Community, Couponing, and Making Your Dollars Stretch

Community.
We know what the word means, but in today’s world we often forget what these actions stand for. Recently, I was at the bus stop with my son, my neighbor and her daughter. For the past week we’ve talked a little and listened to the kids as they spoke of the joy of leaving elementary school and starting middle school.
‘Have you been able to open your locker yet? Have you had homework? Did you get your books? Do you like you Math teacher?’

Boy, do I remember those days.
The bus stop is at a corner where there are four pear trees. Every morning I stared at the fruit weighed down the branches, some of them broken, fallen to the ground. All around the base of the tree fallen fruit rests in the grass or has rolled into the gutter, or ran over by a car at the stop sign, and has since rotten.
Everyday we stood staring at the trees.
Then one morning my neighbor’s daughter walks over to a tree, pulls a pear and began to eat. My son looked at her.
                “I’m hungry. The lady said anybody can have some if they want.”

My son and I looked at each other. I nod my head and he walked over and pulled two pears, takes a bite, and hands me one.
I’ve never been a lover of pears, but I accepted the fruit and sampled. I swear that was the best pear I’ve ever eaten. Fresh from the tree…no juices in a can, no harsh chemicals sprayed on the fruit’s skin to make it look ‘beautiful’. Just a freshly picked pear.
It made me think.
Here we are just standing in a neighborhood at the only yard that has fruit trees. There are starving people, I’m sure, who don’t live far away. You don’t have to be homeless to be starving. With the job scarcity, the amount of people living on minimum wage, rising gas prices, and the price of food going up, everyone has to reevaluate their spending habits. You may not be able to afford the special ice cream that used to be two dollars but is now pushing six bucks. You’d love to feed your family steak, but for less than half the price of ONE steak, you can buy a bag of chicken leg quarters and feed your entire family for several days. The mentality of ‘No, I’m not buying it if I don’t have a coupon for it!’ (Oh yes, we coupon at my house, have been doing it for over a year!)
We’re not extreme couponor’s, but the savings stretched our dollars. In the course of a year- according to our final store receipts in December- between shopping at Kroger and Food Lion, we saved over $1200 dollars! And by savings I mean not only did we save money, that same amount of money was used to purchase more food items, thus giving our family a wider variety of food choices and keeping the fridge, cabinets, and pantry stocked….without having to spend more money than we budgeted!

It was not an easy feat! My cousin spends time going through the newspapers every week cutting coupons and comparing them to the sales circular’s for every grocery store. I’m not just talking about the big boys, but the smaller competitors, too. You remember, right? The local grocery stores in your community you tend to ride by because they don’t have the really big parking lot, or the convenience of getting your prescriptions, housewares, or fancy labels on the products?

But guess what…those small stores sell the same products at less the cost of the big boys…all the while excepting coupons which of course, adds to your savings!
You know me, I love giving examples, so here you go!
This summer, my family has become bacon hogs-pun intended. Every day we seemed to go through two packs of bacon! With seven people – four between the ages of 17 and 10 – gone are the days of serving two pieces per person. My DH will eat five by himself! I usually ask for three. Between bacon with pancakes, bacon with eggs, BLT’s, and bacon on burgers, I was buying bacon at least twice a week! Now let’s think about price. Bacon averages around $3.99 per pack, depending on the grade or company you buy it from. Kroger was selling it two packs for $7.00 bucks a couple of times during the summer. I was buying four packs at a time which meant I was spending $14.00 that was gone within three days! Suffice it to say, I avoided buying the meat until it was demanded!
After two months, we decided to re-evaluate our shopping habits, thus shopping at the smaller chain stores began. Imagine my surprise when I went to Food Depot and found the exact same bacon I’d been paying $3.50 for was being sold for $1.98!!! That is not a typo! That meant I could have brought the same bacon for less money! Four packages would have cost $8.00 instead of $14.00 (and that was when it was on sale!)
Have you ever heard the adage off pork bellies on wall street? I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but I believe the gist of it was that pork stock will never fail? I see why!!!
It all comes down to this, as moms, budgeting and taking care of our households is a process that is always evolving and changing. I don’t take credit for the changes my family has made over the past year to keep our bellies full. It’s been a group effort. My cousin was the one who took an interest in couponing when those shows were popular on TV. Extreme couponers we will never be. Just because you can find a great deal on a product, why buy more than what you need? Yes, we stock up on items such as cleaning supplies, detergent, soap, and toothpaste, but you will never find a room in our house dedicated to just over stock deals. Too many people and too many personal items to even think about that! Plus, how can you use money wisely if you’re buying products you don’t even need? (I meet a man who was way into extreme couponing. He brought tons of cat food and diapers…but didn’t have a cat or a baby!)
The point is this… save money where you can. Help others in your community when you can, and believe me, it will come back to you.
As a thank you for our neighbors unselfish generosity of sharing the fruit from their trees, my son and I brought a broom and trash bags and cleaned up as much of the rotten fruit as we could. My way of giving back to a neighbor who doesn’t mind sharing with the community. When we were done, we picked a large bag of pears keeping the fruit bowl filled for a couple of days…and all it will have cost was a few minutes of our day and a few trash bags.
After all, they could always demand that we pay for it. 
MJ
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