Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Saving Money and Pinching Pennies in the Military

It's that time of year again. Thinking about putting the kiddos back into school... dreading fighting with other parents to get through crowded isles and picking through the left over school supplies at whatever store you choose to shop at. Here's some helpful advice:

1. Get Organized. Don't wait until you get to the Wal-Mart to look for the school supplies list on the rack. Go online to your school's website and download it. If you've got more than one kiddo, download them all. Print them off and compare them, then make a master list. (One list is easier to keep track of than three) Chances are, your kiddos are going to need some of the same things. If your kiddos have color preferences for stuff, jot that down too.

2. Shop Smart. Get a Sunday Paper with all the advertisements in it. Pull out the ones from places like Walgreen's, CVS, Wal-Mart, OfficeMax, Office Depot, etc. Compare the advertisements to your master list and put check next to the items you find in the ads with a little note beside the item saying what ad you found it in. Keep all your ads and your list together. Take a pocket calculator with you "just in case".

3. GO ALONE. If you don't HAVE to take the kids to the store with you, don't. Get a sitter, get a spouse, a relative, something to watch the kiddos for you. Remember last year when you took the kids with you? How much hair did you pull out of your head? How many margaritas did you drink after you put the kids to bed? All the "OH, mommy look!" and "Ooh, I want..." and "Aw, can't I have..." will distract you, wear you out, and slow you down.

4. Shop Early. Don't wait for the "Tax Free" weekend. Everybody and their grandmother's dog is going to be shopping that weekend. Besides, at your PX/BX, you don't pay sales tax anyway.

5. Go Shopping. Usually, you can get 90-95% of everything you need at the PX/BX. Take all your fliers, your list, and your method of payment to the PX/BX. Get an AAFES flier on your way in and glance through it. It's not unheard of for sales items prices to be in the flier and not in the computers. Grab a cart and start checking off items as you throw them in.

6. Check Out. Here's where your fliers come in handy. I'll almost guarantee that the prices in the other stores fliers are going to be less expensive than the shelf price. The PX/BX will price match ANY advertised price for the same item. AND there's no sales tax. AND you didn't wait to fight the hoarding mobs. AND if you're lucky, the kiddos are watching cartoons or something under the supervision of another responsible person who owes you a favor. ;)

That's just for the supplies. Of course, you're going to have to take the kiddos with you when you buy their school clothes. I do my school shopping in two trips. One by myself for supplies and one with the kids for their clothes. Limits the amount of stress on everyone involved. ;)

One thing I did not mention above (intentionally) was coupons. But now, I'm going to address that as well.

If you have a Star Card and you want to use it, DEFINITELY find that coupon in the AAFES flier that says "$10, $20, or $30 off your purchase when using your Star Card". And while you probably won't find coupons for pens, paper, folders, or glue, you can certainly find coupons for other products like hand sanitizer and facial tissue. And don't forget about the "$1.00 of any Exchange Select Item" coupons.

The Coupon Master

This website performs a "coupon collection" service. Basically, they collect and cut whatever coupons are available and many times get shipments directly from the manufacturers. There is a very minimal charge for their services and it is more than made up for in the savings. The first time I visited this site, I spent roughly $6 and change and saved almost $90 at the commissary!

I'm not ashamed of saving money. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I usually check this site every couple of weeks for new updates. Most of the time there is no limit to the number of coupons of a certain product you can order. (Unless it a really hot product) I already save between 30-40% just by shopping at the commissary. And when I coupon, depending on what I buy, I save another 22-28% off of that.

Granted, I have some pantry space available for me to use as well as a chest freezer. I tend to buy in bulk when something is already on sale and coupon it down.

Sometimes, though, the commissary's prices aren't the best. So the grocery store ads that you didn't look at when making your school supply list are going to be your friends now. Don't make special trips to out of the way grocery stores. If you're already running an errand and pass by a store that you know has a sale, stop in there, get the sale items, present your coupons and go on home. I keep a notebook with my coupons, a calculator, and the weekly fliers in the car "just in case".

Here's some grocery store shopping tips:

1. Get Organized. Don't wait until you get to the commissary/grocery store to decide what you're having for dinner for the week. Plan out a menu. Take suggestions from family members. Create a shopping list based on that menu and add other necessities. (bath tissue, laundry detergent, etc.) It takes me about 20-30 minutes per week to make a list and sort my coupons.

2. Don't Shop Hungry. This leads to impulse buying and you end up with more in your cart than you planned on. The commissary usually isn't like this, but other grocery stores are. That DANGED BAKERY right in the front of the store. You walk in, smell warm fresh bread and impulsively buy more.

3. Shop Smart. Check the sales fliers for the grocery stores that come out of the Sunday Paper. Look at those coupons too. On your shopping list, put a check next to the items that you have coupons for and pull those out. But go ahead and take your entire coupon book into the store in case you find an unadvertised sale as well.

4. GO ALONE. Same reasons as above plus a few others. Candy aisle. Cereal aisle. Ice cream aisle. Plus, kiddos are ALWAYS hungry.

5. Go Shopping. Take your calculator. Look at the unit price, not the items price (per ounce vs per box). The best deals aren't always in the larger packages. Look up and look down. Usually, the most expensive items in a category (pasta sauce for example) are at eye level. Less expensive items will be above or below that. There are certain things that my wife and I absolutely insist on having name brand stuff for. Other stuff, we don't care.

6. Now, you've taken your calculator for this very reason. When you apply a coupon to the shelf price of an item, it will change the unit price. Enter the shelf price, subtract the amount of the coupon, then divide by the number of units in the item. There's your new unit price. At this point, the larger item may now become the better value for your dollar.

7. This is very important. Just because you have a coupon doesn't mean you have to buy the item. Don't clip coupons you won't use. You can take the extra coupons you're not going to use and leave them at the front of the store if you like. Other shoppers will pick through them and take what they want.

Good luck and have fun shopping and saving money!

The Coupon Master

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