Friday Favorite: Expo Disc and Gray Cards

White balance can be a difficult thing to figure out sometimes. Usually, if you set it to the appropriate light source, it does pretty well at making your picture look true-to-life with colors.

Here’s a picture of some person’s camera’s white balance options. Mine offers these as well.

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And if you don’t set your white balance correctly, your colors can be off. For those of you who constantly notice a bluish tint to your photos, that might be why. See?

For those of you who use your white balance setting, have you ever had a hard time figuring out what to set it to when you are in an area that has more than one type of light?

For example, my kitchen is not a great place for preset white balance lighting. There are windows that give some light, and there’s incandescent light as well.

Or say you need to photograph something in a room that has fluorescent light overhead, incandescent light lamps, and huge windows giving natural light. Which setting do you choose?

Well, none of them is going to be ideal. When I was at Help Portrait, a photographer there, Marcus, showed me a great solution.

The Expo Disc is a disc that you place over your lens.

 

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It refracts all the light in an area, so when you set your camera to manual and take a picture, it gives you a gray photo.

What you do is set your camera to custom white balance before taking the picture, and aim it at the light source (or, if possible, go to where the subject will be and aim at the place you will be standing to take the photo).

That gives you a more accurate reading of the light the subject will have on them/it. Then when you take the shot, your camera will set your white balance to the gray photo the expo disc helps you take.

It’s really simple. I wish I could tell each of you how to set your camera’s custom white balance, but there are WAY too many cameras out there for me to know how each one works.

Not to worry though, because all you have to do is Google how to set the custom white balance for your camera’s make and model. So many people have tutorials out there to show you how your exact SLR can do that.

Your camera will be perfectly set to take photos that show the true color and lighting in that space.

Then you put your expo disc away and photograph!

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Here is an example of a before and after expo disc shot.

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Don’t you think that looks so much better?

Another option is to use a gray card. This takes into account reflected light, and some people like it better. It’s also much less expensive.

 

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Basically, you take a picture of the gray card in the setting you need to customize your white balance for, and that’s what you set your white balance to.

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Because cameras are not as adept as our eyes in reading colors accurately in each light setting, they have to compensate by adding or subtracting gray to/from subjects. Something white will have some gray added in; something black might have a bit of gray taken out. It’s not a true reading.

So when you use a gray card to set your white balance, it takes in the light sources, and you’re set to get a more accurate color representation in your photos than you would with a white balance pre-setting alone.

Both of these are good options, and it’s a nice tool to have in your camera bag just in case you need it.

If you already do this, what do you prefer? Expo disc? Gray cards? Why?

~Meghan

Drug Store Couponing.

This is Day 5 of the Meghan’s Guide to Couponing series. So far we’ve looked at: The Different Types of Coupons, How to Stack Coupons, How to Organize Your Coupons, and When to Coupon. Today we’re going to look at couponing in drug stores, which can work a bit differently than grocery stores.

Today I’m going to focus on CVS, but you can find guides to Rite Aid and Walgreens too, on Southern Saver’s website.

Extra Care Bucks

Okay. CVS has a rewards system that deals in “extra care bucks” or “ECB’s.” These are earned by buying certain products from CVS, and the “bucks” are only good at CVS. You must have an Extra Care Card in order to earn them.

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If you’ve ever looked at a CVS flier in your Sunday paper, you might notice that they have a lot of “It’s Like Getting It Free after extra bucks!” or “It’s like getting it for (enter amount less than regular price here) after extra bucks!”

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How It Works

Basically, each week in the CVS Flyer, there are certain items they are selling that can earn you ECBs. After you buy them, the amount of ECBs you have earned prints at the bottom of your receipt.

You MUST have your receipt(s) in order to redeem your ECBs.

Now you can use your ECBs right away, or you can save them up. They work just like money in CVS, but if you’re smart about it, you’ll use it to help buy other items that will also earn you ECBs.

Confused?

I don’t blame you. It makes more sense in a scenario, so we’ll do a couple.

Scenario 1:

Say you see this ad for Free After ECB Crest products.

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So the first time you go to buy it, you have to pay $3.29 (minus any coupons that would apply to the product). Then your receipt prints out, and you have earned $3.29 in ECBs.

You go back to the toothpaste aisle, pick up the exact same product, bring it to the front, and it rings up for $3.29. You hand the cashier your receipt, and the ECB for $3.29 covers the cost of your toothpaste. You get that one for free, and when the receipt prints, you get another ECB for $3.29.

Now you could just do that all day until the toothpaste is gone, which is why they put limits on how many you can buy per household. But if you shop the Free ECBs each week, you will end up with a lot of free products, or products you only paid for once but got a bunch of in the end.

Scenario 2:

You see this on Southern Savers:

They’re great about giving you “Deal Ideas” to help you work the system to your advantage.

So. You have to spend $15 dollars on Excedrin products to earn $7 of ECBs. You think to yourself, “well, that’s not ‘Free After ECB.'” And you’re right. But you can still score a super cheap purchase.

The first time, you buy the 3 Excedrin products at $5.59 each, and you use the $2.50 off coupon. You end up paying $9.27 out of pocket, and you earn $7 in ECBs.

