Maximizing savings – part one

The word “savings” has many definitions, but for the purposes of this discussion, I am using it to mean the difference between what you spend and what you get. In very general terms, my budget for basic spending is $125 a week – for that, I have to get all the groceries, all the pet needs, gas for the vehicles, clothing, and related items – dry cleaning, repair and home improvement products, lawn and outdoor care, pretty much everything we need to function in all the ways we are not self-sufficient. Many weeks I spend much less than that, but some weeks I spend up to the full budget amount. However, I usually get at least $200 worth of products per week – sometimes $250 or more. I do what I can to maximize what I can save on the things we have to buy with the budget I’m allotted.

That might sound very hard to do, but once you acquire the skills, you’ll see that you can do this in every aspect of your life. For example, gas for the vehicles. We have an SUV that holds 18 gallons and a truck that holds 25 gallons. As gas prices fluctuate, I have known a tank of gas for the truck to cost $90. That’s not what I pay, though. I usually pay about one-third to one-half of what the posted rate is for gas.

I do this by being a member of two fuel savings programs – the Bi-Lo bonus card, and the Spinx Xtras. Details for each of these programs is located on their websites. Also, another way I do this is something that not everyone can help – I minimize my driving by combining errands and carefully planning my routes to run errands. I have certain “home” days and certain “away” days. Things that do not get done on the “away” days have to wait until the next one. If I were to run out of the house every day, or multiple times a day, it would kill my gas budget. I can keep racking up discounts on my discount cards for longer periods of time as I don’t have to fill up as often. For a lot of people, that’s not possible, but it works for me.

I keep a small notebook in my tote bag and jot down all the errands I need to run – some are very low priority, some have to be done. For example, I found an old roll of film from I don’t know when and I don’t know what’s on it. I’m going to drop it off to get developed, either at Rite-Aid or Walgreen’s, but only when I’m going there anyway. I’m not going to make a special trip for it. I have the roll of film in my tote bag with the notebook and the note to drop off the film on my list. If I’m not going to Rite-Aid or Walgreen’s (which I haven’t for the last two weeks since I put the roll of film in my tote bag), it sits on the list and in the tote bag until I do. No extra trip, no extra gas, longer in between gas fill-ups, and more time to rack up savings on my bonus cards in the meantime.

Also, I do all the shop-ahead errands on my “away” days. In most cases, my away days are Wednesday and Saturday. Wednesday is penny day at Publix, which is good enough reason to go, because it is almost always an item around $3 or sometimes more. This is when I cherry-pick deals at Publix – I check the flyer and look for ONLY the “buy one get one free” symbol. I make a list and from that list, I check my coupon files and match coupons with the items that are already 50% off. Then I select from that list the best deals and pick $10 worth of items, with the 50% off and the coupons, I can almost always get that $10 down to about $1 or $2 and get the penny item since the total before coupons is $10. The best I’ve done so far was $34 worth of stuff for $1, more typically, I get around $10-$15 worth of stuff for $1. And since I’m in the Publix plaza, I stop by Petco and collect on the latest freebie (usually at least 2 giveaways per week!) and check their clearance table. In the same plaza, I check the Office Depot clearance area for things I can use. Hibbetts in the same plaza also has items my family uses and they very often (about every other month) offer a $10 off $20 purchase coupon. Sometimes you have to think outside the box with stuff like that – 50% off is a worthwhile price to stock up – if there’s nothing we need right now, I buy socks. Everyone needs socks and that is something you can always stock up on.

OK … so that is one stop, and so far I’ve got some cat food, groceries and socks. Using this past week as an example, I got four $1 cans of cat food for $0.13, $24 worth of groceries for $1.77, and $20 worth of socks for $11.20.

Running total – spent $13.10, saved $34.90, have $48 worth of items.

Next stop – Harbor Freight tools for an extra pair of safety glasses that my husband needed for yard work. They were normally $6.99, but I had a coupon for $5 off and got them for $1.99, plus another coupon for a free pair of multipurpose scissors (reg. $4.99), and another coupon for 20% off any regular price item, and I picked electrical tape because you always need that and each roll is only $0.79.  This was my second stop, and I spent $2.90, saved $10, have $13 worth of items.

Running total – spent $16, saved $44.90, have $61 worth of items.

