Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Only Coupon At Target (a.k.a. My Friend Heidi Wants to See My Coupon Binder)

I don't spend a whole bunch of time couponing.  After all, who has a whole bunch of time?  But I do enjoy paying a little less for groceries and necessities every week, so I use some basic coupons.  I also use a grocery list and a coupon binder.  Check out my fancy coupon binder:

Pretty, right?  Ha ha.  Really, you are going to be loading your coupon binder in and out of stores.  You are going to be shoving in your cart, in your trunk, and under a pile of cans on the kitchen counter.  For me, must haves are that it be cheap, wipe-able, and seals shut (in this case with a magnetic tab).  That's it.

I don't keep my weekly menu or grocery list in my coupon binder, because I only want to have to have my coupon binder with me in two places: at home and while shopping.  If I have time to go to a coffee shop on a Monday and do paperwork, I might bring my binder to work with there.  But, really, making my weekly menu in my planner is a better idea because I can glance and see that we are eating out on Monday night or going to a party on Friday night.  And I ALWAYS have my planner with me, so if I have a craving for an orange or run out of coffee, I can list it in the grocery list in my planner.  I add grocery items to the list as I run out at home.  In the pic below, dinner menu is to the center left and grocery list is to the center right:

I shop on Tuesdays.  And I only shop at Target.  (Every now and then, Target doesn't carry something.  In that case, getting that item from another store becomes an errand, to be done on errand day.)  Since I live outside of the city, going to a bunch of stores wastes too much gas and time.

Because I shop on Tuesdays, Sunday and Mondays are when I prep for shopping.  (Exception: if I KNOW I am eating something in particular or out the next week at dinnertime, that gets noted on my menu.  Also, if I run out of something, it goes in my planner on the grocery list that I just mentioned.)

At prep time, I enter last weeks' receipt into my budget in Excel, enter any high priced or meat/cheese/staples items into my price book (that I will show later), and file the receipt in my little monthly receipt envelope that lives in my shopping tote.

The inside cover of my binder contains post-its, any 5% off an entire shopping day coupons that I got from Target for using their pharmacy, and any gift cards.  It also contains a yellow legal pad (or scratch paper) for making this week's final grocery list.

To start the grocery list, I copy what is needed from my planner for this week (milk, bread, sugar...that sort of thing.)  If I have a coupon for any of it, I attach it with a binder clip to my grocery list.  (I put these coupons in the same order as things are set out in the store.)  Target accepts one Target and one manufacturer coupon, so I check for both.

I check's weekly ad (released on Sunday's) and Google "this week's target deals"  to decide from the ad and from other bloggers if there is anything I want to buy due to sale.  For example, I don't buy Halloween candy often, but when it goes on sale for trick-or-treat, comes with a $5 gift card, and I have two coupons, it's worth it to stock up then, even if it is two weeks before Halloween.  I only buy some stuff, like toilet paper, my husband's Diet Mountain Dew (*cough* addicted *cough*) and paper towels, when they are on mega sale (about every two months).  And if something like lean ground beef is one sale (I love 95% lean for cooking, but it's expensive and freezes well), I stock up.  I add those things to the grocery list.

Then, based on sales, I adjust the weekly menu if necessary and make sure I have the right ingredients for each meal.  (Usually, I use things in the freezer for cooking, but if potatoes are on sale, we might have a potato side instead of a rice side, or vice versa.  And, of course, if an expensive meat is on sale, we might plan a meal around that.)

Finally, I pull any coupons that are about to expire, cross them from the index, and decide if it is worth using them this week.  (For example, I would ALWAYS use a coupon on my coffee, since it rarely goes on sale and I am always going to have to buy it.  But an ice cream coupon might not ever get used, if that kind of ice cream, a treat, never went on sale.)

Since I add items to my list as we run out (or, in the case of TRUE staples, like milk, when we have less than a week's worth left), my list is complete at this point.  If I add an item to the list that has a coupon associated with it, I star the item on the list.

In order to make list making easier, I have a handwritten list of all my coupons, an index, divided into three parts - cold food, dry food, and nonfood.  If I clip a coupon, it gets written on the list.  After the first time, it only takes a second, I promise.  And having an index is so useful!  I scratch out coupons as I pull them for use (and just rewrite if I end up not using them).  

My index lists:  the date, T or nothing (for Target or manufacturer coupons), the amount off, how many you must buy, the type of item, the brand name, and any special instructions.  For example, line 1 and the last line on this pic say:

11/04            1.00/2   Cheese                  Kraft Singles    8 - 16 oz.
10/27    T     1.00/2   Frozen Potatoes   Ore-Ida  

The next portion of my binder is a plastic. half cut clear folder, filled with unclipped, unindexed coupons.

