Friday, October 21, 2011

non-extreme couponing

First, allow me to introduce you to Bubba and Jbug (and their parents) ...

Same kids, new names. I got a little eeked out by having their names on the Internets. Not really from anything specific, just... well you know. Paranoia and all.

Photo taken by the always AMAZING Tracy Wood. Seriously, if you're in Eastern Nebraska, you need to call her. She took the most incredible pictures of our little family a few weeks ago - and she did it in 25 minutes since we signed up for a mini-session. You won't be sorry!


I can't believe in all the time I've been babbling at this blog that I haven't mentioned how Dave Ramsey is the 5th member of our family. Or he might as well be. Not quite two years ago, we decided to dip our toe into really trying to get to the point of being debt-free. Except we fell in head first and haven't looked back. Someday I'll write in greater detail about our experience thus far, but for now: we've paid off $20,000 in 21 months and it feels fantastic. But that means we've had to be very mindful about what we're spending our money on.

Random confession: buying things like toilet paper and toothpaste drives me crazy. I'm not saying that the manufacturers don't deserve to be paid for their products nor do I think we should have a socialist toilet paper program. It's just that being an adult didn't hit me so hard as that first toiletry purchase when I started college. Growing up, some of those things (toothpaste!) were just always there, in the drawer, like a magic elfin toothpaste genie deposited it while we slept.

In the past, we'd head to Walmart (yes, I know, we have a love/hate relationship) once a month and load up on groceries and household goods because they have the market cornered on price and convenience (where else can you buy hair gel, tortillas, and windshield washer fluid at such low prices?). If we needed it, we bought it. It was a necessary evil; we used to joke that part of our paycheck should just go directly there. We were casual couponers then - if we happened to get the Sunday paper, we'd cut out a few things that we used or we wanted to try. We maybe saved $5 a month with coupons.

Last Spring during one monthly budget revamp, I began to realize we needed to stretch our dollars further if we ever wanted to see a light at the end of the tunnel with being debt-free. I started following a local coupon blog, Chicks Dig Deals - she does matchups of coupons + what's on sale at our local stores. I was totally overwhelmed at first, so I started slowly - just clipping coupons and matching one or two stores per week. In truth, I still don't do as good of a job with grocery couponing but that's my next goal. It's so easy though - I just make the list of what's on sale and what we'll use and match it with a coupon. We don't have coupon "doubling" around here (except at our tiny neighborhood store, once a week) so we don't get the amazing deals that other parts of the country do. But still, it's something, and I bet we save $40-60 a month on our grocery bill now.

However. CVS and Walgreens have all my love. I haven't paid anything for a tube of toothpaste since, I don't know, March or something. And I've gotten past my hatred for buying toilet paper since we can get it so very cheap. I delved into drugstore shopping around the time Jbug was born. It uses the same principle of sales + coupon matching, but the deals are much easier to get (for me). For instance, last night I went to CVS and got 2 jumbo packs of Pampers, 2 bottles of Wisk laundry detergent (probably my favorite detergent anyway), and 2 tubes of toothpaste. After my manufacturer's coupons and store coupons (they stack - you can use 1 manu. + 1 store coupon on any item) and CVS' ExtraCare Bucks rewards (they're like cash back from a previous purchase), I paid $6.42. Before the discounts were applied, it was $34. And that is all on stuff we'll use (I keep donating the toothpaste to family members, because it's FREE) (hi, Mom!), I don't buy stuff we won't use, unless it's free and I can donate it to a shelter or something. We have a nifty little stash of stuff started, but usually just 1-2 extra of something, I don't have 23 bottles of ketchup or anything (although we would certainly use it, Joey).

For drug store shopping I use Hip2Save (just a personal preference - there's dozens of couponing sites). She does a great job of laying out the entire week's ad for a certain store (this is last week's CVS ad). I just go through and pick out the things we use, match them to manufacturer's coupons I have, and then cross my fingers for some extra savings from CVS' magic coupon machine (talked about here, in the store guide).

So now, rather than that mega Wal-mart trip, we're buying things ahead of time, when they're on sale. I imagine we save, conservatively, $100 a month over what we were paying prior to my deal busting. It's an awesome feeling to buy things we'll use (hello, diapers) for $3-4 per pack (of Huggies or Pampers) rather than $9-11 that we paid when B was in dipes. It's possible, I did it last night!

I've acquired some tips and tricks over the last few months, and I might share them in a future post. But I want to hear about your tips too! I know I'm not the only one stretching a dollar lately - what do you do? And do you have any questions? I can answer those too.

Have a fab weekend!

