips. We used that for beef stir-fry and beef stroganoff later in the week. They were just how I like my leftovers - well disguised. Next week we plan to do something similar, with a turkey breast, making turkey noodle casserole and turkey club sandwiches.

2. Make sure you have one or two no-brainers on there.

Inevitably, one or two days this week you'll have a "maybe we should just order Chinese" kind of day. Like maybe your toddler dunks your make-up brush in the toilet. This is all hypothetical of course. But on those days you'll push through that if you can say "Ah. Spaghetti. I can do that." instead of looking at a meal plan that calls for you to make beef wellington.

3. Use recipes that have similar ingredients.

Don't pick recipes that all use a different kind of meat - you'll end up wasting meat, or trying to figure out how to redeem yourself next week with the freezer full of randomness you have. Also, I avoid recipes with bizarre or obscure ingredients or spices. If you're not sure if you like curry powder, don't pick one recipe that uses a teaspoon of it and then buy a giant curry powder container that will sit in your pantry forever.

4. Find a few meal plans that work well for you and rotate them.

I keep a file of meal plans and grocery lists on my computer. Once you put the work into a meal plan and grocery list once, it's there forever for you to reuse. I also print the week's meal plan and put it on the refrigerator. If you're real Pinterest-y crafty-like you could probably make some kind of neat decorative chalkboard. But again, I just print mine off on computer paper, and it works just fine.

5. Start with just dinners and see what works best for you.

We usually meal plan just dinners and maybe a few lunches. Some people prefer to plan everything, but for us, it makes more sense just to do dinners. Then we can pick breakfasts and lunches based on what's easy, what's on sale, or what coupons we have. It may be a box of cereal, carton of eggs, and a bag of apples for a week of breakfasts, or something else.

Once your meal plan is done, start your grocery list. I usually copy and paste all of the recipes I plan to use into a word document and then combine like items... so if multiple recipes call for onions, I take it down to just one onion line item. Then I have a pretty standard list of items that we either need or might need weekly from the store - milk, toilet paper, juice, etc. I go through that list and add any items that are applicable. Lastly, I keep a running list on our whiteboard in the kitchen of items to be added to the weekly grocery list, as I realize we need them - Ziploc bags, dish soap, etc.

We can throw in coupons, ad hunting, etc. later, but this is the basic premise of meal planning! I have included an example of a meal plan and grocery list below. Feel free to use it or tweak it however you want!

Meal Plan:

  • Beef roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad
  • Tomato and basil pesto pizza, salad
    • Use this recipe for the crust (makes enough for both crusts - use half of all of the other ingredients purchased for the pizza). Add a layer of pesto as sauce, and thinly sliced tomatoes, drained mushrooms and slices of fresh mozzarella and garlic herb cheese. Top with shredded mozzarella as needed. Bake at 450 for about 12 minutes
  • Beef stir-fry
    • Use the leftover beef in this recipe! Start a pot of rice to serve with. Nate and I like our roast relatively rare-ish, so I start by cooking the leftover beef strips a little more in soy sauce, garlic salt, and a little bit of sriracha and peanut butter! I add the frozen veggie and let it all simmer together a little bit longer. So easy!
  • Spaghetti, salad
  • Tacos, chips and salsa
  • Beef stroganoff, green beans
    • Use the rest of the leftover beef in this! Heat up the beef strips, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of mushrooms (drained) and a package of cream cheese on the stove top. Make a package of egg noodles to serve it with.
  • Tomato and basil pesto pizza
Shopping list:

  • Medium beef roast (whatever cut you prefer) 
  • Potatoes
  • 1 bag frozen green beans 
  • 1 bag salad mix
  • 1 bottle salad dressing
  • 1 container (4) Roma tomatoes
  • 1 jar pesto: 
  • 1 bag of flour
  • 1 jar of yeast
  • 1 bottle olive oil
  • 3 cans of mushrooms
  • 1 block fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 block garlic herb goat cheese
  • 1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 bag frozen stir-fry veggies
  • Rice
  • Peanut butter
  • Soy sauce
  • Garlic salt
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Noodles
  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • Salsa
  • Tortillas
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • Cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 bag of egg noodles
  • 1 block of cream cheese
Nate and I used this for our meal plan, and including some extras for breakfasts and lunches, it cost us just over $100.

Do you have a go-to meal plan? Do you think going to the grocery store with a list can really make a difference?

