Busy Summer

Who knew my summer was going to fill up so fast? I’m not complaining. We have had more family adventures this year than we’ve had in years. We’ve spent more time together this summer, and I can honestly say I’ve spent more time at the pool in a bathing suit than I have since I was a teenager (which is more years ago than I care to count). Good times all around.

Even if it means I’ve strayed a bit from The Minimal Challenge. That’s not to say we’ve spent much money on material goods. Quite the contrary … except for the occasional sweatshirt on a cool summer night, I’m not sure we’ve actually acquired anything but memories this summer.

In fact, as I venture into the closet to assess the school clothes situation, I’m pleased to find that we have really only worn the same small handful of outfits all summer. We’ve minimized shopping, minimized laundry, and minimized my children’s perception of “need” for “stuff”. Victories all around.

Unfortunately … none of the clothes they ended the school year with a couple of months ago are going to fit when they return to the playground this fall. Apparently, children–like plants–sprout when they see the sun. So, my task for this month is to revisit the closet. Paring down outgrown clothes, minimizing the items in my closet that have not been worn–or those which have been replaced by a soft new sweatshirt–and maybe I’ll even weed out some of my husband’s twelve black golf vests that look exactly the same to me.

But not today. The sun is shining and I have kids that want to play. Duty calls.

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Grocery Shopping = Cooking

As is the case with most of my great ideas, I rushed in with reckless abandon–failing to think the whole concept through from beginning to end. So, while the idea of saving hundreds of dollars per month on my grocery budget seemed appealing to me, I guess you could say that what I failed to realize is that all of these grocery items would then need to be assembled into meals that could be consumed by my family to provide nutritious and well-balanced meals. And, since you know how cooking goes around here … I find myself in a bit of a predicament.

That’s when I turn to my muse, Hannah Harto, of My Drunk Kitchen. Watching a few of her episodes inspires me to pour a glass of wine try my hand at cooking again. Lo and behold … it turns out that I actually can cook. Here’s what happens when I have fresh ingredients in my house …

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TA-DA! Homemade Pizza. I can do this.

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Misadventures in Couponing

Well, like I said the other day, I thought I’d give this “Extreme Couponing” thing a try in an attempt to minimize my monthly budget. So, I spent the better part of the week educating myself on couponing websites, writing to manufacturers for coupons to buy my favorite brands, and first-thing Sunday morning combing through the Sunday paper in the hopes of saving my family hundreds of dollars this month.

Because I live on an island with no major shopping centers in the near vicinity, I have three choices:

1. Spend a lot of money on gas to drive to the opposite end of a 46-mile long island to get to the grocery store chains.

2. Waste a lot of time waiting in ferry lines (and pay for gas and ferry fare) to get to the suburbs where I can spend all day trying to hit every major retailer in the hopes of making the trip (on a sunny summer weekend) worth it.

3. Clip manufacturers coupons and try to support my local businesses, knowing full-well that I’m missing out on some significant savings.

I opted for #2. And I thought I was prepared. I even convinced my husband to join me. And drive separately so he could load the back of his truck with a cooler and patio heater while I loaded all of the groceries and the children in my car. We had a list a mile long and great expectations. Safeway. Albertsons. QFC. Lowes.

That’s when I got suckered in to all of the Sunday flyers. The Office Max flyer had such great offers on school supplies that I was reminded of how much money I spent last year to outfit two preschoolers for school. Office Max was definitely a must, I told my husband. So, he took the kids and went to Lowes to see if they had any good deals on patio furniture since ours is on its last leg(s). It turns out the Office Max I thought I was going to was actually a Staples, so I decided to just go there–sans flyer coupons. I was able to $ave a ton of money on school supplies by spending a ton of money on school supplies. But I did get that pack of pencils for a penny. So I guess I can’t complain.

Then, I noticed that RiteAid neighbored Staples, so I thought I’d head in there to $ave some more money. There were all of these bright yellow stickers on the shelves that read “FREE with Rebate.” I had already done some research on couponing at RiteAid and learned that they had this online rebate program where you spend the money up front, then go home and enter your receipt details into their website and receive a check back in the mail. Kind of a hassle, but if this couponing thing is really as good as everyone says it is, I’ll take that chance. You should see how many carts I filled in RiteAid with the products we actually do need–shampoo, conditioner, soaps (because you’ll remember I made my husband use the rest of my fruity left-overs), toothpaste, razor blades, contact lens solution, deodorant, the list goes on. Amazingly enough, everything I chose to purchase promised me it was FREE with a rebate. Looking forward to that rebate check already! (As it turns out, when I got home and read the fine print on the website, I learned that my FREE with Rebate offer was not exactly the free products I was purchasing, but instead a free cosmetic case. So, now I’m out a considerable amount of money on toiletries and have more junk arriving in the mail. Fortunately, I did not go crazy stocking up on items we don’t need. But, I’m less than enamored with this couponing business.)

