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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Not Extreme Couponing Part IV- Bargain Safari

I do coupon, but I do not extreme coupon; more like, above average coupon. I don't have the energy to chase coupons in addition to chasing kids. Get to a certain age, and it just isn't logical.

I do bargain safari. If you think you like extreme coupons, you will love bargain safaris. There are usually no jungles, but there are a lot of parking lots, and the excitement of making a big purchase of something truly useful.

A bargain safari begins with homework, much like extreme coupons. It does not, however, start with coupons.

You must first have knowledge of what your family eats, wears, likes in toiletries, uses to clean the dishes. There are just some things some families will not use or eat. 

You won't see liver in our refrigerator, except for the liver sausage the Mister enjoys. There are certain soaps that cause everybody in the family to break out. There are some laundry detergents that take a whole bottle in one washload to get clothes clean. There are some toilet papers where it would be better to help oneself to the nearest newspaper instead. We don't buy those here.

Only you know what your family will not tolerate. Make a list of what they do tolerate, like and love. You can keep it in a notebook, or a spreadsheet, or orally into your cell phone. But it's needed.

You need money to bargain safari. It doesn't have to be a ton, but you will need between $75 and $200, depending on how much you intend to buy, the normal cost for items on your master list, and how much storage space you really, truly have in your residence. A calculator is a good idea to bring along.   

When you have money to go on a bargain safari, do not take the grandchildren unless they can keep their mouths shut and be of use. You are better off playing the helpless senior citizen card to load the car than putting up with the grandkids' suggestions and vocal expression of their desires. Sometimes bribery is necessary, but if they can't keep quiet, don't take them. 

Think about shopping around 10 AM on a weekday. The other oldsters have already hit the stores, and the young ones are at work. The stores have been restocked. Another good safari opportunity is late Sunday morning, early Sunday afternoon, if your religious views do not prohibit such activity. Avoid Saturday morning, when everybody and his uncle has a shopping cart.

Now then, you are stalking items on your master list. You are looking for the rock-bottom, absolute lowest price on these, name brand if at all possible. This will involve walking through the various departments of the stores you will shop. You might want to make a second list, a priority list. You might need SNACKS really badly, you might need TOILETRIES worse. Get those toiletries first, and get lots of them!

That's right, get LOTS of them! Can your medicine cabinet hold 10 sticks of name brand deodorant that you know everybody can use, at $1.60 a stick? BUY THEM. Can your pantry handle 6 jars of mustard if the mustard is 50 cents each? BUY THEM.

If the store where you are shopping takes coupons, by all means use them if you have them. Some of these stores have such low prices, they do not take coupons. Calculate whether it is cheaper to shop someplace on sale with the coupon, or to buy the item in bulk at the present price in the bargain store. Most of the time, but not always, you are better off buying without the coupon in the bargain store. 

The most important thing of the bargain safari: When you are out of ammo, money, GO HOME. Do not spend what you saved on a meal out, a new outfit, or anything else. 

These are the stores where I bargain safari. You might find similar stores in your area:
  • Big Lots. Big Lots buys from stores that have closed out or bought too much, and mark it way, way down. Imagine Pantene shampoo for $3, or Mitchum deodorant for $2. These are normally priced at $6 and $4, respectively, in retail stores. Big Lots combines these lot purchases with their own brands to give customers a BIG discount. Big Lots does not take coupons, but the savings is so extreme, it's worth it to bargain safari there.  
  • Aldi. Aldi has a lot of its own brands of food, household products and toiletries that are at a rock-bottom price. Some are very good, some are so-so, and some are not worth the money. The only way to tell is by personal experimentation. Aldi also makes big purchases of brand names and sells those at ridiculous prices. 
  • Dollar Tree. Dollar Tree has its own brands, and very seldom has name brands. Most items in the store cost $1. It does carry the occasional close-out of Comet, and is a listed as a reseller of Oxydol. Dollar Rree tends to carry a lot of Canadian lots, such Yardley, at deeply reduced prices. Like Aldi, items from Dollar Tree are a matter of personal experimentation in your family. Dollar Tree does not accept coupons.
  • Woodman's (HyVee). Woodman's is big, employee-owned, and a big saver. I am not impressed with Woodman's produce, but Woodman's does have big weekly savings, also close-outs. Woodman's does accept coupons. If you don't live near a Woodman's, it can be worth the drive, but pack a lunch.
  • Meijer. Like Woodman's, Meijer is huge, has its own gas station, and takes coupons. Unlike Woodman's, Meijer is not employee-owned. I have a love/hate relationship with Meijer. Their customer service is less than stellar. But Meijer does have great prices, and does meet the criteria for a bargain safari. 