Then you buy the same products again, use the other $2.50 off coupon (because you buy 2 Sunday papers and would have 2 of those coupons), and use the $7 ECB from your previous purchase. You end up spending $2.27 out of pocket for over $15 worth of products that time. AND you still earn another $7 in ECBs.

Now, if you never use Excedrin or Excedrin PM, that might still not be a good use of your money. But if you do, then you just got six 20-count boxes of Excedrin for $11.54. That takes the price per box from $5.59 a piece to $1.92 each. That’s pretty good.

Got It?

Hopefully that makes more sense. The great thing is that even with all the savings, as long as you ring up an item that earns ECBs, you will get the full ECB value of that product.

Eventually, you will hit the limit or stop because you have all you need (and wanted to leave some for other couponers), and you’ll have remaining ECBs on your last receipts.

When you do, make sure you hold onto that receipt. (Sidenote: don’t leave these receipts in your car. Heat/Sun damage will blacken them out, and you won’t be able to use them if that happens.)

You’ll be able to use it some other day on other purchases. If you play your cards right, you’ll be able to get more Free After ECB items without paying the initial first product cost because your old ECBs will cover it.

For example, in the above Scenario 1, you could have gotten 2 Crest toothpastes without paying for it because of the $7 ECBs from a previous trip. Then you would have earned $3.29 in ECBs per toothpaste, which would have come out on that receipt, which you could have use to buy two more toothpastes free.

Tips

There are some additional things worth noting.

– When you sign up with CVS for your Extra Care Card, you will get a coupon mailed or emailed to you for $4 off of a $20 purchase. However, if you use that, you should do it BEFORE using any other coupons at the register. If you have $20 worth of items and get $5 off in coupons, your total will no longer be $20, and the $4 off of $20 will not apply.

They also sometimes just send Extra Care Cardholders other $ off of $$ coupons, and the same applies in those situations.

-The Free After ECB items can be really specific about exactly what is free. It might be worth bringing in your flyer so you know for sure you have the right item.

-When you use your ECB receipts, you have to give up the entire amount of ECBs on that receipt at once. So if you had $7 in ECBs on a receipt, and you are only buying $4 worth of items, go ahead and grab some gum or lotion or whatever else can make up the difference so you don’t waste your ECBs.

-CVS stores often have a kiosk in them where you can scan your Extra Care Card. When you do, it will print out random coupons for you. Make sure you scan your card as soon as you enter the store. The coupons can be really great sometimes, and it might affect what you had in mind to buy.

-Sometimes cashiers or managers don’t understand why registers are having issues giving you the ECBs you earned or accepting a coupon it should. Something that might help is this letter from CVS Corporate explaining what is and is not acceptable with coupons. It’s not a bad idea to print it and keep it in your coupon binder, just in case you meet some friction at the register. (And in fact, it’s not a bad idea to print the coupon policy for each store you shop at in your binder.)

Each Store Is Different

Each drug store has their own rewards system, and it’s worth looking into each one so you maximize your chances of saving money.

Once you understand how each system works, and you combine coupons with their rewards system, you’ve set yourself up to save a LOT of money. Drug stores are where it’s at for free items, so I highly recommend trying it out.

~Meghan

When To Coupon.

This post is Day 4 in the Meghan’s Guide to Couponing series. So far, we’ve covered The Different Types of Coupons, How to Stack Coupons,  and How to Organize Your Coupons. Check those out, if you haven’t yet, and then make sure you catch today’s post on when it’s best to use those coupons (and when it’s best not to use them)!

Tips For Maximizing Savings

Before I even begin to talk about when is best to use and not use your coupons, I wanted to share a few tips, or suggestions, that will make your couponing work for you so much more. Some of you may not be able to do all of these things right now, but if you can, I highly suggest it.

1. Get an extra fridge/freezer. This is so helpful for when you find a great deal you want to stock up on, but you don’t want the food to go bad before you can use it.

2. Pay attention to the prices. If you don’t know what the general prices are of something, you won’t know if you’re getting a deal or not.

3. Get over your brand loyalties. Or at least, know when you need to have brand loyalties and when not to. Most things are just as good with store brands or a brand that you have a coupon for, so try things out, and figure out what you can substitute and what brands you can’t live without.

When To Shop

Sales Cycles

One thing I’ve learned from reading other blogs is that all groceries go through sale cycles. About once every six weeks, a product will hit the lowest price that a store will sell it for. This is when you want to buy. And you want to stock up on it. Buy enough to last you until the next cycle has passed so you can stock up again when the prices dip again.

Say that you watch price of Cheerios, which normally costs $4 a box. But after a few weeks, it gets to the bottom of its cycle and it goes on sale for $2.50. You have waited to buy it, so you go digging around for your General Mills coupons, and you have two manufacturer’s coupons for $1 off any General Mills Cereal and two store coupons for 50 cents off a General Mills cereal.

You buy two boxes of Cheerios, which on sale cost $5. Then you use your coupons. Since the 50 cent coupons double, and you have two $1 off coupons, you end up saving $4. And you only spend $1 for 2 boxes of cereal.

Ka-Ching!

