I’m not a fan of spring cleaning my house. I hate washing windows, touching up paint, sorting through clothing and finding the sun hats I bought on clearance last August. However, I love spring cleaning our financials!
Each year around this time I review our spending in key household categories such as entertainment, groceries and utilities. I decide where a little trimming is in order, and where more regular attention is needed.
Here are some spring cleaning ideas for your household this month:
Check your phone plans to align your usage with your billing. A higher priced package might actually save you money if you’ve been going over your bill each month, like I was doing when I bought a smart phone. Research the different packages available, and try not to be swayed by a bells and whistles phone if it comes with a massive contract. Be sure to check with your home insurance company in case there are implications to your rate for not having a land line in the home. Ensure you’re making use of the additional features you’re paying for.
Your energy use, and therefore your bill, can be decreased by changing your family’s habits. Limit the use of air conditioning, and consider using a portable air conditioner or room air conditioner rather than cooling the entire house. Keep window coverings closed during the day to prevent solar gain. Let your dishes air dry by turning off the dishwasher after the rinse cycle and propping open the door. As warm days approach, use appliances like toaster ovens, crock pots or microwaves rather than your large stove or oven. Wash your clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents, and hang to dry (even indoors due to our fickle Canadian weather).
What credit cards are you carrying in your wallet, and what types of balances are you carrying on them? You may be paying hundreds of dollars a year in service fees and charges. Many non-traditional banks such as ING and President’s Choice Financial offer free banking, credit cards with no annual fee, and higher interest savings accounts. Are you taking advantage of the best your bank has to offer, or is there a bank that can better meet your needs?
Is it time to start grocery shopping somewhere new? Each month local news stations report what an identical cart of groceries costs at various stores. Certain supermarkets come in significantly less than other stores, even taking rewards programs into account. Switching your loyalty from one store to another, and from name brands to generic brands, will pay off.
How much is fun costing you each month? Are you dropping the equivalent of a car payment attending professional sports events each month? Paying a 900% markup for movie theatre popcorn? Your entertainment budget can by dramatically decreased with a little creativity and planning.
Set yourself up for success for the year ahead. If unexpected expenses send you to your line of credit every month, institute a new routine. Focus on building a small fund for those surprise furnace breakdowns, new eye glasses or emergency vet bills. Open a no fee banking account and deposit a small amount every month to be used in dire situations only.
In my last blog post I outlined my attempt to figure out extreme couponing. Armed with a binder full of coupons from about eight hours of searching and trading, I was ready to try shopping. I had the most different coupons for Pampers diapers and wipes, so I spent an hour one Friday morning looking through all the flyers for the lowest price on those specific products, with an eye out for other items I might have coupons for. I found the best price on Pampers from Wal-Mart, and prepared to drive 30 minutes to the nearest London Drugs.
Before leaving the house though, on Facebook I saw a feed update from a friend stating Toys R Us was having a huge sale of Pampers. The packages that were regularly $19.97 were on sale for $9.97, with a limit of 4 packages per family. So Saturday morning, armed with my coupons, I headed to the Toys R Us just ten minutes from my house. I purchased four packages of diapers and four containers of Pampers baby wipes (some coupons were a bigger dollar amount off if you bought diapers and wipes together). The original price for this shop was $93.04. The sale price without coupons was $53.04. After the coupons were applied (the cashier didn’t blink and eye when I handed over the stack) my final total was $30.04.
I was pretty pleased to have saved that $20 using coupons, but it definitely wasn’t worth the time I had put into the project. More flyer sleuthing and it became obvious that I’d have to spend a lot more hours trading and collecting coupons online. The majority of the time, even stacking two or three coupons on one product wasn’t enough to price it lower than its lesser priced, no-name brand cousin.
I can see how if you have some spare time and enjoy the process of trading and collecting coupons, it’s definitely a better hobby than one that costs you money. But for me, it’s just not worth it – I’d rather work an extra hour at my job than coupon for ten hours to save/make the same amount of money.
In the past, I’ve used coupons mainly for eating out, not groceries. The coupons I’d found for food were usually for higher end brand name items we wouldn’t normally buy. However, after watching Extreme Couponing on TLC, I was inspired to figure out how I could make couponing work for me.
Turns out it’s really, really difficult to get $600 worth of groceries for $2.64 (yup, one featured coupon cutter did just that!). In some areas of the U.S., stores have double coupon days, and apparently no limits on the number of coupons that can be redeemed at one time.
In Canada, few stores allow couponing with no restrictions. One store that is very permissive with their coupon redemption policy is London Drugs. They’ll permit the use of multiple coupons on one item, as long as the coupons are different. So you might have a $1 off coupon for Dove shampoo you found in a flyer, a $0.50 cent off coupon from an in store coupon pad, and another $1 off coupon from a different flyer. Combined, the $2.50 in coupons might not make the shampoo free at the $3.50 London Drugs price, but take in the flyer from Superstore advertising the shampoo at $2.50 and London Drugs will price match it. Apply your coupons, and voila! That shampoo is free.
There are a number of products you can get free – toothpaste, baby wipes, shampoo, razors, and body lotions being popular ones. That’s because there are plenty of coupons available for these items, and they frequently go on sale for low prices.
But where do you get these coupons? Here are some ideas from Canadian coupon blogger Mrs. January (http://www.mrsjanuary.com/frugal-living/where-to-find-coupons/). While some will come with your local newspaper or flyer delivery, and you may pick up more at your local store or online coupon sites, to obtain the volume you’ll need, you’ll have to start coupon trading, facilitated through a website like smartcanucks.ca.
As an experiment, I went on a hunt for coupons in my local papers and grocery stores. I amassed a decent little collection, sorted them by type, and started logging them into my profile on smartcanucks.ca, an online website for deal, contest and coupon junkies to try coupon trading.
Most importantly, I logged my time spent searching for and organizing my coupons. I spent about five hours researching how to stack coupons in Canada, and just figuring out how the smartcanucks.ca website works. I spent a further two hours collecting and sorting coupons from flyers that came with my newspaper and that I picked up while shopping. Finally, I spent an hour loading my coupons into a list to upload to smartcanucks.ca so I could start trading and getting multiples of coupons to stack. Whew! Eight hours in and not a penny saved yet.
Stay tuned for next week’s post, when I try couponing in action.