Time is Money… Non-Extreme Couponing for Real People

If you’re like a lot of folks then you might want to use coupons but aren’t quite sure how to use them and you sure don’t have time to make couponing a full time job.

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While not saving money at the grocery store is just not an option neither is spending 8 hours a day cutting coupons. So what do you do? Create your own system of course!

money pink coins pig

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Subscribe to a paper in multiples
Yes, in order to save money, you will have to spend some. But here’s a trick- local papers typically run a promotion on their subscriptions one or two times a year. (Think Groupon, Living Social, etc.) Get the Sunday paper deal in multiples. I recommend getting 3 or 4 so you can have a LITTLE stockpile when the product goes on sale. Don’t go crazy sales cycle every 8 weeks and I promise that you won’t use 15 bottles of ketchup in 8 weeks. Just think one sale cycle at a time.

Cut Coupons But Only Of Items You Will Actually Use
It’s a novel idea, I know. But seriously, have you ever wondered just what the extreme couponer is going to do with 50 packets of soy powder? Well, so do they. Don’t waste your time cutting out coupons on items you wouldn’t normally use if it wasn’t on sale. Truth is, money spent on items you don’t use is money wasted, not money saved. Save yourself the hassle and the trouble and just cut coupons on products you already use.

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Hint: If you truly want to save money, you can’t have brand loyalty. Mayonnaise is mayonnaise is mayonnaise. So, seriously, skip the mock loyalty and throw whatever is on sale in that cart. You will thank yourself later.

Organize Your Coupons in an Easy File System
Use a dollar store accordion-style folder and sandwich baggies. Label each baggie with a permanent marker by item, i.e. toilet paper, soda, cheese, bread, etc. and then place the baggie in the corresponding file slot for that letter.

Review Your Store’s Weekly Ad Flyer! Match Your Coupons
Stores typically send out their flyers in the Sunday paper. If not, they’re all over the internet. Review the sales ad for anything you might need in the next 8 weeks that is currently on sale (think staple pantry items) or, that is a good deal or that you simply need to feed your family that week. Make a list as you go. Then go through your file folder, pull any matching coupons and … go shopping.

Saving money with coupons doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to spend hours on clipping, matching, numerous stores, and coupon clubs. You CAN save money with a limited time investment.

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Thrift Stores Are NOT Your Friend Until They Are

At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I’m going to make a bold statement, but don’t write me off just yet. Read on before you decide.

It’s not always a good financial practice to give away your old stuff to charity. I can’t believe I just said that in print. But let’s be real here.

photo of person holding black pen

Charities often run thrift stores that sell our old clothes, shoes, household goods, and misc.. items we no longer need or use. Let me be clear here. I’m all for charity. And I love to help when we can but sometimes, giving those items away is not the best choice for your season in life, and you may not even realize it.

Sometimes we are helping others but hurting our family’s financial situation when we forego the money we could have earned by selling those items ourselves. Long term, this will inhibit our ability to help charity in even greater ways.

For those families who have ANY type of debt, I do not recommend giving away items in good, usable, re-saleable condition which to be clear, are the only items you should be giving to charity. They don’t want your “junk” and I say that as nice as possible! It actually costs them more to go through true “junk” and dispose of them than it is worth to them, so do them a favor and only donate items in good repair.

Each and every dollar you could have gotten from the sale of your items (think Craigslist, online Facebook yard sale groups, yard sales, and etc.) was an unallocated dollar in your budget that could have gone towards your debt and getting out from under the bondage of living in debt.

Sure, debt is manageable for some and they don’t feel the crunch. But think of all the good they could do with no debt payments! Think of all the charity gifts they could make if they had no debt at all.

I do recommend that you give a % of your income to charity. Donate 10% of that income you made from the sale of those said items to charity, yes, by all means.

Note: many other financial coaches advise the same. No matter your financial situation, give 10% (a tithe) to your local church, synagogue or charity. The idea behind this is the financial principle of reaping and sowing. Whatever your thoughts on this, it is a widely accepted financial practice.

I am not advocating complete abstinence from all charity giving when you have debt, but I am saying rather than donating the 100%, you should sell your items, give 10% (or your choice) to charity and 90% apply to your debt.

If you’re anything like most of America, you have plenty of items to get rid of. Declutter the house, go through the clothes and grab items you haven’t used in the last 3 months as well as gifts that you plan to re-gift and put them up for sale. Use that money to apply to your debt and free yourself up to do even better things for your favorite charity or church.