Now, not all items have the same cycle, so you need to watch the prices in your stores and note when each item you regularly buy hits its lowest price. That price will not appear again for weeks, so stock up.

That’s when having an extra fridge comes in handy, especially when the thing going on sale is meat or cheese. Both are expensive, and both freeze well. There are almost never coupons for meat, but catching a good sale and stocking up is a major money saver.

Time of the Week

Each week, stores change their sale items. But they don’t all change it up on the same day. Southern Savers has a list of when which stores release their fliers here. (They also have each store’s couponing policy. After seeing that, I added the link on my How to Stack Coupons page as well!)

A lot of serious couponers will go the day that the sales kick in for the stores they shop at so they can get all the goods they need before others wipe out the good deals. You certainly have that option, and you’re more likely to get all the deals that way.

Personally, I don’t want to be running around town all week, so I pick a day and run my errands then. So I just hit all the stores I want to hit on the same day, trying to shop in an area where the stores are all close together. It works for me, and it saves me gas money, which is no less important than saving money in the grocery store. To each their own, though.

When/How NOT to Coupon

Don’t Buy Just Because You Have A Coupon

That’s right! Just because you have a coupon does not make everything a good deal.

It is better to let a coupon expire than to buy an item when it’s not on sale. Trust me on this. If you use a coupon on a sale item, you will get it for next to nothing. If you use a coupon on a full-price item, you will save next to nothing.

Also, if you have a coupon for a sale item, and even with all those savings it will cost you more than the store brand, just get the store brand of that item. Unless it’s one of those brands you just can’t live without.

And don’t worry about letting coupons expire! I just learned about how to keep those expired coupons from going to waste.

Did you know that military families are allowed to shop with expired manufacturer’s coupons for up to 6 months past the expiration date at their commissary if they are stationed abroad? It’s called the Overseas Coupon Program, and I just love the whole idea of it. That’s where my expired coupons will be heading soon.

Know When To Pay Full Price

Yes, saving money with coupons is great. But let’s get real. Coupons for produce? Meats? Milk? Baked snacks? Other healthy alternatives to junk food? They are darn near impossible to find.

So trust me on this one- it is better to spend more money and be healthy than to save tons of money on loads of processed foods and be a fattie.

I love chips just as much as the next person. Actually, that’s not true. I love chips more than most people. And I love getting a good deal on them. But in an effort to be healthier, I have found myself shelling out a little more at the register in order to get some healthy items into my shopping cart.

I don’t want to see a high number on my receipt, but I’m more eager to avoid a high number on my bathroom scale. Know what I’m sayin’, Willis?

Anyway, you can sometimes find better deals on those items in bulk, so shop around. I go to Sam’s for meat if it’s not on sale at my regular grocery stores. I can get a LOT of frozen, uncooked chicken breasts for $10 there, and since I’m freezing a few weeks’ worth of chicken when I get it on sale anyway, I’m all for getting it cheap all the time.

Don’t Be A Greedy Jerk

You know that show about extreme couponers? I can’t watch it. Those people are ri-dic-u-lous.

Here’s the deal. Saving money is nice, but it should not take over your life! Remember your kids? Your spouse? Your pet?  Sheesh. They deserve some dang attention, and spending all day, every day, planning your shopping because you’re addicted to the rush of savings is so unhealthy. (Trust me, you really do get a rush seeing a big chunk of change roll off your total.)

Also, can we talk for a second about what to buy when you coupon? These people often buy things they don’t need, use, or even want, just to get it for free. And not only that, but they buy so much that it expires before any one family could possibly use it all up. Wasteful!

And one more thing- other people want to save money too! People who will actually USE what they buy. So, yes, stock up. But be courteous. Don’t clear the shelf of all sale items just because you can (exception being if there are only a few left on the shelf). Leave some for others to take advantage of too!

The one exception to buying things you don’t want or need just because it’s on sale, for me, is if you are giving it away. There are so many people in need, so many food banks that would be oh-so-grateful for donations. So if you’re doing it for a good cause, that’s different. Still don’t take every sale item, though. That’s just rude.

Drug Stores

That’s where we’re headed tomorrow. And my soapbox talk about not being greedy should especially be applied there. You’ll see why.

~Meghan

How To Organize Your Coupons.

This post is Day 3 in the Meghan’s Guide to Couponing series. If you’re just tuning in, make sure you check out Day 1: The Different Types of Coupons, and Day 2: How to Stack Coupons as well!

How I keep track of my coupons is something that a lot of my (female) family members have asked me about over the last couple of months. And all kinds of people in the grocery stores comment on it to me.

I’ve tried multiple ways of organizing my coupons, and the one I’m about to show you was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, Audrey (Asher‘s mom).

It has saved me the most money of any coupon system I’ve tried. It also saves me time (and my sanity) because it’s so convenient. Sound good to you? It’s yours for the taking.

“Ingredients”

First of all, you’ll need coupons. No duh, right? Well, I just thought I would share that I buy two Sunday papers each weekend at the store (I get the AJC). It usually is a motherload of coupons, and having twice as many coupons is great. It also costs me under $5 for the two newspapers together.

