Shoebox Economics: How Coupons Help Pay My Mortgage

by Inge Schmidt

My bank is a box divided by old cut up manila file folders and envelopes in-between. Every week I take my bank to the store and smile on my way out because a good part of what I have in my cart I have gotten for free. Every week I spend about an hour or two on cutting, filing and checking my coupon box. It is a cancelled check box of blue plastic with a closing lid. I used to use a shoe box, but it got too small and was not strong enough to hold up to the constant wear of my shopping trips. My receipts show me weekly that I save anywhere from 35-55% off of my grocery bills. This averages out to at least two mortgage payments for us a year.

At first my husband didn't believe me until I kept track in a ledger and we more than saved that amount. The idea of couponing is to save, not to spend. Buying goods which you will not use just because it is on sale is not frugal. That is just plain silly. Most people make a true commitment to use coupons but often they don't have them organized enough to be of value, and discouragement sets in quickly.

This method has worked for me and I have shared it with others who have also found it useful. The little pocket organizers don't do it for me, I need the box with me at all times. I take it to the pharmacy, the discount stores and all grocery stores. There are always goods on sale which we use and I have a coupon for. With three teens in the house, we go through a lot of goods.

The first rule of couponing is don't buy anything which you could make cheaper yourself. Frozen Pizza, for instance is not a savings. You can make your own much quicker, cheaper and better. Yeast dough works quickly with a good recipe. We make four pizzas at a time and that leaves extra for snack and lunch the next day. (Well at least sometimes) I always look for discounted sausages, meat, bread, milk, and produce. The staples often are discounted because they have an expiration date. This is still safe and if frozen immediately, works well for us. Often times these items are also on a coupon and you can get substantial savings this way. I found pork tenderloin which has been marinated marked down to $.99 a lb. and each loin was $2.49. I had a coupon for $1.00 off and purchased each beautiful loin for $1.49. What a great meal we had for $3.00. The next day, I used the leftovers for stir fry and it was still delicious. These are just a few ideas and I am sure you can come up with many yourself.

Usually I have a general idea of what our menu will be for the week, but I always keep it open until I see what is on sale. I rarely pay more than $1.00 a lb. for meat, and never more than $.29 a lb. for poultry. When it is on sale, I stock up. We have a freezer and it serves us well.

The coupons are the basis for most everything we buy. I clip coupons every Sunday and if they are exceptional I go and purchase a few more newspapers. I give the extra newspapers away, and keep the coupons. Always check to make sure the coupons are in the paper, sometimes they are missed and you don't want to walk out without them.

Then I sit with the box, file the new coupons in the back of each envelope and throw out the expired ones from the front. The system works pretty well for me.

With old manila folders, I cut dividers using the flaps to write the headings onto:
1. Breakfast Products,
2. Dairy, Oil, Margarine,
3. Soup, Snack Food, Candy,
4. Vegetables, Starches, Fruit
5. Seasonings, Sauces, Sugar, Salad Dressing
6. Meat, Poultry, Main Dishes
7. Beverages
8. Baked Goods, Desserts
9. Cleaning Products, Bags, Wrap, Paper Products
10. Miscellaneous, Non Food.

I then place envelopes with flaps tucked in and give each envelope a heading. For example:
Under Breakfast Products the envelope headings would be:
1. Cereal
2. Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal
3. Granola Bars
4. Waffles
5. Pop Tarts
You can add/delete however you need to suit your family's needs.

I have a waffle iron, so I don't buy frozen waffles and the only time I buy cereal is if I get it for $1.00 a box or in the bag. I never clip coupons which require the purchase of two boxes of cereal for the savings. That is no savings...about $4.50 a pound.

Each section then has its subsections with envelopes and it works out well. Always clip the sundries coupons, they often pay off well if you pay attention. Many toothpastes have come home with coupons and no cash. If you see one of the people offering taste-testing and give out coupons, always ask for a few more. In a few weeks these will be great buys. If not, recycle them. Nothing ventured...well you know.

I work full time as a high school teacher and as I wrote before have three teens. I have about as much time as everyone else. This method has, however, proven effective and I hope it might entice you to at least give it a try. You have everything to gain.

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