Next stop – Hobby Lobby. The local Hobby Lobby only takes their own coupons and does not take competitors coupons, but they have a 50% sale on some department every week, rotated between departments weekly. I needed some glass canisters and glass items were on the 50% discount, plus I had a Hobby Lobby 40% off coupon for one regular price item, I picked fabric repair glue for $4.99. The glass canisters were $4.49 each and I picked three of them, for $2.25 each plus the glue for $3. Third stop, spent $10.35, saved $8.75, have $19.10 worth of items.

Running total – spent $26.35, saved $53.65, have $80 worth of items.

Next stop – Jo-Anns fabrics. I actually didn’t need anything right now but like I mentioned I combined errands and there are always things I will use when I need them, and since geographically it is very close to the other errands I was running, I stopped and picked up items I know I will need at some point. Jo-Anns also does the sales by department, and they take competitors coupons. I had a 50% off Michael’s coupon and a 50% off one item Jo-Anns coupon. At that time the departments with the 50% off didn’t appeal to me, so I picked out a package of cute buttons for $4 and a box of beads for $5. Fourth stop, spent $5, saved $4.50, have $9.50 worth of items.

Running total – spent $31.35, saved $58.15, have $89.50 worth of items.

Next stop – Bi-Lo. I scan the flyer for the bonus items, the items where when you buy them, you get extra bonus money on your fuelperks card. From those bonus items, I match coupons from my coupon files. If the savings is greater than 50%, I get the deals on the list. The next priority with the Bi-Lo flyer is the ones designated buy one get one free. Remember, you don’t HAVE to buy two items – if you only want to buy one of the items, it is 50% off. I list the B1G1 items and match the coupons from my files and note the items I can stockpile. The next priority with Bi-Lo is at the store itself. I go to the cheese, deli, dairy and meat areas and look for the markdowns. You’ll see the items they put the “HOT PRICE” sticker on that they are trying to sell that day. Usually, the hot price stickers reduce the cost by about 25%. Those deals I might pass up. The ones that actually drop the price to 50% or better, I go ahead and buy. Watch the colors of the stickers, in the meat and cheese department, they are yellow, while in the dairy department, they are red, and in the deli department, only the pre-made stuff has the yellow sticker but frequently there will be a handwritten sign in the sliced meats and cheese area of the items they want to move quickly. Next at Bi-Lo, I go on aisle clearance recon by cruising up and down each aisle and check every shelf for the purple “CLOSEOUT” stickers. Those items are a minimum of 50% off, and once they are gone, they are gone. It could be anything – bread, canned vegetables, pasta, drink mix, anything. Very often it is not items they won’t carry any longer, but maybe a flavor or variation that they are clearing out. Even better if you have coupons for those items, you can use coupons on closeout items. Next at Bi-Lo, I look for their discount table – it is in a different location at each store, and it might be shopping carts full of products they have marked down, or shelves full at the back of the store or in the frozen area. If you will notice, everything I am listing in my search is a minimum of 50% off. Then I have coupons on top of that. Last on my list, if I am below budget and my savings are going well, I go to the produce department and stock up on fresh food. It is rare, very rare, that I do not have a good amount of produce when I leave. Using the last time I was at Bi-Lo as an example, I filled up my cart with $67 worth of groceries and spent $18, for a savings of $49.

Running total – spent $49.35, saved $107.15, have $156.50 worth of items.

Next stop – Michaels, they are also really good about issuing a coupon every week and they will take competitors coupons. I didn’t really need anything, but there are things I can always use, and since I was going right by the store, I stopped in to pick up some supplies I know I will use at some point. I got a box of jewels for $4.99, a package of brooch backs for $2.99, and a small package of pretty buttons that were on clearance for $1.99 marked down from $4.99. I used a Michael’s and a Joann’s coupon for the two regular price items that were 50% off each, spent $6 and saved $7.

Running total – spent $55.35, saved $114.15, have $169.50 worth of items.

So that is how it is done. As of my first away day of the week, I have a little more than half my budget for the week remaining, and I have come home with not only the things we need right now this week like fresh food and the safety glasses, but things that I can stock up on and will have when we do need them – like the scissors, socks, cat food, and canned goods. As a little bonus, I have craft supplies that will sustain me when I need something fun and creative to do, and I got them for an average of 50% off, and I’m not going to have to load up and pay too much when I do get the urge to do some fun projects.

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