In the meantime, while working on paying off your debt, frequent those thrift stores first. When you are in the market for shoes, clothes, house hold appliances, and etc., make sure to check there first for any items they may have. In this way, you are not only helping their charity, but you are helping your family’s financial state as well with the money you saved on those items rather than shopping new. Take the difference and apply it to your debt. While it may not seem like much independently, these little things can add up in a big way. If you sold just $25 of items each month, and saved $25 on purchases, you could apply $47.50 (assuming you gave $2.50 to charity, as mentioned) a month to your debt. In 12 short months, you would have reduced your debt by $570.00 by this one simple task.

So, thrift stores are not your friend. Well, until they are….

You Got a Tax Refund?

People sometimes get the silly notion that a tax refund is a GOOD thing.

They think of vacations, cars, new phones, new toys, new gadgets, savings and more. But think again. There are a lot of people that plan on their refund each year for certain items (see aforementioned list) and they treat it like a “savings account.” They just LOVE tax time and think a refund is a good thing. However, a tax refund is really NOT a good thing. Let’s delve into this thought pattern a little more and see just how many silly mistakes you are making when you get an annual tax return.

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper

A tax return means you over-paid the government in your taxes and they owe you money. Essentially, you have lent them money from January of the year before to April (or whenever you file your taxes) interest free. In other words, you’ve thrown away money from interest AND been unable to spend your money for a year or more.

Let’s discuss the interest losses we take on a tax refund. When you consider that a savings account or CD with a modest 1 or 2% interest rate would yield an annual return of $10 or $20 per $1,000 of return, you’ll agree that stuff adds up. A return of $2,000 would mean losing out $40. If you don’t think that’s a lot then go ahead and take out 2 (two) $20 dollar bills from your pocket now.

Go… I’m waiting…. Got them? Good. Now go throw them into the nearest garbage can and leave them there. Hurts, right? Or, next time you’re at the bank get forty $1 bills and as you’re driving to work each day, throw out $1 every day right out the window… 40 days later, let me know how you feel about it! Obviously, when we see cash loss, it makes the point drive home. If you wouldn’t throw away cold hard cash, then why throw it away in other forms?

Finally, we must realize the loss of use associated with the government holding our money hostage until we file a return and then up to 6 weeks after for processing payment. Have you ever been a little short on cash? Perhaps had the thought, “I could sure use some extra cash today?” Next time that happens, think of the government holding your latest tax refund in their hand while you scrounge for change in couch for your next coffee.  Not such a good idea anymore, is it?

Now you see the light. But now what can you do about it?

In cases where you are an employee, you simply need to file an adjusted W-4 with your employer. This is the form your employer uses to withhold your taxes. It’s super easy- request one from your employer or simply go online to the IRS website and print a form. To accurately determine how much you should have withheld, use the IRS withholding calculator. This will tailor your tax withholdings to your situation and ensure that you are withholding just the right amount. For self-employed situations, you will want to consult a professional tax expert to be sure that your estimated tax payments are correct.

In any situation, you want to make sure that you are withholding the correct amount, not too much or too little. Trust me, you do not want a refund even when you think you do.

Staying Organized at Tax Time, (Or Any Time)

If tax season brings you dread every year, it’s time to get that under control. There is no reason to be stressed, worried or dreading tax time each year. It’s not good for your mental health, or physical health, either, to be stressed out. The reason you probably feel this way is that you have not taken the time to be organized throughout the year.

accounting analytics balance black and white

However, with just a little bit of preparation, and a simple system through the year, you can regain control of our emotions and make tax time EASY PEASY.

There are basic components you will need for tax season- receipts of payments (think receipts and paid invoices) and records of payments (think bank and credit card statements). If you have a system for filing and obtaining these items, you’re 90% done with tax prep.

For receipts of payments, you need a file for invoices and receipts you pay throughout the year. This system can be whatever works best for you.

Paper Files
Some people prefer keeping a physical paper trail. For physical paid invoices and receipts, you need a physical filing system that works for you. Something like an accordion-style file folder would work just fine, or a filing cabinet with folders, if you tend to have larger volumes. How you file your receipts and invoices is up to you. There is no wrong system as long as you keep them organized and you know where to find them when you need them. Standard filing practices include categories by month, vendor name, or expense category.