Not Extreme Couponing Part III

Despite the TV show Extreme Couponing, sometimes coupons are not the answer to saving money. Yes, one woman claims she's only extremed couponed for a year, and yes, she's built up a lovely stockpile and given loads of stuff to the local food pantry, and she gives God credit for the source of her thousands of coupons, stacked in milk crates in her attic. That does not mean it's going to work out for everybody that way.

These are some other things I've noticed when watching the show:
  • The extreme couponers spend a lot of time on their coupon conquests. All that saving doesn't magically happen by having the coupons. A couple couponers related that extreme couponing is a lot like a 40 hour job, and can often run into 70 hours a week. A grandparent who lacks energy, or needs to put that energy elsewhere, might not have 40-70 hours a week to extreme coupon. 
  • Many hands make light work, and somebody has to lug all that stuff into the shopping carts, then into the car to transport it home, then into the house to put it all away. Do you have help to do this?
  • If you and your grandchildren are sharing a 2-bedroom condo, where are you going to put 1,000 packs of ramen noodles? Better use those coupons selectively, and have a plan where to stick that stuff.

Now, I think couponing is a great mind exercise, and unlike Brain Age, I don't have to sneak one of the kid's Nintendo DS to coupon. It certainly has hobby status in my mind, and to my mind does more for a brain than regular bridge or canasta tournaments. Doctors and therapists keep telling us we need to exercise our brains as we get older. Coupons provide that exercise, and throw saving money into the bargain.

But coupons are not the only way to save money. Sometimes, coupons don't save money at all, especially on items one needs when one needs them NOW. Coupons expire, and most stores do not honor expired coupons. Coupons used toward items nobody uses in your family are a waste of both time and money. There are other sources of savings. 

Not Extreme Couponing Part II

I do use coupons. I don't use the big coupon clippers who sell 70 to 100 coupons of one item at a time, but the little guys, such as kittyklippers and zirbco on eBay. It makes more sense to buy from a cottage industry than to go for the big packs of coupons. I do not know what I would do with 200 bottles of hand soap in pumps, anyway!  I have enough junk around here without my very own collection of snack cakes or tomato sauce to an extreme.

I also try to look local when I choose those coupons. I've discovered sometimes coupons from the west coast won't work at all in local stores, or won't work for the same amount of money. Fortunately, "local" is changing as manufacturers get a clue.  I am still looking for Ken's salad dressing in 8 or 9 ounce bottles, because I can buy one, get one free according to the coupon, and I have 20 coupons. I only have 5 more days to try to find them. Every store in our area carries the 16 ounce bottles, and that just doesn't work. If I don't find those bottles, I've lost $2.98 in clipper cost. I do have 10 Vienna hot dog coupons. Memorial Day is coming at the end of the month, and those hot dogs will go on sale.

I store my coupons in a binder by month, like coupons held together with paper clips, several clips in clear sheet protectors. There is no need for me to get high tech when low tech will do just fine. The later I can find an expiration date, the more of a chance I have of finding a price match-up for a sale.

On each index separator, I have a list of the coupons by expiration dates. I type the list when I have a sufficient number of coupon items for that month. I add onto the list in good old pen or pencil if I acquire more.  

