So, really, this isn't a post about living extravagantly, it's just about living in this economy. The heading comes from comments made to us by friends and family that imply they think we have money to burn or we burn money we can't afford to burn. So, not only is this post intended to dispel those notions but also to give some pointers to everyone out there. We go out to dinner every now and then; we even went on a cruise in January. We're going to see Cirque de Soleil's Kooza on the 26th of this month. And I say we don't live extravagantly. Let me tell you some secrets:
1. Groceries: I have a strict budget for our weekly groceries. It didn't change when my sister moved in and it won't change when my parents move here. I don't do grocery shopping without coupons either. Or, without checking out the supermarkets weekly saver online. We have 4 grocery stores - Giant, Super Fresh, Safeway and Costco within a 10 mile radius. Every week, ebfore my grocery run, I look at the weekly specials at the 1st 3 and make my lists. Luckily for me, they are located in a way that I can drive in a circle and hit all 4 if I need to. Additionally, every now and then, they send free delivery coupons out and I have used those. They save me driving time and somebody else spends the time to pick and bag and deliver my groceries to my door. Last week, Giant sent out a $20 off coupon plus another $2 off for being a new customer and another $1 for paying directly through the checking account. I bought $51 worth of groceries + $8 delivery charges and I paid around $39 in the end. There are also websites like Coupons.com and Couponmom.com that offer free printable coupons. The grocery stores also double coupons on certain days. I hate to buy any grocery item full price.
2. Clothing and shoes: This is a biggie for me. since I have lost close to 90 lbs in 2 years, I have had to redo my clothing a lot. One investment I made was a sewing machine but there's only so many times you take a shirt in before it just falls part. Goodwill hasbeen my best buddy. And, even there, I don't pay full price. Last Saturday of very month, clothing and shoes are half price. I have found clothing with tags still on them. I have shoes I bought there whose soles look like they never touched any ground. JC Penney is a close second favorite in our house. Every time you get a receipt from them, you can do an online survey and get a 15% off coupon which is good on regular, sale and clearance prices. You don't even need that survery code if you don't have one. Do a search on Google and I bet somebody's put up their coupon to share. I also have their credit card that never has a balance (pay off as you buy). But, it gives me points. their points get you actual money to spend at the store. Every now and then, they send us $10 gift certificates and you only need to spend $10 to use it. Awesome!!! Even other clothing stores, like if we need underwear from Hanes, you can find a coupon online.
3. Dining out: We never go anywhere without coupons, not even to McDonald's unless we have a coupon. You can usually do a Google search for any restaurant coupons and you are bound to find free appetizer or even free entree coupons. Another website that I ahve found immensely helpful is Restaurant.com. They provide gift certificates to restaurants at lwoer than face value. The catch is you have to spend a little more than face value and there is a mandatory 18% tip. So, where's the gain you ask? Do a Google search for Restaurant.com coupon codes and you are bound to find upto 80% off coupons. Which emasn, I cna get a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant for $2 sometimes. I need to spend $10 more and pay an 18% tip, which means I paid $19 for a $42 meal. We have tried some new restaurants using these certificates.
4. Travel: We just went on a cruise in January. Extravagant, right? There were 4 of us and we stayed in 2 cabins; the cheapest cabins on board, the ones with the bunk beds. Yes, my husband and I slept on bunk beds on our acation. The idea was to have fun on our vacation, we weren't really worried about the sleeping arrangements. I paid less than $200 base price for the cruise per person. I scoured each travel site and the cruise lines, Carnival's site for months before finding the cheapest date. I booked it early in the year but I kept looking at the deals because the final payment wasn't due till November. And, what do you know, the price dropped $40 a month before the final payment was due. I called and they gave me a refund. That $40 paid for the tip we were supposed to leave for the room steward. And, in Miami, I found the cheapest hotel that had accomodations for 4 people and a fridge and microwave in the room as well. So, my husband, my sister, my friend and I stayed in 1 room for our 2 nights in Miami. What was even better, I had originally booked the room for 3 people and when we got there, they made a comment about the 4th person but didn't charge us extra.
For flights too, I spent at least 2 months looking at deals and then used my corporate discount to get an additional 5% off of the already cheapest AirTran flights.
5. Household: I have a second job at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I get to see what goes on clearance first and get it with my employee discount. I still try to use coupons if I can. Or look or mail in rebates. We've been wanting a digital photo frame for a while now since we take a lot of photos and we're running out of wall space to display them. Bed, Bath and Beyond had 1 that was originally $150, and was marked down to $100. With my discount, I got it for $80. However, there was also a $30 mail in rebate on it so finally, the cost to me was $50 plus tax. Similarly, they have clearance items that have poor packaging or a piece is missing and you cna get them from 50-75% off the original price. We have a set of Luigi Bormioli coffee mugs, double walled air insulated, awesome. Originally, anywhere from $20 - $35, I got them for $5 a box. JC Penney is the second store most of our home furnishings are from. We got our window coverings from them at 65% off.
6. Movies: Find gift cards on the Giftcardsagain.com for 7-10% below face value for AMC and Regal movie theaters. Also, check the matinee pricing for each theater. The theater closest to us is also the most expensive. Another 5 minutes away is an AMC that has showings for $6 if you go before noon. Another advantage of an early showing is that it's rarely busy. We have also started frequenting tha local Redbox kiosks. Cannot beat a $1 rental for relatively new movies. Also, some of them are still offering free rental for first time customers. Which actually means free for the credit card you use. So, count the number of unique cards in your wallet and that's how many free movies are waiting for you. The library is another awesome place to get movies. some of the new ones aren't available to be put on hold at the beginning. However, I put them on a list and then when they are available, I put them on hold.
7. Budgeting: I might have crossed over into the cuckoo world with my budgeting. I track all our icnome and expenses in Quicken. But, I also have a monthly budget worksheet in Excel. It's divided into weekly sections with categories like weekly spending (which is our pocket money for the week), dining, household, clothing, fuel etc. This way, if 1 week or 1 category is overspent, I know what other week or category to cut back on. One of the sites listed below, Giftcardsagain.com, helps with this too. Jeff has a budget of $10 for Starbucks a week. That's $40 a month and $480 a year. Through the site, I can get a $10 gift card for $9, saving me $48 over the year. They have restaurant and movie theater gift cards too. The savings might seems small in one category but if you add them up, you could be saving hundreds over the course of a year. Nothing to sneeze at.
In the end, it's not about where you spend your money, it's how much you spend and how you spend. Smart shopping is important in this economy. you don't have to give up on going out, enjoying yourself or having nice things around you. Just find a coupon for whatever it is you want, I can guarantee there's one out there.
Some of my favorite sites to keep an eye on:
1. Free printable coupons
2. Thokalath.com: free printable coupons
4. Retailmenot.com: online coupon codes
5. Gift Cards Again: my new favorite. You can get retail, restaurant etc. gift cards at lower than face value. Or, sell your unwanted gift cards for cash.
6. BeautyCrunch.com: cosmetics at huge discounts
7. BeautySteals.com: brand name cosmetics at discounted prices
8. Last minute deals: If you have the flexibility to take off for destinations at the last minute, this is an awesome site for you.