Paper Recording
If you also keep paper records (rather than a software bookkeeping system) you will want a way to track your expenses so you don’t have to spend hours at tax time adding up the totals. Whatever you use, at the end of each month, just be sure you total the expenses in each category and keep that total handy. You could even staple the receipts for said category to the tally paper. You will only need the receipts for an audit, but you will need your totals so you can calculate your annual expenses at tax filing.

E- files
If you have a software system for bookkeeping, the application often has a mechanism for attaching receipts directly to the payment inside of the program. (i.e. .pdf or .jpeg images can be attached to the payment for easy reference) Alternately, you can set up a filing system in files on your PC, similarly to the paper files above. Receipts and paid invoices that have been received can be saved to the file.

The easiest form of any type of electronic bookkeeping system is accounting software, but for those who are on a budget, this may not be feasible. You can use a basic spreadsheet in Excel or similar program to track expenses. Again, you will need just the annual totals for your tax filings, but you may want to track these monthly for easy tax tracking.

For records of payments, you will need a file (as explained above- either e files or paper files will suffice) to store your bank and credit statements, (and ideally, you should attach your reconciliations to each statement) that you will also need at tax time.

Following these easy steps, you can breeze right through tax time, stress free.

Paying Off Your Debt – QUICKLY!

Debt is a serious problem.

person writing debt on paper

The average American has over three credit cards. 78% of us say we live paycheck to paycheck, and that staying current or getting caught up on bills is our main financial concern. In uncertain economic times like these, we need a plan and we need it fast.

Here are a couple quick reasons why you pay your debt off as quickly as possible. Don’t like mine? Get a paper out right now and make your own. Write out your personal why.

  • Increase Your Credit Score
    Reducing your balance-to-limit ratio on your credit cards can increase your credit score. Your credit utilization should be no more than 30% but the lower the better!

Paying off your cards each month is ideal.

  • More Financial Security
    Having no debt leads to greater financial security. Monthly payments tie up a good portion of your expendable income. You could be spending the extra money on things you want instead of just things you need. You could be saving for college, retirement, or a down payment for a house or car. You could begin building wealth by making smart investments.

No amount is too small.

Now that you’ve got ample motivation to get started eliminating your debt how are you going to do it? Get out the paper you wrote you’re the reasons you want to get out of debt and now add the part about how you’re going to get that accomplished. It’s been proven that if you write down your financial plans and goals you are more likely to reach them.

Let’s get started!

  • Review Your Budget
    Find ANY area you can cut back. I would strip back that budget to what Finance Guru, Dave Ramsey, calls “beans and rice”. You get the idea?

Strip back your budget to the items you have to pay, and get the expendables to as little as you can. Cut out and turn off ALL non-essential-to-life items. These would be the “wants” like cable, manicures, dinners out, vacations, etc.

  • List Your Debts
    All of them! It doesn’t matter if it’s a $3 library fee, or a $10 loan from Mom or even a $20,000 car loan write them down from lowest to highest. Note: for the purpose of this exercise we are only dealing with consumer debt in this article- do not include your mortgage at this point.

Take all of the money that you have from stripping back your budget to essentials and start putting it towards your lowest (dollar amount) debt paying the minimum only on the rest.

Paying off your smallest debt first will give you a sense of immediate freedom. Once that debt is paid off take the increased money you now have and apply to your next biggest debt. It’s called “Snowballing” and it works well. The snowball gets bigger as it rolls. In the same way, the more funds that become freed up, the more you will be able to add to the next debt and so on.

  • Make a Plan
    Plan out (on a calendar) how long it will take you to pay off each debt. Build in little incentives in your budget for each debt paid off, (or if you have a lot of debt, or will take a long time, celebrate ¼ milestones, or ½ milestones on debts). It will help you to see progress. Don’t go crazy though. Only use $10, or $50 (whatever is reasonable) of your snowball debt money to treat your family (maybe dinner, maybe more grocery money, a movie, etc.) when you have hit a goal. Your family will be sacrificing for a period of time so it’s good to reward them for short-term goals to keep the long goal in view.


  • Look for Extra Money
    Find ways to add more money to help your snowball grow so you can pay off your debt sooner. Have a yard sale, get a paper route, or deliver pizza, or start an Etsy shop (don’t spend a lot of money on supplies, etc.) to sell your hobby, or start with a direct sales business for a season (one that doesn’t require a huge investment- do your homework!). Figure it out! You can do this!

With dedication, hard work, and sacrifice, you can get out of debt- quick!

And then work a plan to stay that way.