I print (in black and white and low quality ink, so I waste as little money as possible) any coupons on, and on Sunday or Monday.  (I have tried everything and Smartsource does not work for me.)  Throughout the week, if I get any coupons in the mail, catalinas from the store, or coupons from the newspaper, I also put them in this section of the coupon binder with the printed coupons.  (I do not subscribe to our newspaper, as it has very few valuable coupons in our local, per area bloggers.)  When I get a chance (but always before I make my final grocery list), I cut these out, file them, and add them to my master lists of coupons.  Cutting and indexing coupons is a good activity to do while my kid does homework (he feels like I am working with him) or during my weekly coffee shop visit.

Next, I have my sorted coupons.  I divide them into manufactors (which can be used at any store) and Target only coupons.

In each pocket, I put this month's coupons in the right side binder clip, and future coupons in the left side, sorted in EXPIRATION order.  That way, I can grab those that are going to expire this week when I plan my grocery shopping, without missing any.

It would seem like it would be hard to find the coupon that I want, until you consider that I have that awesome index.  I can locate any coupon in seconds on the indexes, check if it is Target or manufacturers, and check the expire date.  Then, I can find the coupon by looking in the right set, under the expiration date.

I rarely price match, since Target's policy isn't very convenient or generous, but if I do, the weekly ad I am matching to goes here:

I have an NOT INDEXED section for nonstore coupons, like pizza coupons and roller rink coupons.  I just sort through this occasionally.  The coupons often go to waste, but you never know when you will use one!

I keep a price book of frequently bought items, so I can note a good sale price.

The back page of the binder holds my notes about coupon policies at Target.  (You can also print them off the internet and bring them with you, but I like my basic notes better.)

I keep this binder, reusable grocery bags ($0.05 off for each one used at Target), my receipt binder, a kid's safety scissors, extra binder clips, and anything else for grocery shopping in one tote bag in my trunk, so that I don't forget it!

I only spend a few minutes each week couponing, but through coupons, using the 5% discount, using reusable bags, buying double of expensive stuff when it is on sale, only shopping from a list, and planning menus around sale items, I save about $30 to $50 a week.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Dream Planner

The title is deceptive.  I plan a lot of stuff, but I don't exactly plan my dreams.  Though, if I could...

Seriously, though, it's time to order refills or a new planner for next year.  I currently have a Size 4 Franklin Covey 1 1/2 inch binder filled with Daytimer Family Plus pages.  For paper planner newbies, that means the filler pages are exactly the size of half a sheet of paper, which is really nice for making my own planner pages.  But due to the quality of my homemade pages, I save those for things like grocery lists and packing lists, and buy monthly tabbed with embedded weekly page fillers each year.

Note the coffee cup and other crap all over my counter.  How do I claim to be organized?

I am happy with the Family Plus layout, but the paper quality is so/so.  Sometimes, a page pulls and tears out of the planner.  I am also happy with the setup of the weekly pages.  But my planner is so big.  I'm wondering if I can get away with something smaller.  So I thought I'd list the qualities I want in a planner and see if any of my readers can give me suggestions.

1) About a half sheet size, though that can vary a bit.
2) Good quality paper.
3) Can be bound or unbound, but must have a place for storing loose papers (which I have done in the past with a binder clip to the inside cover of the planner).
4) Must have a place for a Master Task List.
5) Must have a place for a Daily and Weekly Checklist (see why mine is a binder instead of a bound planner?).
6) Must have monthly tabs dividing the weeks (not merely at the beginning of the planner).
7) Must have a page marker.
8) Weekly pages must have Monday through Friday (and possibly Sat and Sun, but at least Monday through Friday) on one side or across the top.  Having Thursday and Friday squished in with the weekend will not work for me.
9) Must be untimed (or times easily to ignore).
10) Each day must be somehow easily dividable into three parts: timed events/tasks, untimed tasks, and FYI.
11) There must be a place for a weekly dinner menu and to jot grocery items (though it does not have to be already designated as such).
12) There must be a place for overflow notes that do not fit in the daily slots.
13) There must be room for 4 task lists: general, at computer, at home, and at errands.

Also, I would like (but maybe could use a tote bag with my old planner binder to accomodate):

14) I don't keep contacts in my planner (with the exception of a one page list of doctors, contractors, and other service companies), but I need to be able to put other lists in the address part.
15) There needs to be a place for supplies.
16) There needs to be blank notebook paper.

