Saturday, September 25, 2010

Grocery Shopping Like A Champ

Alright, here's a confession: I am what Coupon Mom would call a "rookie shopper," meaning I manage to combine coupons and sales to save around 30-50% on my grocery bills, but I have yet to reach the level of a "professional shopper" who can save 80-90% on grocery bills:

She makes it look so easy, doesn't she?

I think I need to get around to doing the following to reach this level of savings:
1. Create my price list
2. Get my hands on multiple copies of coupons
3. Get a better organizational system for my coupons - currently the circulars from my Sunday papers are stashed in a draw of my computer desk in no particular order, causing me to spend triple the time to find coupons.

However, what I really want to emphasis here is while it may be difficult to reach the 80-90% savings level of professional shoppers, the ones who create their own money saving blogs such as Money Saving Mom (my favorite), avoiding full retail price is really not all that difficult. I would say, with the exception of certain items like produce, anyone who pays full price is either: A. Independently Wealthy or B. Lazy.

Even if you are too busy to scout for coupons and promotions, you can pick-up the store circular at the front of the grocery store before shopping, and find something you could use on sale. You just need to be open minded about brands, and maybe decide you will eat chicken on sales this week instead of the beef you had planned.

Today I got $106.43 worth of groceries for $48.02 after a 7% sales tax at my local Big Y. While the 55% savings doesn't qualify me to write my own money saving blog, I am pretty satisfied with that. I got a grocery cart full of goodies.

Some of my favorite deals include the 99 cent Gold Medal Flower. I got 2 bags, which was the limit. I also got a dozen eggs for 99 cents - sweet. While I don't have a price list committed to paper, I do remember the price for some items, and I have a buy price-point that I rarely go over. For example, I know I can get a dozen eggs for $1.50 at BJ's. I have to buy 2 dozen, and I have no problem with that since Rob eats a lot of eggs. Since I don't like to stock up too much on eggs that are perishable, and the $1.50 price is constant, not dependant on some sale cycle I must follow, I consider that reasonable, but when I see eggs for cheaper than $1.50, I jump on the deal. I don't expect to always get eggs at 99 cents. I just haven't figured out how to do that.

I was also very excited to see 3 store coupons in my Big Y circular that allowed me to double any manufacturer's coupons that was valued at a $1 (no more or no less). In other parts of the country, doubling coupons over 99 cents might be commonplace, but where I live, most grocery stores will only double up to 99 cents. Luckily all of my coupons were for a $1. Basically, I considered these coupons $1 off store coupons. I was able to use all 3 of them, which was the limit.

I saved $8 in coupons. I know I could do better, but Rob was proud of me.

All in all, this week was actually an expensive grocery week for us. We went to CVS, BJ's and Big Y. I spent approximately $6 at CVS, and I am mad that I lost the receipt because it had $2 in Extra Care Bucks. At CVS I got 2 boxes of Quaker Chewy granola bars (mfg coupon + sale + ECB), 2 small bottles of  Xtra Laundry detergent (store coupon + sale), and 3 greeting cards I paid full price on (I needed to get them - can't skip out on Mom's birthday). I used $10 in ECB to help pay for the purchase.

At BJ's Rob spent approximately $106. He got our milk for the next 2 weeks there, which is a staple we usually get at BJ's, along with eggs. My max buy price for milk is $2.06 a gallon. When I saw milk for 98 cents a half-gallon with a silver coin at Big Y last week, I jumped on that. He also got bananas at 49 cents a pound. I know professional shoppers can get them at 18 cents a pound, but I haven't figured out how to do that, and 49 cents a pound is my max price for bananas. He did go off the list when he picked up Dove for Men.

I don't mind that he did that, I just wish he would have told me he planned to buy the Dove for Men because we have coupons. I discovered I could get free samples for many things, one of them being Dove for Men, and now Rob's hooked. I guess that's why the manufactures give out the samples. Congratulations Dove - your ploy worked on us. That's OK. The hubs deserves his little luxuries now and then.

The total for the week was $160. That amount used to be typical for us, but now we typically spend about $80 a week - that includes diapers, toiletries, and paper products. But our pantry and freezer needed replenishing. Next week we will only buy about $10 of produce at our local produce store, and pick up some bread, hopefully for no more than $1.50 a loaf at our local Freihofer's outlet.

Paul is getting really low on diapers, but I do have an emergency box in the next size I could break into (there were none left at CVS in his current size when I got those diapers on sale). It seems the diaper deals at CVS are slowing down. I thought I could ride that gravy train forever. Now I may have to settle for Wal-Mart brand.