And, since my husband wasn’t having any luck in the outdoor furniture department, I found some decent outdoor cushions we can use with a fresh coat of paint on our existing furniture to solve our deck seating crisis. $15 per cushion at RiteAid. I challenge you to find a better deal. (Note that I would have simply recovered our disintegrating cushions in the best interests of reducing, reusing, and recycling, if our feline foes had not slept on them all spring, rendering them un-smell-able.)

Meanwhile, in related outdoor-furnishing news, my husband did discover a $250 propane deck heater on sale for $99 at Home Depot. And since it was the floor model, they gave him an additional discount. And, since he is King Barterer, they gave him an additional discount. And, because they honored our 10% off coupon for Lowes, the grand total was $61. One could argue that we don’t actually need a deck heater, as minimalists. But then one would have to remind you that my husband is no minimalist. Then, I would also have to point out that the warmer our deck is, the more time we’ll spend there, perhaps even eating at home more often than dining out, thereby saving a considerable chunk of our grocery budget, which will minimize my need to clip coupons. Deck heater = budget minimization. That’s how I justify that purchase.

So, there we were … hours later, with a car full of un-planned school supply purchases, full-priced cosmetics, cheap chair cushions, and an industrial-sized deck heater. Two tired kids. A husband who is done shopping. And no groceries. Yet.

Instead of trying to hit all of the great deals, we head to Safeway, armed with about five coupons for food we’ll actually eat, and cruise the aisles with a cart and one child each. Divide and conquer, we decided. It will come as no shock to you, I’m sure, to find that when we met at the cash register, we each had a full basket of “essentials.” Only, mine contained ingredients that could actually be combined to make meals, and my husband’s included Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs and some awful-looking canned fruit submerged in Jello. Somehow, we still managed to save 28% on our receipt for the day.

The output was still more than the savings. Apparently it takes a couple of months to get the hang of this couponing thing. Or, I should quit my day job and become a full-time coupon clipper and deal researcher.

Maybe I could find an online rebate for my entire day.

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And so it begins …

I think I could have probably chosen a better time to start this couponing project. Like any one of the grey, drizzly weekends for the past 11.5 months. A cold, blustery day in fall or winter when nobody has any plans. But, that is not how the stars align for this girl. I’m going to go fight ferry traffic on a sunny Sunday in late July and dive head-first into supermarket frenzy. Complete with all of these coupons in hand …

And, in case you are looking closely, yes … yes, it’s true. The only scissors I can find post minimization efforts and move are a child-sized pair of safety scissors. Let the coupon clipping begin!

I know you’re wondering why I would do this to myself this weekend. Perhaps you don’t remember my earlier post about how my cousin feeds her family of SIX for $200 per month. Or how the guy lived on $1 per day. There is no time like the present, my friends. Time is money. And it is time to start saving money by wasting time. I think that’s how that works, yes?

Also, outdoor grills are on sale.

So … wish me luck. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, it’s because I’m buried under 600 boxes of cereal.

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Minimizing my Monthly Budget

There’s been a lot of buzz in the media lately about “extreme couponing,” and all of these shoppers who are walking out of the store with baskets full of groceries and dry goods with receipts a mile long totaling $0.00. We don’t have TV, so I haven’t been privy to the secrets of these super shoppers. But I do have grocery receipts a mile long with far larger totals at the bottom.

In my mind, I think the fiscally responsible thing to do would be to sit down with a newspaper and a pair of scissors and get to work. But then I think … who has the time to do that? Is it really cost-effective to spend hours of my time clipping coupons when I can just run to the store and buy what’s already on sale anyway?

Well … my cousin’s family visited for dinner last night, and it turns out that his wife is Queen Coupon. I mean … she has this coupon clipping thing down to a science–by which I mean she clips her coupons with an industrial strength paper slicer and has a fully-stocked fallout shelter in her basement which might feed our entire island for the good part of a decade should we finally get the “big earthquake” we’ve been promised for the past several decades.

As you can imagine, I had a number of questions for her all based around my premise that I dislike grocery shopping only slightly less than I dislike doing the laundry. So, I really needed to be convinced. That’s when she tells me she spends less than $200 per month on groceries and household goods … to feed her family of six. (Including a new-born baby’s diapers and formula … and we all know how much that “stuff” costs.) I’m not even going to tell you what a *small* fraction that is of my monthly grocery bill. For a family of four. Because I can’t calculate a fraction that small.