Friday, October 7, 2011

our opposite

When B was about 14 months old, we were picking him up one Sunday from the nursery at church. There's a one-way window over the room the kiddos were in, so we could see him, but he couldn't see us. We observed him on the back wall of the room, sitting on a couch, eating his goldfish, watching the kids play around him. This struck me as a bit odd at the time - why wasn't he joining in with the others? I even thought perhaps he was sick and not feeling up to playing. At that point he was still at our wonderful infant-only daycare provider, and he was the oldest of four babies there (they "graduate" at 18 months), so I hadn't really had the chance to watch him interact with others his age. When we checked him out of the nursery he was all smiles and obviously had a great time. I filed that memory away though.

If you know J and I at all, you know we're both fairly outgoing (him especially) - we love interacting with people and making new friends. I just assumed that the whole "apple doesn't fall far from the tree(s)" thing would apply to our kids - I kind of forgot the part where they were going to have their own indivudal characters, strengths, likes and dislikes.

B has always been a pretty "normal" toddler around us - he talks (a lot, lately), he dives into his play, and loves life. But when he's out of our little cocoon, he's a different kid. He's actually quite shy and slow to come around to others. Admittedly, at first this was a bit shocking to me. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I was stuck on thinking this was something he learned somewhere and not just the way he was perfectly wired. I couldn't figure out why he was so reserved when we aren't, at all. Sometimes I still struggle with trying too hard to pry him out of his shell when he's having a quiet moment in front of new people. He got a lollipop from a new hair stylist the other night and I was all but begging him to tell her thank you, and he didn't utter a peep. (In fact, he didn't make a sound the entire thirty minutes she was cutting his hair either.)

This kid is teaching me so much about how to relax and just let him be. I've long since realized that his shyness isn't some weird character flaw, it's just the way he is. Once he warms up to people (which sometimes literally takes months), he comes out of his shell. I'm hoping as he grows up he will learn to be comfortable in new situations, mom and dad aren't always going to be there to hold a hand. But for now, he's only two, and I'll hold his hand any chance I get.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

update from joey: finding a balance

Usually when someone else shares my story, they share that I had a large amount of weight loss in a relatively short amount of time. It's all very positive information, and it's all true, but the story has a bit more to it than you get in the 30 second version. These last few weeks have been the most challenging for me in a long time. Life has finally caught up with me and has been interfering more than helping me.

Winning the first weight loss challenge at Good Life Fitness was probably the coolest thing I have ever won in my life and one of the things I am most proud of! It was the initial goal I had in what I hoped would be a series of weight loss milestones. I was coming off a great high in winning that contest and felt a ton of pressure personally to make sure that I am in great health and to make sure that I am around for a long time to watch my kids grow, and to be a husband. But I also felt a lot of pressure from my peers at the gym. When your pictures are on a board that a lot of people see almost daily, I had a lot to live up to if I wanted to finish what was started. I want to prove not only to myself, but also to everyone at the gym - no matter if they're a staff member or a newbie - that I was worthy of winning that award. I know that for all that I have given to that gym, I have gotten back. It's awesome feeling to succeed personally while being able to assist other people on their journey as well.

I know that I should be hitting boot camp classes, working out in the weight room, and getting as much cardio in as possible! The last couple of weeks I have failed at almost all of those things due to excuses and life getting in the way. I would get so down on myself when I would miss class or gym session - it  made me feel like I was just reverting back to old ways, which is really scary.  I NEVER want to be back in the same situation I was in when I started at Good Life Fitness. It really bothers me when I don’t get the fitness aspect of my life in order. I fully know that when it comes to fitness and dieting that you if you stumble you have to get back up and try again, but the last couple of weeks it's been hard to get back up!

When you have one aspect of your life out of order, it usually means something else is out of order too. What I realized with the help of my wife, was I had NO plan. I would wake up in the morning and decide that x, y, and z are going to happen today for fitness. Do a "fly by the seat of my pants" fitness routine doesn't work, I was lucky to get x done, let alone y or z. Life would always have something different for me to do. Whether it was a sick kid or a work problem tying up my time, I never fully finished my workout agenda for that day. Steve always says that if you “fail to plan, you plan to fail” - this couldn't be more true. I was failing over and over again because I didn't have a weekly plan of what I wanted to accomplish.

I finally have a plan in place to do all of my boot camps in the early morning and lift weights over lunch. In turn, this will free up my nights for my family. After my second son was born this past June, our lives got turned upside down and our family has been finding our new normal as things have settled down. Having two working parents and shuttling kids to daycare and home requires a lot of communication and scheduling. What I failed to realize after he was born is that my exercise plan needed to be adjusted. I needed to find a balance to my life that included both family and fitness.

I encourage everyone to take a step back and review your fitness plan and make sure your plan is still working for you! I know sometimes working out just gets to be routine. It's possible that a small change could be a good thing for your fitness journey and your overall happiness.

Now that my new plan is in place and I am more than ready to continue on my new leg of journey to finish what I have started!