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6 Ways to Save Money While Keeping Your Sanity

I've been a couponer for over 15 years. My husband was once a skeptic, but now he's a believer.

Don't be this lady. It can be done. Just learn this basic principles and be on your way.

Don't be this lady. It can be done. Just learn this basic principles and be on your way.

1. Compare Prices

All right, we're jumping right into it.

Right now, think about three things that you buy on a regular basis. My things would be toilet paper, cheese, and tortillas. (Don't judge!)

Next, pick three stores that you go to on a regular basis. Mine would be Metro Market, Target, and CVS. The next time you are out at the store, make a mental note of what the regular price of each of these items is. You don't need to remember the exact amount, but if you are super-organized, by all means, write it down. I don't, because I'm not organized. (Again, don't judge!)

Then, next time you get the Sunday paper, check the ads. If you don't get the Sunday paper, just look online for the ads. Check out the sale prices for those three items. Monitor the sale prices over a three-month period. Did they go up or down—and by how much? This should give you an idea when something is a good price and when to stock up. Over time, you should also be able to remember the general good price range of the rest of the stuff you buy. It will become second nature, and almost like a scavenger hunt. This is also the basis of saving—simply knowing the prices.

One note: When buying toilet paper and paper towels, you might be comparing different brands in the store. The store brands do tend to be the cheaper buy in general, for most groceries, unless it's an excellent sale for name brands (which does happen). Do keep in mind that you should compare how many rolls of paper towels or toilet paper you are getting with the square footage. This will ensure that you have the best buy in the store. I usually only pay a quarter per roll of toilet paper or paper towels, so if it's not a good deal and you can wait, do it.

2. Shop the Clearance Section

Clearance makes me happy, as if you couldn't tell! Many stores have clearance on an endcap, or if it's an awesome store, sometimes it's a whole aisle! Check these out. Once you have your price range down, you should be able to tell what's a good deal. There are some times that you can even combine them with store online coupons, which brings me to:

3. Check for Coupons

I know this is something that no one really wants to do. I get it. But this is something that can take a few minutes once you get used to doing it regularly.

When you shop for anything, check to see if the store offers online coupons. (Kroger does, Metro Market/Pick n' Save does, Jewel-Osco does, Walgreens, CVS also does.) If they do, you can sign up for an account, which takes around five minutes. Once you do, take a quick skim through the coupons or narrow down your search if you are in a hurry. A lot of times, Kroger has deals where if you just buy one more, you can get a better deal than buying one of the product by itself. It's worth a look.

This logic also applies when you are going out to eat. If I know we're going somewhere, I'll do a quick search on their website or Facebook page to see if they have happy hour specials and what they are. A lot of times, we are going there around that time anyway, so why not be informed? After all, some restaurants may not promote their specials very much once you're inside the restaurant, which is a practice I never understood.

The restaurant also may have a sign-up where you get a free appetizer or some kind of rewards system. If you know you'll be returning on a fairly regular basis, it's pretty worth it. Outback Steakhouse has this program and if you eat there three times within six months, the fourth time is 50% off. Not too shabby.

Other restaurants may give you sporadic coupons to return. I do know it's always a balance trying not to get a ton of spam--just do what works for you.

Random Tip: H&M, the Swedish clothing store has an ongoing deal where you bring in a bag of clothes to donate (it doesn't matter what condition) or textiles, you get a coupon for 15% off your entire purchase. Entire purchase. That never happens. Look, I just saved you some spam! You're welcome.

Alliteration...oh Aldi! (swoon)

Alliteration...oh Aldi! (swoon)

4. Check Out the Food Outlets

Depending on what you buy, this may work or not. By the way, when I'm talking about food outlets, I mean places like Aldi and Ruler Foods. Have you heard of Ruler Foods? It's Kroger groceries at Aldi prices. It's heaven.

Back on track here; this is where you've done a bit of homework comparing prices, so going into these stores, you know what's a deal and what's not.

Also, sometimes, the quality can be hit-or-miss on these items so you may want to try one jar of spaghetti sauce before you buy five. Once I've tested out these products, I come back with a list. Usually at Ruler Foods, I buy the jarred cheese sauce (that is normally at least $3 at Kroger), spaghetti rings, ready-to-eat rice, etc. I would almost never buy higher quality groceries like olive oil unless I trust the brand. But; if you buy things cheaper here that you know you can't get elsewhere, you can save at least a good 10% on your groceries.

Bonus Points: Aldi is a very good all-around store, meaning that most of the prices here are some of the best you'll ever see if you don't have time to check the prices. The only thing that seems to be higher than other stores is the romaine lettuce. Go figure. Aldi pays their workers a fair wage (around $12/hour to start) so if you support that, it's a win-win for everyone.