I'm not picky, right?  I'll probably end up buying more Family Plus pages.  :(  But what I really want is a bound planner that has Family Plus pages but fits in my ring binder.  Why don't they sell that???


Sunday, October 7, 2012

An Impossible Mission, AKA Organizing the Bottom Drawer Freezer

Let me introduce you the my new, shiny, silver refrigerator.  It has a freezer drawer on the bottom.

Our old side-by-side white one died a painful, loud, at-least-none-of-my-freezer-food-melted-thank-Goodness death a couple of weeks ago.  I've been cooking and freezer cooking a lot in an effort to save money and eat healthier.  I've also been buying meat in bulk to save money and veggies in bulk to freeze them at the height of freshness.  Having a bigger fridge is a blessing, but we noticed when freezer shopping that all the freezers were shrunken by evil manufacturers who want you to buy a separate freezer smaller than we expected and poorly laid out.

The freezer didn't arrive until late one night, so we threw everything in before it melted and shoved the drawer closed.

Big mistake.  I could not find anything.

I also could not close the top portion of the stacked freezer drawer.

Of course, I Googled it.  I Pinterested it.  I did my homework.  I found mostly complaints and people with an extra deep freeze.  I found very little that was useful.  I found an organizing project!

Here's what I learned (on my own, THANK YOU FOR YOUR TOTAL LACK OF HELP, INTERNET, grumble grumble):

1.  You need supplies to organize the fridge.  I used what I had on hand.  I had a ton of these cheap, no name plastic containers from helping cater my sister's wedding.  (I made meatballs in my crockpot with pineapples and barbeque sauce, stored it in the containers, and the catering staff heated it up at the wedding.  I bought the cheap kind because I assumed catering staff would toss the containers.  Instead, they washed and returned them, sans enough lids.)  I also used gallon storage bags and an orange marker (or, really, any non-black color, just because I label individual serving bags in black and the new color will signify a bag containing many individual servings).

2. Put all the ice blocks and popsicles in the ice maker tray.  Don't worry.  The icemaker usually makes too much ice for a family, anyway.  This way, you are using the space more efficiently than for storing frozen water.  And your icemaker will now make less ice (wasting less water and energy) and fresher ice (since you are replenishing more often).  Plus, putting ice pops with ice just makes logical sense.  Hello, OCD.

3.  Next, lay the frozen pizzas at the bottom of the big upper tray next to the ice.  It's the only place where they will fit.

4. All convenience foods go on top of and around the pizza in a single layer.  The top tray has more vertical room than you think, so stack the food vertically as much as possible.  You can see where I stacked the 16 corn dogs in the back of the tray vertically instead of horizontally.  I did the same thing with anything short enough, like the meatballs and chicken nuggets.  On a financial and health basis, convenience foods probably should not be so readily available.  However, my husband and children are the ones who eat the convenience meats - and I don't want them digging through the freezer on nights when I don't cook.  (Usually, I eat leftovers or a salad on those nights.)  I only eat convenience breakfasts (waffles, bagels, and toast) and breakfast is the one meal that MUST be cooked quickly.  Hence, the decision to put convenience foods on top.

5. Gather individual raw veggies and meat into labeled, vertical, gallon ziploc bags in lower left section of the freezer.  This accomplishes a number of things.  First, it creates a quick inventory.  For example, the Ground Beef bag only has one small ziploc with a pound of ground beef in it.  That's one supper for this family.  As soon as ground beef goes on sale, we need more.  But the Chicken, Peppers, Chopped Veggies, and Stir-Fry Veggies bags are all full, so I don't need that stuff.  Second, it allows you to store the food vertically, creating more space.  Third, you can see the labels, like flipping though old record albums.  Even in this pic, taken from one side, you can see the labels.

6. Place freezer meals (which I freeze in individual or double portions only, so I can defrost even four meals quickly) in containers on the right bottom side of freezer, sorting by type (beans, chilis/roast, other).  I could have done the same thing with the gallon ziplocs for my freezer meals, but my inventory of freezer meals really varies a good bit.  So I sorted them into the cheapo containers instead, uncovered, and put my frozen bread rolls in with them.  Right now, I have meat pies, roast, red beans, black beans, chili, and sweet and sour meatballs in the freezer.  Note to self - need more chili and red beans.)  I plan to keep this side pretty empty and easy to access, as 75% of dinners come from here!

Here's the final photo of an organized, bottom drawer freezer, for you to share on Pinterest.  Please credit to!

Questions?  Feel free to comment.