I keep an Excel log that essentially keeps track of how much I spend on groceries, household items and toiletries combined, including how much I spend on coupon clippers. remember, I am not buying coupons! That's against the contract on coupons. Coupons are free. It's the services of the clippers I purchase.

Not Extreme Couponing Part I

As long as we are in TV mode-

In trying to save money for those silly luxuries for the second set of children, such as rent, food and clothes, a TV show might pop up on the radar. Extreme Couponing is offered several times a week on TLC, but airs its newest shows usually on Wednesdays (Right now that interferes in a big way with Justified, a much more worthy show in my opinion, and no, the kids aren't allowed to watch it).

I noticed something in watching DVRd episodes of Extreme Couponing:
  • The couponers buy things they don't necessarily use. Some give those items to homeless shelters and food pantries, but too many extreme couponers keep those items as trophies. When it comes to collecting items not used, that's a collection at best and hoarding at worst.
  • It takes a lot of space to store all that stuff. I noticed one woman used the underside of her daughter's platform bed, and kudos to her. Others have had to make over basements and garages, to the point where cars and expensive tools are shoved aside to keep the stockpile dry. 
  • Coupon matching is crucial. If a body doesn't have an exact match-up for those particular coupons in the various ad papers in the various stores, there is no extreme savings. There can be savings, to be sure, but if you're watching them and thinking you'll get it for free as well, well, unless you have the same sales right now, um, no.  
  • Extreme couponers often, but not always, live in areas where there is at least one store that doubles coupons up to $1. I live in an area where NOBODY doubles coupons. 
  • Getting 70 coupons of one item cost money, in that one either has to use the gas to go dumpster diving, the shoe leather to go collecting coupons off people's doorsteps (Are you SURE he doesn't want to keep them?), or paying a coupon-clipping service. If the coupons aren't used, then the price of those coupons should be added into the monthly total spent. It only makes sense that despite purchase, sometimes it is better not to use a coupon.  

Call me cynical.  The twin sisters in my neck of the woods who collected diapers for one even though she had no children floored me. WHY? Why waste the space? And here's a news flash: Even diapers break down, as does toothpaste. Diapers are paper and plastic made to break down in landfills. Toothpaste, like mayonnaise, is an emulsion that separates in time. 

All this TV publicized thrift, combined with attending classes with the Girl Scouts through Chasing4Life, did made me consider the thought that it would be a good idea to have a stockpile of necessary stuff. 

I'm not LDS, but I have always been an admirer to a degree of any religious group that could feed itself and others in such a practical, American fashion of home storage; that is, provided the members remember FIFO (first in, first out) and keep tabs on the expiration dates. I have heard tales of mold and other nastiness creeping into those stockpiles of two years' worth of food and necessities. We won't discuss the canning plants run by the LDS, simply state that they are there for their members who choose to use them, and the food I've tasted from these plants has been pretty good. 

I must admit, the older I get, the less I like shopping for the mundane items, such as toothpaste, crushed tomatoes, popcorn and butter. It's nice to be able to get off one's haunches and simply meander to the shelves or the big freezer for deodorant, ice cream or ham, instead of walking to the store or worse, driving to the store.

Chasing4Life has a point about being prepared for an emergency. I've sat through 2 hurricanes (count 'em) and more than my share of blizzards (I didn't always live North), and watched people suffer without stuff or money to immediately buy new stuff or get silly luxuries such as water. When we made the emergency kits, much to the kids' delight, I did insist that they NOT be stored in bucket-style containers with lids, ala Rubbermaid and Sterlite, but in backpacks with frames or new garbage cans with wheels. What if the car doesn't work? Who is walking lugging tubbies? I also insist we rotate the stock in the emergency kits via FIFO, which I first learned as a crew member for Mikky D's a long, long, long time ago. 

And I am trying my best to keep my pledge to lower the cost of food, household support items and toiletries to 25% less than last year, despite rising gas prices that cause rising food prices. $7041 in a year is a lot of money to spend on anything, but on dish soap and potatoes it's surreal. I know my kids are hitting that age where they will eat us out of house and home, so it only makes sense to stock up. 