Okay, now that you’ve got your coupons, you will also need:

A (BIG) Three Ring Binder

Page Dividers with Tabs

Plastic photo pages that hold four 4×6 photos each. (You will need a lot of these. Trust me. You’ll have months worth of coupons since you keep them until they expire.)

Scissors for clipping your coupons. (Duh, again.)

How To Assemble

First of all, you need to decide the main categories that you would say your shopping is divided into so you can divvy up your coupons accordingly. This will be different for each person depending on what works for them. Mine are listed below, with pictures.

Once you’ve decided what will make the most sense to you when you go looking for a coupon, you label each tab of each page divider with a category, and you put them all in your 3-ring binder. You should be able to see the title of each category sticking out so you can quickly turn to it.

Then, in between each page divider, you will insert the photo pages. Each 4×6 photo slot is used for a different coupon.

Since I use more than one Sunday paper, I layer the identical pages to cut out the coupons so that I don’t have to do twice as much cutting. After I cut out all the coupons for products I would even consider buying, I go through my binder and insert them into an empty slot in the appropriate category.

Because I will have multiples of all my coupons, I put all coupons for an identical product in one 4×6 slot together. And I make sure that I can see both the expiration date and the amount of money it will save me. Since they are all facing forward,  I don’t really pay attention to the backs of pages.

Here are some shots of my coupons according to category:

Shelf Items (foods, etc. that I would find on shelves in the grocery store, as opposed to in the deli, fridge, freezer, pharmacy, etc.). This section has the most coupons for my binder.

Dairy Products…It would appear that I accidentally skipped a photo of this section. But I was going to tell you that I also include Eggs in this section because it’s always near the dairy products. Whatever works for you when it comes to knowing where your coupons are.

Household Items (this covers everything from aluminum foil to trash bags to light bulbs, etc.) This area is medium sized for me.

Meat. Super scant section.

Paper Goods (toilet paper, paper plates, napkins, paper towels, etc.). This section is small for me right now.

Pharmacy (covers everything from medicine to vitamins to bandaids to icy hot). Small/Medium sized for me as of today.

Toiletries (everything from make up to shampoo to lotion to toothpaste, etc.) Pretty big section- might be tied with Shelf actually.

Frozen (frozen foods, pretty self-explanatory). Tiny section. But still, better than meat.

How It Saves You Time

Okay. Remember our image of the Publix flier via Southern Savers from Day 2’s post? Here it is:

You’ll notice that beside each coupon listed, it tells you the place to find said coupon. SS 3/27 means you could find it in the March 27th newspaper’s Smart Source coupons. RP 4/10 means you could find the coupon in the April 10th newspaper’s Red Plum coupons. Follow?

This meant you used to have to keep all the coupons organized by date and for each item you wanted to get a coupon for, you had to go find the date and clip the coupon you needed.

With this new system, dates don’t matter. You don’t need to be told where to find them unless you want to know where to get a coupon online. All of your paper coupons should be filed under their categories, so all you have to do is open to the right category and flip through the pages until you find the coupon you need. So easy!

I will say this though- the best way to stay on top of your couponing is to cut out all your coupons the week that you get them. Go ahead and clip and file them so that you don’t have weeks of coupons piling up. That can be overwhelming and take hours to go through, versus a short while once a week.

As you add your new coupons, look through the ones in your binder to see if any have expired, and go ahead and pull them out and toss them. That will ensure that you don’t get excited to save money only to be disappointed at checkout when your expired coupon is denied, and it will free up space in your binder for new coupons.

How It Saves You Money

With the old system of pulling the coupons as the coupon site told you where to find them, you were losing money in two ways:

1. Southern Savers only tells you where to find coupons for items that are listed in the flier/on sale in stores. So if you have something on your list that isn’t in the store flier that week, you won’t know where to find a coupon for it.

2. You have coupons all kept according to their dates so you can find them, meaning LOTS of coupons at home. You can’t bring them all to the store with you on the off chance that you might need one of them.

With the new system, however, you know exactly where to look for coupons because of your categories. Made your shopping list and have things on it that aren’t in the flier? No problem! Just flip to the category it would be under, and see if you have a coupon for it.

Also, because everything is nicely clipped and filed in your binder, you can toss that sucker in the car with you and take it to the store on your shopping trip.

You go down the aisle and find something on sale that wasn’t listed on the couponing websites you use, or maybe you remember something at the store that you didn’t think of at home, and you haven’t pulled a coupon for it yet. No worries- just flip to the category and browse through the pages to find a coupon that goes with that product.

I have saved SO much more money because I was able to bring the coupons to the store with me. In the last couple of months, it has made shopping with coupons way easier for me than any other system I had tried before.

Try it out, and let me know what you think!

~Meghan

How To Stack Coupons.

This is Day 2 in the series Meghan’s Guide to Couponing. Yesterday, we looked at The Different Types of Coupons. If you haven’t read that post yet, start there! It’s the foundation for the rest of the series. Today we’ll look at coupon stacking and shopping with coupons.

Coupon Stacking

Coupon stacking is simply using multiple coupons on the same product to get the lowest price possible. But there are rules.