There is a promotion at Babies R Us on Pampers and I have coupons. I might do that, but it is one of those deals where you buy 2 value boxes of diapers or a value box of diapers + a value box of wipes and you get a $15 gift card. The good news is I can turn around and use the $15 gift card on some Carter's sale items for friends who are soon expecting babies. The bad news is the sale flyer doesn't say how much the value box of Pampers costs at Babies R Us. I suspect the price is inflated. I hate that. I will see sales for buy 1 get 1, but how can I plan my spending when I don't know how much the one item costs?

Oh well, I can't complain. We are spending much less on groceries than we used to, and I'm learning along the way.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Perfect Name Will Find Your Baby - Continued

I had been away for the Labor Day weekend, and then I got sick, but as promised now that I'm back, I'm going to pick up on the story behind my son's name.

Had Fiona been a boy, she would have been named Max for Maxwell. That was the name I mentally filed away for a future son when I was a teenager. You know, I liked Max, mostly because I knew a cute boy at school named Max, back when it was edgy and sporty, but I was never completely satisfied with Max like I was with Felicity, the name I filed away for a future daughter. Within the context of the newest generation of kids, Max never felt quite edgy enough for me. But truthfully I wasn't as excited about picking a boy's name and I figured if my son's name was somewhat mainstream that was OK.

Unlike Felicity however, my hubs just loved Max. I didn't like how Max went with our last name that also begins with an M. But Rob really loved it, and when I was pregnant with Fiona, Rob was convinced she was a boy and was already thinking of her as "Max" so the discussion was ended, Max she would be, until we found out she was a she.

When I got pregnant for the second time, I was long over Max. I had discovered between all the boys named Maxwell, Maximilian, Maximus who went by Max combined with all the boy who were just named Max, that equaled a lot of Max's. I said I didn't care if my son's name was somewhat mainstream, but somewhat mainstream is not the same as completely mainstream, and Max had become completely mainstream. And then there's the alliteration with my last name. Surprisingly Rob was OK with abandoning Max, especially when I told him I didn't like the alliteration. I knew not to bring up the popularity argument because that didn't matter to Rob. If anything, the popularity probably would have convinced Rob to stick with the name.

When Fiona was about a year old, I discovered the name Linus. This was it. I had the eureka moment I had with Felicity. For the first time, I found a boy's name that truly inspired me. But did Linus inspire Rob? At this point, if you read the story behind Fiona's name (and you are still with me), you probably can guess the answer to that question. Here's our conversation we had while I was pregnant with Paul with me trying in vain to convince Rob to go with Linus:

Rob: Linus? Are you serious? He's Charlie Brown's friend with the blanket.

Me: Linus is a classic in Sweden.

Rob: We don't live in Sweden.

Me: Linus is also a Greek god, who was Apollo's son. He was a gifted musician who taught music to the gods.

Rob: Do you really think our son is going to walk around bragging about being named after some Greek god!?!?!?!

Rob's stubbornness was true to form. I didn't expect Rob to like Linus but I was very surprised that he vetoed all of my other suggestions: Louis, Stuart, Oscar, Calvin. Rob didn't like any of them. I thought he would at least go along with Louis, Stuart or Calvin. I wasn't surprised that he didn't like Oscar. I didn't seriously consider my second favorite boy's name, Hugh, because it sounds very British and I don't like it with our very Italian last name. I asked him for suggestions and the only name he could come up with was Samuel. Samuel was not only way too popular, but Sam, which I find ugly with our last name because the M's would run together, was unavoidable IMO.

Paul is a name that is on a lot of birth certificates in my family but no one ever used it. My Great Grandfather was Raymond Paul, my Grandfather is Paul Donald, but he was supposed to be Donald Paul and goes by Don or P. Donald on formal documents (long story), and my brother is Anthony Paul. 

As a kid, Paul is one of those names I would have written off as boring, but over the last couple of years I began to think about Paul. I wondered why it was always a middle name in my family and never seen as good enough for a first name. I thought how my brother's name would be more interesting if it was reversed: Paul Anthony. I thought of all of the great Paul namesakes through history, Paul Revere, Paul McCartney, Paul Newman, and to a lesser extent, but as a modern (and gorgeous) example, Paul Walker. All of the famous Paul's seemed to be decent, handsome men.

Being a big-time name fanatic I started to realize that the trend was towards more exotic names, and suddenly white bread names like John, Mark, Peter, and Paul, my generation's parents' and grandparents' names, begun to stand out. I found myself suggesting Paul to certain parents on name blogs (the ones who liked names like Joeseph, Benjamin, and Jack, but couldn't use them for whatever reason), but I don't think any one ever took my suggestion.

Basically while it started off near the bottom of my list, as a name I would have loved to see on more modern babies, but not a name I considered seriously for one of my own, Paul became our front-runner. Rob wasn't excited about it, but he agreed to it due to the family connections. We always though our son's middle name would be Rob's middle name, which happens to be my Father-in-Law's middle name, James. That way both of our children would be the third generation heir to their middle names. But I wanted to avoid PJ like the plague, and we ended up using Robert for the middle name, which is not only my husband's name, but was his Great Grandfather's name. Somehow I managed to name both of my children after both sides of the family while still giving them their own unique first name within the family. (Fiona's middle name is not only my middle name and my Mom's middle name, but my sister-in-law's first name.)