2014 'Do More With Less' Money Challenge #1: 

Make a meal plan and grocery list before you go to the grocery store next time!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 "Do More With Less" Money Challenge!

As I posted on Facebook earlier today, I have been trying to think of ways to give back in 2014... One idea that I had is this - I love blogging and love being a cheapskate. I mean, never paying full price for my Comcast. I mean... frugal. Anyway. I thought in 2014, I'd pick a theme for each month (the grocery store, around the house, insurance, investing, etc.) and write a weekly or bi-weekly blog on ways to be smarter with your money, related to that topic. Things I've learned from experience, reading on the topic, etc. I'd post meal plans, budget templates, examples... anything I think is relevant and helpful. You (as my Facebook friends) can have all of it for free. Here is the catch! If my tips help you save money in 2014, I ask that you give a portion of what you are able to save to your church or a charity of your choosing.

I'll be honest, a big part of this "challenge" is an accountability factor for me. 2013 was not what I'd call a "winning with money" year for the Morrisons. We had some really good moments - reaching new levels of tithing, purchasing a new home, never carrying a balance on our credit cards month to month... but we had a lot of "gas station soda" moments too. Those moments when you pick convenience over money sense, and your spending could have been easily avoided (i.e. buying a case of soda at the gas station for twice the price of the grocery store, because you're already at the gas station). And I'm okay with that - we had a BUSY year (new town, new job, new house, toddler), and sanity is important. But 2014 will be a year to get back on track and make our money work harder for us - and I hope you will join us!

I would love suggestions and ideas for what would help you - it might help me too! I'm going to do a theme for every month, and a few posts related to that topic, each with one or two "challenges" for you to do. Do it once, or do it through 2014. Not every tip will help you or make sense for your lifestyle, but hopefully they will all at least be worth thinking through!

Here is a proposed schedule for monthly topics for the first half of the year:

January - You gotta eat
February - The "B word" (budget)
March - Bills, bills, bills,
April - Random tips and tricks
May - The "D word" (debt)
June - Around the house

I hope this can be very interactive! Do you have better tips? Other tips? Share them with everyone! Hopefully this will help you... and subsequently, whatever charity or church you give a portion of your savings too! :-)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

To the parents of crappy kids

Being a parent is challenging. Sometimes your kids are crappy – probably figuratively, and depending on their age, maybe also literally. Blakely’s new favorite activity is putting our stuff in the toilet, and attempting to flush it. The toddler meltdowns are happening more and more often. But that's nothing compared to the fact that there’s a chance in the future that she might get pregnant outside a committed relationship or get arrested or steal from us. Even if we try to rock out being a parent. Even if we try to lead her in the ways of God.

But I haven’t been a parent for long enough to be any kind of authority on parenting, or the good, bad, sometimes crappy nature of kids, especially the crappiness of older kids or even grown kids. I don’t have that experience or authority. I’m writing this blog, instead, with the authority of a former crappy kid.

Yeah, you read that right. I was a pretty crappy kid. Yeah, I was a good student and involved in school… But…

  • I was also suicidal at multiple points in high school, and briefly hospitalized in a mental institution. 
  • I was influenced by peer pressure and did multiple things that could have gotten me arrested… like… real arrested. 
  • I had a pregnancy scare in high school only months into my first serious relationship. 

Did you know that? Here’s where my message actually begins.

My guess is, you didn’t know that. But even more likely than that, my guess is, that if you DID know that, you didn’t find that out from my parents. My parents LOVED me as a crappy kid. My parents DISCIPLINED me as a crappy kid. My parents SUPPORTED me as a crappy kid. My parents PRAYED for me as a crappy kid.

My parents didn’t passively aggressively address my crappiness on Facebook. They didn’t ask for prayers for me, really just wanting an outlet to complain about how difficult it was to have me as a kid. They didn’t confuse the fact that the pain they were caused by me was absolutely secondary to my own pain.

...said no one ever.

I’m tired of seeing parents shaming their children on Facebook, either directly or indirectly. Do they deserve it? Sure, probably. They are probably being grade A crappy. Like “me” level crappy. But say it with me. I. AM. THE. PARENT. If my parents treated me the way I deserved to be treated, today I would be dead, or struggling with constant shame and insecurity, or still on the path of crappiness well into adulthood, because I would know that what my parents expected from me.

Publicly and privately supporting your kid, crappy or not, will be what helps them through and ultimately motivates change.

This has been your public service announcement from a former crappy kid, who with her parents' support and discretion, is doing quite well now.