After I picked myself back up off the floor, I had a few more questions. I mean … this couponing thing is all good in theory, but tell me about the quality of the products. I’m not going to fill my kids full of high-fructose corn syrup, pesticides, and dyes. Frankly, I have no use for 10 boxes of fruity-puffy-glow-in-the-dark-sugar-Os. Even if they were only 33 cents a box. Will I be able to find good deals on organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and hormone-free meats and dairy products? She says I can … I just might have to look harder.

You may not know this about me, but I’m somewhat of a skeptic. Normally I would have simply poured another glass of wine and toasted her good work, calling it a day. But, if she can feed her family for that price, think about all of the things I could do with the rest of my grocery budget. Shoot. I could go to Disneyland. Every month.

Careful not to put the cart before the horse, I thought I’d check out some of my favorite brands online to see if I could find any coupons for the products I really prefer. Guess what I found!?!? Coupons! Check out some of these great products …

Here are a couple of sites to help you get started:

And then I discovered this gem … how one guy ate relatively healthy food for $1 (one dollar) a day for an entire month. He is my new hero.

Clearly, this means I’m going to have to give cooking another go. You see, it’s a multi-layered challenge … I’ll keep you posted …

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The Sales Channel

Recently, I’ve been working with some friends that have some great products they’d like to take to market. As we’ve been brainstorming sales channels, I’ve delved deeper into the wholesale/distribution channel, and learned more than I ever wanted to know about how the “middleman” works. Since most of my time is spent marketing services, I haven’t focused much on the retail sales pipeline in the past.

Of course, there is the irony that my job is to help clients take products and services to market, while my personal conviction is that we don’t need any more “stuff” to spend our money on, and instead we need to focus our time and energy on building relationships with the people we love while making memories to last a lifetime–rather than creating compelling value propositions for why we, as consumers, should consume more “goods.” But … we’ll save my hypocritical soul-wrenching desire to change career paths for another day.

I digress.

So, this wholesale > distribution > retail model is really quite fascinating. It has led me to ponder how our entire economy is based on a middle layer of corporations that do not actually provide a valuable product. They simply jump in the middle, take a cut of the profits, and push goods around. Something like the drug dealer on the street who isn’t actually cultivating the drugs … just pushing them to make a cut of the profits.

Which, naturally, led me to consider my own role as a marketing consultant, and how there is yet another layer of marketing services necessary to take goods to market, thus adding more expenses to get a perfectly good product into the hands of perfectly good consumers. It is no wonder that our country’s GDP is consumer spending.

There is something wrong here.

But, as you know, I’m a solution finder. So, here’s my plan … when I sell all of my “goods” and relocate to my tropical island in the South Pacific, I will catch fish and grow my own vegetables, and weave skirts out of banana leaves. No middlemen there. Just me and Mother Nature.

I challenge you to tell me that does not sound really, really good.

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The Lonely House

You know that we’re getting settled in a new house, right? So, as I’ve been unpacking boxes and sorting through our ever-dwindling collection of “stuff,” I’ve discovered that I have so much extra storage space that I literally have cabinets with nothing in them. It is so liberating. I have to tell you. Liberating.

And, I have plans yet to go sort through the boxes downstairs in the toy room. My kids are gearing up for a big Yard Sale so they can sell their baby toys and save up for the latest Transformers they’ve been coveting. (According to my math, they’ll have to sell a lot of toys to get that Optimus Prime, so it’s still an effort in minimization.)

Now, as I have so much space to store the “stuff” I’ve managed to keep, there isn’t much adorning the counter tops or wall spaces. It’s a very minimalist home. And I am loving every deep breath I breathe in here.

Until my son came to me and said “Momma, this house feels lonely.” I thought he was talking about the move and maybe the emotional insecurity a six-year-old might feel to be uprooted and replanted in a new home. So, we sat down to chat. It turns out, he thinks the house feels lonely because the walls are bare. And the stuff is put away. And there’s nothing to trip over in his bedroom. So, because I am constantly psycho-analyzing my children, I started to ponder the question … what it is about “stuff” that makes us feel secure? Do we decorate so we don’t feel lonely? What is it about white walls that make us feel less content? Is it part of our human nature to create? To beautify? Can we not “nest” in a new home without clutter everywhere? Does it not feel “homey” without accoutrements? And more importantly–is that a learned perception that we can unlearn, or is it an intrinsic perception that we should find a responsible way to foster?

What makes your home feel like home?

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