You can’t use two manufacturer’s coupons on the same product or two store coupons on the same product. But you can use one store coupon and one manufacturer’s coupon on the same product. For example, here are three scenarios:

Scenario 1:

You want to buy one gallon of Tide that’s priced at $10. You have two manufacturer’s coupons for $3 off any Tide. You go to checkout, and the first coupon scans. The second coupon will not be accepted.

Scenario 2:

You want to buy one gallon of Tide that’s priced at $10. You are at Kroger and have two Kroger coupons for $2 off any Tide. You go to checkout, and the first coupon scans. The second coupon will not be accepted.

Scenario 3:

You want to buy one gallon of Tide that’s priced at $10. You have two manufacturer’s coupons for $3 off any Tide. Also, you are at Kroger and have two Kroger coupons for $2 off any Tide. You take one of the manufacturer’s coupons and one of the store coupons, and you use them together at checkout. Both ring up, and you get $5 total off your Tide. Yay!

Understand?

So in Scenario 3, you stacked a store coupon with a manufacturer’s coupon and got a lot of savings.

The rule about not using more than one manufacturer’s coupon for the exact same item is why Kroger and other stores have stopped allowing people to use manufacturer’s print coupons when manufacturer’s eCoupons are loaded on the shopper card and already scanned in at checkout.

Publix, I did some reading on, and apparently they will not only accept competitor’s coupons, but they will also allow you to stack a Publix coupon AND a competitor’s coupon with a manufacturer’s coupon for one item. That’s three coupons on one item!! I will be trying this out soon to see if it’s true, and I’ll update this post to let you know.

UPDATE: Click here to see a list of stores and their couponing policies broken down in an easy to read table. So nice!

Exceptions to the Stacking Rules

When using two manufacturer’s coupons on the same items works.

Although you can’t use two store or two manufacturer’s coupons for the exact same item, sometimes you can stack coupons in a way that gets around it. Here is an example:

Say you want to buy some Pillsbury canned crescent rolls and you have three coupons for 25 cents off a can of Pillsbury crescent rolls and three coupons for 55 cents off any three cans of Pillsbury crescent rolls. You decide to buy 3 cans of crescent rolls.

You take the three 25 cent coupons because they each apply to only one can, and you take one of the 55 cent coupons because it applies to the purchase of 3 cans, and you use them together.

That works because the requirements of the coupons are different. One coupon applies to a single can, which you are buying 3 of, so you can use one per can. And the other coupon requires you to buy 3 cans, so you use one of them, and apply it to the three together as a whole.

Some cashiers will give you a hard time about this, and some do not. Usually it works the way it should, but sometimes the register computers get confused by this and think you’re cheating the system, and the cashiers who don’t know how to override are generally the ones that try to get you to toss your coupon away. I usually stick to my guns, and talk to a manager if I have to. Generally they will show the cashier how to override the glitch, and that’s that.

Buy One Get One Free…But really get both free.

Another exception is buy one get one (aka B1G1 or BOGO) coupons. Sometimes you can use two of these. For example:

Say you had two buy one, get one free coupons for Secret deoderant, and you were buying two identical Secret deoderants. We’ll call them Secret deodorant 1 and Secret deodorant 2.

Secret deodorant 1 gets a coupon to get Secret deodorant 2 for free, and Secret deodorant 2 gets a coupon to get Secret deodorant 1 for free. They cancel the cost of each other out, and you get both free.

I’ll be honest, using two B1G1 coupons on the same two products and getting it to work has only happened for me once or twice, but I read about it working for other couponers in blogs all the time. So it’s worth trying!

Double The Savings

Many stores (Kroger, Publix, Ingles, etc.) will double (or even triple, if you’re lucky) your coupons. Most stores will only double coupons that are worth 50 cents or less. This is true of Publix and Kroger, for sure.

Ingles, I’ve heard will also double coupons that are 50 cents and under, but they have a tricky coupon policy.

So sometimes, it’s more worthwhile to use a coupon that is of lower value. When is that true? I’ll show you:

You want to buy a pack of Stride Gum that costs $2. You have a coupon for 75 cents off of Stride Gum and a coupon worth 50 cents off of Stride Gum.

Since you are shopping at Publix, and they double coupons worth 50 cents or less, you know that your 75 cent coupon will not double. But your 50 cent coupon will double, so it’s actually going to save you $1.

You use the 50 cent coupon, get a dollar off, and pay $1 for your $2 gum. Good for you!

Did you say triple coupons?

Yes, I did. Some folks say Kroger triples coupons once or twice a year, but I haven’t been so lucky as to get to take advantage of that yet.

I know that Ingles does triple coupons two or three times a year as well. I’ve heard that they stagger it regionally. Usually for Georgia (where I live), they will triple coupons sometime in July and again when in January or February.

Since none of us want to miss that opportunity, feel free to just ask your store’s cashiers if they ever triple coupons and if so, when, as you check out. Ask frequently, as they may not know until it is about to happen, or even ask a manager.

I will certainly be looking forward to finding triple coupon opportunities this summer, and I will post about it on my blog if I find out when and where.

Websites That Help You Stack Coupons

There are so many websites online that help you understand which coupons to use, how to combine them, and when to use them.

