Thank you for joining me here at The New Frugal Mom. I blog about deals, frugal living, and gaining your financial freedom one day at a time.

If you're not already a new frugal mom, get started on your frugal journey today!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Coupons, Part I: Work for Yourself

If I told you there would be a twenty dollar bill hiding in your Sunday newspaper, I'm betting you'd run to the curb next Sunday morning in your robe and slippers as you giggled with glee at the prospect of finding free money.

If I told you there might be two twenty dollar bills in that newspaper, you'd probably get up at o'dark thirty and wait in a lawn chair at the curb to make sure no one else got those greenbacks.

While you'll never find a bank who will exchange a fistful of clipped $1/1 coupons for actual currency, I do urge you to start thinking of those coupons as money - money, that with a bit of brainpower and hard work, you can "earn" through reducing your total grocery, personal care, and household items budget category.

For example, let's say that I'm newbie to the frugal life. I've done my homework and created a workable household budget for my family that addresses our needs and goals. But after looking at my household budget and my financial goals (whatever they both might be as mine will differ from yours, a basic truth of the Frugal Journey), I decide that I need an additional $100/month to meet both. What should I do?

The quick response in our consumer culture? Make more money! Most people would assume this means they need to increase the amount of money coming into their household. Maybe you already squeeze every penny until it squeals and you genuinely do need to increase your income. As layoffs and downsizing occur, foreclosures loom, gas and food prices rise, and real estate in certain markets remains outrageously overpriced, many good people are struggling just to make ends meet each week. I certainly admire those of you out there who are making it under just such circumstances.

But if you haven't tried using coupons yet, you should, no matter what your family's financial situation might be. Using coupons is like working a part-time job for yourself.

But before I delve into that concept, let's go back to my original statement, that you need an additional $100/month to meet your budget and financial goals. Let's assume you take a part-time job to make the difference - what would it cost you in time to make that $100/month?

Let's speculate that you find a part-time job for $8.00/hour . I'll make this an optimistic scenario and assume that you won't need to consider the possible cost of childcare in order to work; you're lucky enough to have a spouse or family member or friend who will watch your child(ren) for free.

Dividing $100.00/month by $8.00/hour gives you 12.5 hours each month. But you and I both know that you'll never see all of of that $8.00 an hour - Uncle Sam wants his cut, too. Again, for the sake of simplicity (because tax rates vary state-to-state and because additional income may affect into which federal income tax bracket you fall), we'll slice off a clean 20% (and this too is optimistic) off the top of that $8.00/hour and hand it over to the government.

Now that $8.00/hour you're making nets out as an actual $6.40/hour. Let's divide again.

$100.00/month by $6.40/hour equals 15.625, or 15 hours and 37 minutes each month.

Divide that by four weeks, and you'll need to work roughly 4 hours/week to make about $100/month.

But we also need to consider the other issue in play: your travel time. How much time will it take you to get to this imaginary job? If you're in a small town, maybe a few minutes. If you're in a big metro area, maybe 45 minutes or more.

Let's keep it optimistic and assume your imaginary job is one day a week, for four hours. You only need to travel 15 minutes to get to and from this job. You'll spend 30 minutes each week going to and from your imaginary job, adding an additional 2 hours a month to your 15 hours and 37 minutes required to earn that extra $100.

Now you've committed to sacrificing 17 hours and 37 minutes each month to earn the extra $100. That nets out to 4 hours and 24 minutes per week.

That's a lot of time if you're a busy parent, or you already hold a full time job, or you're a student, or you're some combination of these three.

And, let's remember that this example was optimistic. Add in childcare, the cost of transportation, any union dues, and uniforms or work attire, and you'll need to work even more hours to offset those costs and actually take home $100/month. And if you're working more than one day a week, you'll need to add even more time to your hours/month after you calculate the additional travel time per week.

I won't even touch the psychic costs of staying in a job you hate, or the mental and physical exhaustion of working two jobs, or missing out on your family life.

So let's return to this idea of working for yourself by using coupons. If you need to increase your income by $100/month to meet your current budget and financial goals, step back from your calculator for a moment and consider this:

If you lower your budget by $100/month by using coupons to decrease the amount of money you spend on groceries and personal items, you've just "made" that extra $100.

The key is discipline (something I struggle with myself; I'm no frugal diva, just another traveller on the Frugal Journey). You must be disciplined with your budget. For example, if you're currently spending $100/week on groceries and personal care items, you'll need to drop it by $25/week to $75.00/week to make that extra $100/month into your overall budget.

Using coupons matched up with current sales, along with stores that offer rebate programs like CVS or Walgreens, can help you do this.

Many people shy away from using coupons because it seems like such a hassle. They think that it takes too much time. Yes, using coupons will take time - I won't lie to you. Time to find and accumulate them, time to organize them, time to match them with current sales, and finally, time to execute: to actually go shopping and use them.

But the purpose of the imaginary job example was to get you thinking about your time and how you manage it. Being frugal with your time is as important as being frugal with your money.

If you're willing to commit at least two hours or so a week to using coupons, or even more, you can be both frugal with your time and your money. You'll reduce your overall grocery and personal care items bill and you'll be doing it by working for yourself.


Look for my next post in this series: Coupons, Part II: Finding and Organizing


Faerie Mom said...

I love the way you break this down. I am going to direct my DH here to read this so he will understand what I am doing! LOL

~wenhether~ said...

Please teach me, I need to learn. LOL I really want to quite my part time job!

Erika said...

this is very logical and well-written. I've been doing the coupon thing for about a month now and am already seeing huge changes in the way I spend my money (or don't). It really IS like a part time job in terms of money earned/saved.

Hillary said...

I started couponing in late January and have already saved almost $500!! I can hardly believe it! You post really helped motivate me to take that extra time to keep it up! I use a coupon binder to organize my coupons. What do you recommend?

Marianne Thomas said...

I'm glad this has helped all of you; it's so important to remember to be frugal with our time as well as money.

Hillary, I plan on posting Part II later this week where I'll talk about organizing coupons.

My best advice? Do what works for you and is a frugal use of your time. I don't clip all my coupons because I simply don't have the time to do it (I have three kids, two big dogs, a Girl Scout Troop, a great husband, and an abundance of mud in my backyard that ends up tracked through my house.)

I'll post more this week on coupons and for those of you who are seeing big savings, congrats! It feels good to save so much and it will motivate you to keep at it!