I'll be honest. I wasn't excited to put Paul Robert on the birth announcement, but the solid manly classic grows on me more each day. And while Fiona has been, admittedly, a little disappointing in it's uniqueness, I have yet to run into another Paul under the age of 5. While anecdotal, I was convinced of Paul's relative uniqueness, when I was at a party and a 7 or 8 year-old girl ask me my son's name. When I said, Paul, she smiled and said, "That's different. I like that."

More importantly, my son was named for both sides of my family. When I was in the hospital, shortly after giving birth to Paul, my Grandmother said, "Thank you." And I couldn't figure out why she was thanking me except for maybe giving them a great grandson. Seeing what must have been my puzzled expression, she said, "For the name. Thank you for the name."

In conclusion, nether one of my kids got my first choice name, and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Perfect Name Will Find Your Baby

Perhaps naming my kids was a bit of an ego trip for me. I admit it. I had to keep reminding myself that my kids are human beings, not fashion accessories. But why not have some fun naming your kids as long as you don't straddle your kids with a name that's difficult to bear? What's considered "difficult to bear" varies from person to person of course.

As for me, my tastes are mildly fanciful, maybe a bit of what some baby name "experts" call, "hipster." I will say that neither of my kids got my first choice name. My hubs hates most of my names, and has toned down my "craziness" a bit. Maybe my kids will thank him or in 15 years they'll tell him, "Hey Dad, why did you have to rain on Mom's naming parade? I could have had a cool name."

In an ideal world I would have five kids named: Felicity, Sylvie, Ione, Linus and Hugh.  I also really love Cecily, but feel it is too similar to both Felicity and Sylvie to be in the same sibling set. There's my little make-believe family with perfectly harmonious, fashion-forward names. But with me real-life rarely imitates my fantasy.

Felicity was the name I mentally filed away as a teenager for my hypothetical future daughter. I was hesitant to initially commit to it (in my someday future) because I knew a girl in high school named Felicity. But then at graduation I learned she had my same middle name, the middle name I hoped to pass on to my future daughter. I had a eureka moment! Someone thought Felicity flowed well enough with my middle name. Plus, I realized by the time I had a daughter, many years would go by without any contact with this Felicity from high school. I got a little nervous when the show Felicity hit the air, concerned the name would get trendy. But that never happened! I became more convinced Felicity was the name for my daughter!

Until... I mentioned Felicity to Rob before I even became pregnant. I'm not even sure we were married yet when I told him our daughter would be Felicity. His reaction was, "Yuck. Oh no she won't..." I considered holding my ground and then I said Felicity with our 12-letter, 5-syllable last name and began to think maybe Felicity wasn't the name of our daughter. Oh sad day... People suggested Felicia and Felice as alternatives, but they weren't the same. The "Fel" part of the name wasn't what appealed to me, but rather the rhythm of the "icity" part.

We named our daughter Fiona which was very loosely inspired by Felicity. I was surprised Rob agreed to it and I'm not sure he would have if he hadn't known a real-life Fiona when he was a kid, back when the name was truly rare. I picked Fiona thinking I was picking something artsy and exotic, but still wearable for a little girl or a grown woman. After I picked the name, I started hearing it everywhere and was a little concerned it might be an up-and-coming name.

I realize there are more important things to worry about than the fear that you may have inadvertently named your daughter the next Jennifer, but I'm weird like that. I have resigned myself to the fact that my daughter's name is only 5-10 years ahead of its time instead of 20-30 years ahead of its time. Yes, I really am a name snob. I would love to be a 35 year old Ava, but a 5 year old Ava? Not so much. I have to keep reminding myself that Fiona is not me and probably won't care whether or not her name is exciting. She seems to like her name. Fiona also goes well enough with my middle name and our last name. At least my daughter got my middle name which is also my Mom's middle name. And my own Mom said she likes the name Felicity, but Fiona doesn't look like a Felicity, she looks like a Fiona.

I was going to go on and tell the story behind Paul's name, but saw that this post was getting on the longish side. When it comes to names, I can get diarrhea of the keyboard. But my point is that while Fiona may not be my dream name, I have no doubts Fiona was the name meant for my daughter. Naming my daughter didn't have anything at all to do with me, and everything to do with my daughter. The perfect name had found my baby!

I will continue to share the story behind Paul's name in the next post, because it is half-written, and the story behind his name is equally, and maybe even more amusing. The conclusion to Paul's naming story is basically the same: The perfect name had found my baby again, even though it wasn't my first choice. Until next time...