Southern Savers

One that I love, love, love is Southern Savers. Each week, the store fliers for big chain stores across the south are put on this site.

Every item to be on sale for the week is shown, along with where you can find coupons that apply to that item. I will go more in depth about this on another day, but for now, I want to show you this:

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Okay. Above is a screenshot of Southern Savers showing part of the current Publix flier and where to find coupons for those items.

You see under the Kingsford Match Light Briquets, that it has both M in red and S in blue next to the coupons? The M stands for Manufacturer’s coupon, and the S stands for Store coupon. The other items do not have any S coupons because there are no Publix coupons available for them right now.

You will also notice that under some of the coupons, there are little notes about how much you will end up paying after coupons. This is great, because it shows you just how much you stand to save if you have the right coupons. Makes it so easy!

Anyway. I know not everyone lives in the southern states. So, you need to just Google around to find your area’s version of this fabulous site. Hopefully someone in your region will be generous enough to have created a site that shares so much about couponing.

E-Mealz

Another site that is great is E-Mealz. This site isn’t free to use, but it’s fairly inexpensive (only $1.25/week).

What it does is give you a meal plan: a full set of meals for the week with their shopping lists, recipes, what coupons to use, etc. so you can spend about $75 a week for 4-6 people or $35 a week for two people on groceries.

I don’t use this, yet, but I’ve heard great things about them, especially from moms of young families. It takes the guess work out of dinner and shopping, and it helps you maintain a budget.

And it’s not a regional thing; it should be good for all over the U.S. Not only that, but it covers meal plans that are: gluten free, low carb, low fat, portion control, or vegetarian, in addition to regular meal plans.

But how do you keep track of all those coupons?

Well, that’s where we’re headed tomorrow. Stick with me, and you’ll be saving money in no time.

~Meghan

The Different Types of Coupons

This is Day 1 of the Meghan’s Guide to Couponing series. Are you ready? We’ll start with the basics.

There are different kinds of coupons, and that’s important because when we start talking about how to stack coupons (tomorrow), you will need to know this stuff. Without further ado, here are the types of coupons we’ll look at:

Store Coupons

Store coupons are coupons that a store puts out for products they sell that are only accepted at that store or at stores that accept competitor coupons. (None of the grocery stores near me do this, that I know of. Boo.)

For example, if you see a coupon like these:

(source)

You will see that the top one says CVS Pharmacy, and the bottom one says TARGET COUPON in the black box by the expiration date and also has the Target logo on the coupon. These are coupons intended for use at those stores.

Publix, Kroger, Target, as well as many other grocery stores and drug stores put out their own store coupons in fliers with newspapers.

You can also find printable store coupons online, often at store websites.

(source)

Manufacturer’s Coupons

Manufacturer’s coupons are made by the manufacturer of the product. The majority of coupons you will see online or in newspapers are going to be this type. It will say MANUFACTURER’S COUPON in the area beside the expiration date.

(source)

 

(source)

You can also print many manufacturer’s coupons that you find online, cut them out, and use them instead of, or in addition to, newspaper coupons.

(source)

Catalinas

Catalinas are coupons that print out after your receipt when you purchase certain items from a store. For example, the other day, Kroger was running a Catalina deal where if you bought two GE energy saving light bulbs, you could get a catalina for $2 off your next Kroger purchase.

Since I had coupons for those light bulbs and found them on sale, I went ahead and purchased some for future use. So at checkout, along with my receipt, came this:

Although it says Manufacturer’s Coupon on it, the way that I came by it is what makes it a Catalina. If you see on a coupon site that there is a “Catalina Deal,” they mean that when they bought a particular item, they got a coupon at checkout to use for future purchases .

eCoupons or Electronic Coupons

Electronic coupons are coupons that you can save to your store shopper card (like your Kroger Plus Card, Ingles Advantage Card, etc).

You go onto a website, enter your information and shopper cards’ numbers, and then load up your cards with free, online coupons.

When you go to check out, and they scan your card, the coupons that relate to the products you purchased are automatically applied to your total.

(source)

Kroger, Ingles, CVS, and other stores offer a way to load coupons to your shopper card through their site. If you aren’t sure if the store you shop at does this, and you know they have a shopper card, you can just look on their site for a link to “coupons.” This will often be where those are located.

There are also just general electronic coupon websites where you can enter every store’s shopper card that you have, and then you can load all the electronic manufacturer’s coupons onto those cards. Some examples of these include coupons.com and shortcuts.com.

Before you go loading up all of your shopper cards with eCoupons, I have to let you know of something. Recently, some stores (including Kroger) have stopped accepting both print coupons and eCoupons if they apply to the same item.

So, if you had loaded a coupon that got you 50 cents off of Breyer’s Ice Cream, but you had a clipped print coupon that gave you $2 off of Breyer’s Ice Cream, the clipped coupon would not be allowed. Once they scan that card, whatever coupon you had on there is what goes.

So be wise in your eCouponing. I’ve gotten to where I will only put an eCoupon on my card if it is a reward coupon (see below) or if I couldn’t find a clipped coupon of higher value for that product.

Reward Coupons

Reward coupons are just what I call them; I’ve never seen anyone else refer to them as that. But these work just the same as eCoupons until you get to it taking money off your total. Instead of it saving you money on your purchase, it applies money towards a reward for you.