But stockpiling stuff we don't use? Illogical! 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Space Study & Pawn Stars Have the Right Stuff for Home Education

Carnival of Homeschooling

"Look, there's Gus Grissom!"

"I don't know how Corey can't know those signatures! Look, Gene Kranz!"

"He can't even pronounce 'Wally Schirra' properly! Next time we go to Vegas, can we go to Gold & Silver and buy that?"

Our family does not go to Vegas as a matter of course; in fact, our kids have never been to Vegas. But we are faithful viewers of "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel, DVRing it for later viewing in the daytime. The girls have suggested several times that we take a family trip to Nevada, and of course the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop would be on our list of things to see, right next to Hoover Dam and the Ethel M factory tour. 

We watch the show for a variety of reasons. I like the Old Man, as we both spent time in Uncle Sam's Yacht Club (the Navy). The Mister likes the weapons and Tortuga Trading. The kids, while fascinated at the 1950s items, usually watch it for ChumLee's antics, or to see if Big Hoss will make a crazy buy. Everybody likes Rick, who seems to have the job of ringmaster someplace in his job description.

But we never expected to have the serendipitous fortune of having an episode tie into our home education study of NASA and the space program, which has tended to go off in tangents at times in any event.

We started our study not because of some deep love of space, or physics, or even history. Blame this one on Baby's recent fascination with Clint Eastwood. After studying the Spaghetti Western and 1970s Police genre for Humanities, we sought to combine her interests with Belle's interest in sci-fi. The result: Space Cowboys, possibly the best movie in 2000.

Space Cowboys could not be appreciated without viewing Apollo 13. Apollo 13 could not be appreciated without the Right Stuff. And the Right Stuff was the perfect interjection of the old folks in the house!      

Yes indeed, kiddies, we lived the adventure of Freedom 7. We knew the heartbreak of the Apollo fire. We know where we were when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon (I was watching Cubs baseball, of course). It came to us in black and white TV via CBS, NBC and ABC, the only major networks at the time. No, the cable industry was subjected to burial by the theater industry, and wouldn't resurrect itself until the early 1970s. The appearance of an astronaut at some public function was like an audience with Paul VI, Queen Elizabeth II and the Beatles combined!

Apparently, our stories sparked enough interest to perform research on how the first rockets were launched, the differences between each of the three original NASA astronaut programs, to the point where the kids asked to learn to do better, faster research. There are still model rockets to be made, and a research report on their favorite astronaut. 

It was not Space Cowboys that won the Retread Parent Film Festival, but Apollo 13. They sat on the edge of the sofa, holding their collective breath at each twist and turn. They paused the DVD, then slowly paced through the panels to see just what it was the NASA engineers were using to build a CO2 filter. They then debated whether they could have done the same, why a tube sock was or wasn't a good idea, and whether duct tape had been invented by NASA (it was not). They held printouts of production notes in their hands, and cheered when they discovered Jim Lovell's cameo in the film as skipper of the Iwo Jima.

So when it came time to rev up the DVR for this episode of  "Pawn Stars" they were somewhat experts of the knowledge of which astronauts and crew were part of the Gemini missions, and whose signatures should have been on the photograph brought in for sale. While they could not have authenticated the signatures (that would be Drew Max), they certainly knew who should or should not have signed the danged thing.

Perhaps we can take a field trip to Vegas in October, when the Vegas tourist season changes. We're not bound by the schedule of the brick-and-mortar schools, and there are other activities there besides gambling (although the kids learned to count cards somewhere- but that's another story). It might be nice to at least look at the Gemini photograph, and have them call out the signatures, and tell a little something about each astronaut or engineer.

For now, maybe we can make a trip to Jim Lovell's restaurant

(For more great blog posts, see this week's Carnival of Homeschooling @http://www.eduwrit.com/blog/?p=2867.)