Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Financial Fitness 101

Rule #4 Learn How to Shop

       When people ask me what my favorite sport is many things come to mind. First of all I immediately think of strategy. Without a means for implementing strategy a sport is just not as exciting. I also think of the stamina and endurance required in facing challenges and staying in shape in order to be able to participate in the sport. If you haven't figured out which sport is my favorite, by now it should be obvious that it is shopping (naturally). To many people shopping is a menial task that doesn't require much effort. Since my budget is on a diet, the way I shop has become serious business.

Steps to Successful Shopping

      1. Open a Swagbucks Account
The first step in learning how to shop is using coupons. Coupons aren't just for middle aged ladies that wear mom jeans and drive mini vans. They are a great tool to use and can end up saving you masses of money! A great way to find coupons for stores in your area is Swagbucks. Once you create an account with Swagbucks, you have the opportunity to earn rewards by doing different things. Some reward earning options include watching videos, participating in surveys and taking polls. One of my favorite aspects of Swagbucks is the coupons. Once you've scrolled down the page and selected the coupons you will use, you can print them and use them. Each coupon from Swagbucks is worth 10 SBs (or Swagbucks) once redeemed. 

 2. Get a Sunday paper  
In addition to having a Swagbucks account, it is important to get the Sunday paper. We have two papers delivered to our house, so we receive twice as many coupons. The Sunday paper typically includes coupons that are distributed by the manufacturer and on occasion some stores. Some of the stores that typically put out coupons each Sunday include Michael's, Walgreens and occasionally Target. 

3. Sign Up
You can create an e-mail account specifically for couponing or use one that is not your primary address. Go to the websites of your favorite and/or most frequented stores and sign up to receive e-mails. Many stores offer special deals just for signing up and will send out deals that are only applicable in their online stores.

If you are concerned with having a crowded inbox, don't be. I created an account specifically for receiving coupons and only check it before going shopping if I am looking for coupons from a specific store. Also check to see if the stores where you shop have a mobile app. Some stores such as Target will allow you to use a mobile coupon, target coupon and manufacturer coupon on the same item.

4. Make A Match
In order to find the best deals, look through the store ads that come inside of the Sunday paper. If there is a specific ad you are unable to find, you can always check the store's website for the most current sales. When looking through the ads, you have the opportunity to see what is on sale that week and match the sales with the coupons you have. Buying an item on sale and using coupons to buy it means more savings.

5. Get Organized
It doesn't matter how you do it, just do it. Some people prefer to use an accordion type file system, others like to use index card holders. I initially purchased a photo album from Target and placed labels on the plastic holders for the pictures. When that wouldn't close and my coupons kept falling out, I upgraded to the binder system. I found a huge binder on clearance at Staples for $4.50. My binder rocks because it has a handle, plenty of room for my coupons, and has a pencil pouch. In order to organize the coupons, you can use these (Note: I found 35 for $4.98 at my local Wal Mart. They were located near the check out by the trading cards). I then labeled each slot with a Sharpie. Some people label their coupons according to store layout, but since stores vary in their layout and I'm OCD I chose with the alphabetical method.

6. Stack 'em Up!
It seems that many people don't know about this little concept and before I took a class on couponing, I too was in the dark. Most stores will allow you to combine or "stack" a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon. For example, I had a $1.00 Maybelline mascara manufacturer coupon and a $2.00 off Maybelline mascara Target coupon. The initial price of the mascara was $4.09, but since I was able to use both coupons, it was $1.09. 

7. Don't Need It? Don't Buy It!
A great way to avoid spending money on certain items just because you can get a great deal is by not clipping coupons for items you don't typically purchase and won't use. In some cases, (and I am not exempt here) people get really excited about finding items for such good prices and will buy them simply for that reason. It makes more sense to save your money for deals on items that are within your budget and can be used by yourself and your family. To prevent myself from buying things I don't need, I typically make a shopping list before leaving my house and take the coupons for the items I need and place them in an envelope. I still bring my coupon binder with me (yes, I'm one of those people...no, I'm not ashamed!) and sometimes I leave it in the car.
A little self control can go a long way!

8. There Are No Policy Police
Although I have been couponing for a little less than a year, I have realized that it is my responsibility to know the store's coupon policy BEFORE I shop. If you want to take advantage of all coupons have to offer, it is up to you to read the fine print. When you arrive at the cash register, you must keep in mind that the cashier could be new and may not know how the policy works. I have also encountered supervisors at certain stores who did not know their store policy and accused me of trying to cheat the system (that was fun). I did not have the store coupon policy with me, so I could not get the deals I wanted. There is no one in the store who is there to specifically monitor coupons and this may be shocking, but I have learned that many employees do not actually know their store coupon policy.

9. Kindness Counts
When I first took a coupon class with a group from my church, my friend Lauren (yeah, her name is pretty awesome!) taught us that kindness counts. She referenced the verse Proverbs 15:1 which states, "A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger," (ESV). Remember it's not all about you, it's all about Jesus. Even though couponing is not a huge deal in the whole scheme of things, the way you treat others and your heart's attitude toward shopping and using money is. Although small, shopping and using coupons is still a way to share the Gospel with others. 
Don't let a nasty attitude ruin the opportunity.

10. Coupon for Charity
If you have no reason to coupon for yourself, then do it for those in need. Some people may claim that they would like to be more giving with their money, but don't have much money to give. By using coupons, I have been able to purchase many food and toiletry items at extremely low prices. I have even been able to get certain things for free. You can stock up on certain items and use them for Operation Christmas Child or Coups for Troops. Certain items can also be donated to your local homeless shelter or given to a neighbor in need.

11. Sale Is Not Just A Four Letter Word
Combining coupons with sale prices is the best way to get the most bang for your buck.
 Does waiting for sales take patience?
Why yes, it most certainly does. But while you are waiting, you will be developing patience.
A let's face it - the fruit of the Spirit is much more valuable than anything you could purchase here on earth.

12. Contenment Starts in the Heart
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me," Philippians 4:11-13 ESV. The only thing we NEED we already have and that is the love of Jesus. By His sacrifice we are able to have our sins forgiven AND have a relationship with God! What more could one possibly want?