For example, Upromise is a shopper card you can have swiped at a plethora of grocery and drug stores (even Publix, who doesn’t offer a store card, accepts it), restaurants, and online shopping sites (well, you can’t swipe it online, so much as shop through your Upromise account). For our purposes, we’ll stick to grocery and drug stores.

(source)

Okay, so Upromise’s site has eCoupons that you can load to your Upromise card, and then when you shop at any of the stores that accept that card, buy an item you have a Upromise eCoupon for, and have the Upromise card swiped, the amount of money that coupon was for will be put into a savings account for your child’s future college education. You can get grandparents, aunts, uncles, whoever to save for your kids too!

So, if you load an eCoupon for 40 cents off of Minute Maid Orange Juice to your Upromise card, and you buy Minute Maid Orange Juice at Publix (or any other store that accepts the Upromise card) and have your Upromise card scanned at checkout, 40 cents will go towards your child’s college savings.

Another reward coupon site is Saving Star. Instead of getting another shopper card (like you have to with Upromise), you just put numbers for all of the shopper cards you already have for the stores you shop at on the Saving Star website, then load the Saving Star eCoupons to those cards.

(source)

When you scan the card, the coupons will, once again, not take any money of the total of your bill. Instead, the money value of each coupon you use via Saving Star will be registred to your Saving Star account.

Once you have accumulated $5 worth of savings, you can put it towards a bank deposit, paypal, an Amazon giftcard, or donate it to American Forests. More ways to use your money are to be added later.

None of the Rewards eCoupons will affect your use of printed coupons the way that regular eCoupons would. So load up your Upromise card and the Saving Star eCoupons and shop!!

Still with me?

I know that was a lot of information, but it’s important to note the differences before you move on to planning your coupons for a shopping trip. That’s where we’re headed tomorrow.

Get excited!
~Meghan

Meghan’s Guide to Couponing.

Well, I was going to do this as a Friday Fave, but the more I thought about it, the longer the post got (in my head), and in the end, I just skipped my Friday post all together.

After talking it over with Tom, he convinced me that this needed to be a series. Here’s why:

A. Each topic was big enough to deserve it’s own post.

B. Looooong posts, even about useful information, are not fun to read.

C. It’s better for SEO. Just keepin’ it real, people.

Anyway. Here comes the disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert at couponing. I don’t go to a store and get two weeks’ worth of food for our family for $20. I’m not an “extreme couponer.” But I do save a significant amount of money for our family by couponing, and it’s worth sharing, in my humble opinion.

Through reading many other people’s blogs over three years, talking with other friends who coupon, and trial and error on my own part, I have learned enough to write a week’s worth of blogs about couponing.

And let me tell you something- it is daunting to try to figure out on your own. So, I will start by assuming you know nothing about it, and I’ll build from there. Here’s how the series is shaping up, so far:

Day 1: The Different Types of Coupons. All coupons are not the same. This post will help guide you through all the various coupon types you will see referenced on money saving/couponing sites.

Day 2: How to Stack Coupons. You might have heard people refer to “coupon stacking,” but what does it mean? How does it help you? This post will help explain what it is and how to do it.

Day 3: How to Organize Your Coupons. You don’t have to do it my way, but I’ve tried a few things, and I’ll show you the way that has worked best to save me the most money.

Day 4: When to Coupon. Is there a best time of the week to coupon? Should you hit all stores on the same day or not? When is it wiser to NOT use that coupon you clipped? I’ll address it all.

Day 5: Drug Store Couponing. It’s often a different ballgame than grocery store couponing. We’ll hit the basics.

So, if you like saving money, or you just NEED to save money, go out to the store, buy a couple of Sunday papers with coupons in them and a pair of scissors.

Get ready. We’re gonna knock it out, baby.

~Meghan

ps- You also might enjoy reading :

Confessions of a Couponer. I wasn’t always this frugal. 😉

Best “Smart Shopping” Day Ever. See Meghan. See Meghan Shop and Save. Save, Meghan, Save!

 

Friday Favorite: Marbling Royal Icing

Tomorrow I am attending an Easter Egg Hunt party, and I was asked to make some “egg” cookies for it. I turned to my handy-dandy fave sugar cookie recipe, but this time, I decided to do lemon flavoring instead of almond. Same goes for the royal icing flavoring.

When I made the cookies for Ella’s birthday party, a lot of people asked me how I got the icing to look marbled in the background. The cookies had this effect:

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Since I was going to be making cookies again, I figured I would get Tom to take some pictures of me doing the marble effect to show you.

For these cookies, I stuck cookies sticks into them so that I could have cookie pops.

Yes, there was one ugly duckling cookie.

And then I made the royal icing. I use meringue powder instead of egg whites because it’s supposed to be safer for pregnant women and babies, but I don’t have a high end meringue powder as is suggested by the recipe I use.

I also use powdered sugar, clear corn syrup, flavoring (I used lemon this time), and a bit of glycerin, which is supposed to help with the icing colors.

After it’s made, I put some in different bowls so that I can color it.