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More Bonus Points: Aldi also tends to have European chocolates, as well as other ethnic foods mixed into the aisles. The taste quality of the European chocolates can be hit-or-miss—trust me, I'm an expert—but for the price, they're really not bad.

Do be sure and check out any clearance that Aldi has. I've gotten some Mothers' Day cards for a quarter, and my parents recently bought some high-quality dog food for $10.

One last note: I see many people buying bags at Aldi, and I don't understand it. Just grab any box from their shelves (be sure and take the products out first, of course) and voila! Instant, sturdy grocery box. As a family, we've always done that so I'm used to throwing the groceries quickly in the box at checkout, but if you shop at Aldi, you're probably used to it already.

"So happy is the weather...?"

"So happy is the weather...?"

5. Dollar Tree Is Your Friend

This sounds cult-like, and I don't mean it to. Dollar Tree is my place of worship. Everything is literally a dollar. You probably already know that so I don't need to devote a lot of time to explaining the beauty of Dollar Tree.

The only thing you need to be careful for is comparing prices. A dollar is lovely, but Dollar Tree tends to have a much smaller product for a dollar. It may actually be cheaper to buy a few things at other places—just be aware of that. And just like with everything, take a gander at the ingredients. If it scares you, don't buy it.

Also, the tortillas here are not quality. It seems that the supplier may put them in the package while they are still warm, so they stick together and get pulled apart when you grab for one. I would not buy those here.

Otherwise, here's what I usually buy at Dollar Tree. I'm telling you as I have already compared the prices for these products:

  • Greeting cards. They sell cards for two for $1 or $1 apiece.
  • Hunt's ketchup
  • That weird sponge-mop thing. It's not terribly quality, but it does the job.
  • Hand soap
  • Conditioner (Salon Selective!)
  • Dried fruit (in the candy section)
  • Five-pack of mini candy bars; sometimes they have a bonus 6, 7, or 8-pack. WOW! (It's the little things for me.)
  • Spices
  • Ice cream sprinkles (I've seen these as high as $3 at the grocery store. That's crazy! They're just little pockets of sugar/fun!)
  • I'll let my pictures do the rest of the talking.

If the store has a frozen section, that's often worth a look. I have bought 25 cent turkey bacon (that I threw in the freezer until I used it) and 3-ounce packages of feta cheese for 25 cents. They also have bags of French fries, which are good, cheap frozen appetizer like mozzarella sticks, and frozen hash browns that they just got in. The hash browns are great, because who needs a big 'ol sack for $2.50? Not I.

Dollar Tree is also fun to snoop around and they are always getting in new stuff. I try to go anytime I am in the area.

6. Buy Your Personal Care Products at CVS

I'm talking toothpaste, some shampoo and conditioner, body wash, some lotion, etc. Let me explain:

CVS can have some decent sales, but they also have several other ways to save. First, get a CVS card at the register if you don't have one. Secondly, scan it for any coupons at their coupon machine, typically at the front of the store. You may get coupons for items that are already on sale. If you happen to have product coupons, (also called Manufacturers' coupons--they can be used anywhere the product is available) you can use these as well for a decent savings. CVS also has online coupons that you can add to your card.

They also have this beautiful thing called Extra Care Bucks, hereby known as ECB. It's very simple: if you find something that you need that will trigger ECB, do it. For example, buy $15 worth of shampoo and get 5 ECB. As long as you buy as many products as indicated to get the ECB and you need that many for your stockpile, you can use any coupons you have for that product. Of course, this means store coupons or manufacturers coupons to save money off of that amount. You can usually use one store coupon and one manufacturers' coupon per product—just be sure and read the fine print on the coupons. Once again, this will become second nature.

Okay, let's say you bought six shampoos at $2.79 apiece, minus a $3 off store coupon. You'll pay $13.74 for six shampoos, so $2.29 each shampoo.

But that's not where it ends. You can use those ECB to buy something else that has ECB. If you plan, you can often get multiple items for free or very cheap. If you have coupons, even better. This is called "rolling". It works as the ECB comes from the supplier to get you to buy their and typically each ECB offer has a different supplier. Just check to make sure that the offer you have and the offer you want are not the same supplier. You may still get the item for free or cheap, but you won't get the ECB. Still an awesome deal. You can do this for as long as you wish—just be mindful of the ECB expiration dates. CVS can bring you some incredible savings.

Savings mecca is just a drugstore away.

Savings mecca is just a drugstore away.

Happy Saving!

As I mentioned earlier, once you understand which prices are good and really good, you'll be set for saving. Feel free to post in the comments below with any questions.

Happy saving, everybody!

© 2017 Lauren Sutton

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