And then, when it’s colored, I put some in a piping bag so I can do the stiffer piping, and then I use water to thin the icing in bowls to fill in the cookies. I use ice water because I read once that that’s helpful, but I don’t really know if that’s true.

After it’s thinned, you cover it with damp cloths (or paper towels) while you wait on it to have the air bubbles come to the top.

After several minutes, you take the cloths off and gently stir it to pop all the air bubbles. Then you transfer it to squeeze bottles. (I only have four.)

While you were waiting on the air bubbles to come up, you could go ahead and pipe the outline on your cookies.  (Please excuse the blue cast of the next four photos.)

Don’t worry if your first one or two cookies look awful. Once you get going, you’ll improve. The difference is obvious. I find I am better at piping at a table if I am sitting. Standing only works for me at a counter height.

After piping, you can “flood” the cookie with thinned icing. You can use a toothpick to spread the icing to the edges if you need to.

Then take one of the other colors and put some straight lines going across the cookie.

Take a different color, and make more straight lines, now making it alternating colors with stripes.

Because all the icing is thinned, the striped colors will have sunk into the background color a bit.

And now for the marbling:

Take a toothpick, and starting below the lines on the left side, pull the toothpick up through the lines of colored icing.

Then go over a bit to the right and take the toothpick back down.

Then go back up and down.

When you get done, it looks like this:

Pretty, right?

So that’s marbling. With Ella’s cookies, I piped a thicker border around the edges when I was done to cover up the rough outline I had done with the first bit of piping.

But I was told “as simple as possible” with these egg cookies, so I decided not to do extra piping on fifty cookies. It would have looked prettier, but it would have taken much longer.

If you DO want to get that look though, just put a star tip on your piping bag, and pipe around the edges of the cookie in little spurts. It will get that little beaded pattern you see above.

As it was, I just bagged all of these cookie pops up and tied them off with pastel ribbons this morning. (You have to let the icing dry overnight.)

Then I cut some styrofoam to fit inside a basket I had and covered it with the little “grass” pieces sold for Easter baskets. I stuck the pops into the styrofoam, and I was happy with how it turned out!

Word to the wise: be careful doing this. The cookie sticks broke a few of my cookies when I tried to put them in the styrofoam.

I ended up taking a fondue stick and poking it through the styrofoam and wiggling it around in order make a place for the cookie stick to fit. That saved my cookies. And my sanity.

And my ugly duckling cookie? I made it a little chick’s hatching egg.

It didn’t make it into the basket. It did make it into Tom’s belly.

If you end up making cookies of your own, link up in the comments! I would love to see them!
~Meghan

Friday Favorite: Geeky Babies

Lately I have been on a kick about geeky clothing for babies. It’s probably got something to do with being married to Tech grad who does software engineering for a living.

I thought I would share a few.

All Your Base Bananas Are Belong To Us.

Noob.

 

Blogging baby.

 

Blogged about baby. There will be so much truth behind that one that I think I might have to get it.

Beta testing.

 

How to make twins.

 

My dad is stronger smarter than your dad.

 

If you were only able to understand about half (or less) of those, then congratulations- you are not a total geek.

If you got most or all of them, well…congrats, you are either a geek or hang out with geeks enough to get their jokes.

Don’t be embarrassed.

I happen to like geeks.

~Meghan

(All clothing shown found at : http://www.zazzle.com/http://littlelovely.typepad.com, and http://www.cafepress.com.)

Friday Favorite: Cherry Systems

Guess what these pictures have in common?

They all were residing on the hard drive that went kaput. So…how was I able to show them to you today? Here’s the story:

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I’ve been having issues with my external hard drive. It began making weird noises, then it crashed. Then it revived itself. Then it SERIOUSLY crashed.

And I went into denial.

I could NOT accept that all of my pictures were just gone. Poof. Never to be seen again. I couldn’t accept that until every single avenue had been explored to save it.

Tom did everything that could be done at home, but it was soon apparent that professional services were necessary.

Enter Cherry Systems. Thank the Lord for Cherry Systems.

Tom took my mess of a hard drive to them, along with a brand new hard drive, and within a couple of weeks, they had recovered pretty much all of my photos except for Ella’s Party (which, thankfully, I had already given copies of to my sister and my mom). And all that they recovered was put onto the new hard drive and mailed to me.

I haven’t had the chance to see if anything else has been saved besides the photos, but honestly, we told them that the jpegs were the most important things to save. And that if only one type of file could be saved, it should be jpegs.

And I wish I knew exactly who at Cherry Systems worked on my hard drive because I would send them a batch of homemade cookies. I cannot sing their praises enough. Most people thought my hard drive was shot, and they brought it back from the brink of death. YAY!

If you ever need your hard drive fixed (or data recovered from anything really) , and you live in Atlanta, you have GOT to use them. Here’s why:

*They offered a better price than most places we looked at using.

*They will assess the situation for you and let you know if the data can even be recovered within 24 hours.

*If they do all they can and still cannot recover your data, you don’t pay anything.

*They keep your recovered data in their system for 14 days after shipping it to you (on the new hard drive you give them) in case something happens to the shipped data.

You have my word for it that this place is legit.

~Meghan