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Saving Money: The Learning Curve

by Tara Kuczykowski on April 29, 2009 · 28 comments

learningThe following is a guest post by Sharon at Good, True & Beautiful.

One of the challenges with gaining any new skill is the learning curve - the time that it takes to become an expert at something and the bumps and bruises that you get along the way.

As we all know it takes work to master a task, and while it would be nice to jump right to the expert stage, we really need to give ourselves the grace to get there through incremental steps.  Trial and error are really valuable lessons, and you need to learn them if you are going to succeed.

This seems especially true with learning to save money - it's easy to set your standards too high and be frustrated when you fall short.  But if you start out slowly and lay a good foundation, you will gain the experience you need to save over the long term, not just as a flash in the pan ('cause we all know that frugal is pretty trendy right now!).

If you are struggling to get started here are a few "training wheels" to help you find your balance:

Focus on reducing your spending by a certain percentage. If you watch the news you'll see amazing examples of talented shoppers buying a cartload of groceries for pennies on the dollar.  It's exciting to see what an expert shopper can do when she applies all the strategies, experience and wisdom she's gained.  But do you think she started out here?  Do you think that she scores those deals on every single trip she makes?  Probably not.  And you won't either.

It's unrealistic to expect that you are going to save 95% on your groceries when you are just starting out.  Give yourself a chance to learn, and set a reasonable goal.  Can you save 25% on your groceries this month?  Can you identify two high ticket items that you can make at home or do without?  Can you look for clearance items and see if you have a coupon?  My current goal is to "save more than I spend" when I go grocery shopping.  Do I hit this target every time?  Of course not!  But it's a good challenge for where I'm at and it keeps me stretching toward that mastery level.

Start out with one store, a specific list and the coupons you need. The very first time I shopped with the "deliberate intention of scoring good deals," I put aside a lot of time to get prepared.  I didn't try to do it with my regularly grocery run. I left my son with my husband, and I designated this shopping trip as a chance to learn.

What did I do? First  I came here to Tara's site and pulled up the list of deals for Walmart.  I wrote out on a piece of paper everything that I was interested in and what the price could be (since Walmart's prices vary regionally).  I then found the correlating coupons from the fliers I had been saving, cut them out, put them in an envelope, and wrote down their value on my shopping list.  I told myself that I couldn't buy anything that wasn't on my list and that I had to use the coupon.   Only then did I go to the store.

Because I was a newbie, it took forever!  I  had to find specific products, look at my list, organize the information . . .  I felt like a moron.  But this initial investment of time reaped a lot of rewards. I learned the fundamentals of strategic shopping and started to lay a foundation for my organizational methods.  Plus, I got to experience the thrill of saving a lot of money!  I just needed to give myself the chance learn. I had to set aside time to prepare and the time shop.  I had to recognize that I was new and that I would get better with practice.  And I have!

Don't focus so much on the deal that you lose sight of your budget. The biggest rookie mistake I found myself making was getting so excited about the deal, that I lost sight of my budget.  I was so super-charged about stockpiling, buying things at rock bottom prices, and using my coupons that I never passed any of them up.  You might imagine my disappointment when I sat down at the end of the month to "see how much money I had saved" only to realize that I overspent!  I got too focused on the deal that I lost sight of my goal.

I'm not trying to get an adrenaline charge. I want to reduce my out of pocket expenses on groceries.  I learned the hard way that my first focus needs to be staying within my budget and then I can focus on stretching those budget dollars are far as I can.  And based on marketing research I don't think I'm the only one with this problem - coupon shoppers spend 76% more annually than total households!  Keep your focus on saving - otherwise you might have a lot of stuff, but no extra money at the end of the month!

It's an exciting challenge to learn how to save money and if you give yourself the grace to walk before you run, you might be finishing marathons before you know it!!

Sharon is the woman behind Good, True & Beautiful, and she is learning how to live abundantly on a budget!  After 15 years of a successful corporate life, she is now applying her business skills to the best job of all - mom.  She lives on a small farm in Upstate NY with her husband and infant son.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Doti April 29, 2009 at 8:16 am

Thank you so much for this information. It is overwhelming at first and easy to get caught up in the deals. I am relatively new and was discouraged when I saw a well know coupon shopper on the news talking about spending only 30 minutes a week making a menu, a list and organizing coupons. I was sitting at my table all day Sunday doing those things. I have finally come up with the best way for me to organize my coupons and I am becoming more picky about which deals I take advantage of. It's just good to hear that not everyone is starting out at the finish line. Thanks again - your words were very encouraging!!!

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2 Kristin April 29, 2009 at 8:46 am

I can relate to this very well. I have only been using coupons for a couple of months and at first it was overwhelming to the point of giving up. Even trying to figure out how to clip and store coupons without spending days doing it was a HUGE hurtle for me. I tried many different ways, and just last week hit what I think is going to work for me. All of the savings are not worth it if I am spending all of my time trying to track them down along with the coupons! My time is of value too. It is encouraging to hear someone say it is normal to start slow, find your pace and move in the right direction. I was definitely one of those people that saw the clips on the morning shows where ladies were walking out of stores with grocery carts full and only paying 25 cents! What you said should hit home with many out there. Thanks for putting this into persective.

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3 Michelle April 29, 2009 at 9:44 am

What wonderful post! I, too, have spent an hour at Walmart just comparing deals/coupons. I appreciate the part about going over budget because of too many deals. That is my current problem; it kills me to let a deal go, but I need to think about my family's NEEDS.

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4 Stephanie April 29, 2009 at 9:49 am

This is so encouraging! I am still learning, but trying to do it a little at a time. This month I went over my budget, but I did stockpile on toiletries, and so next month I wont need to buy any. I decided to try and stockpile like every other month so that I actually save money and don't overspend.

Stephanie´s last blog post..Spinach Stuffed Shells

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5 Sheryl April 29, 2009 at 10:15 am

I'm new to couponing and have only been at this for 2 months. I use this site almost daily and have learned so much already. But, I have experienced these same struggles and obstacles. So, this post was such an encouragement to me. Thank you so much for posting this...if for no one else, this is what I needed today!

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6 JnLsmom April 29, 2009 at 10:30 am

I definiely got caught up more in the rush when my first true intention was to save $$ while stock up at the same time. I've been able to stock up, but my spending does seem to have gone above what we previously used to spend :( So, now I'm trying to pull myself back to the original goal and avoid getting too caught up in the excitement of it all. THIS WAS A WONDERFUL POST & a great reminder. I should really stick this to my fridge. THANKS!

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7 Jennifer April 29, 2009 at 10:37 am

I'm with you.... I find myself going over my budget when I find lots of good deals on a given week. I've had to slow myself down and realize that the pictures of people's pantries that I see online weren't formed overnight. I feel like I have to catch up when really it's about slowly building the stash to cook from. Thanks for your insight!

Jennifer´s last blog post..Free Domino's Bread Bowl Pasta - April 29

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8 Amy in Kansas April 29, 2009 at 10:53 am

Thanks for letting me know I am not the only one still trying to learn, and that you really do not save that much on every trip. I was feeling like an idiot, not getting why using coupons can be so complicated. You really have to look at all the sales. I would love to see a blog on the best way to organize coupons... I am really lacking in this department. I am using envelopes, but how should I sort them? I have tried carrying a seperate tote bag just for couponing, and just am not too sure how to organize the coupons!

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9 Amanda April 29, 2009 at 11:37 am

Thanks for the information. I am just starting to use a few coupons here and there. I'm finding that even though I take several coupons to the store, I end up getting the store brand because it's still cheaper than using my coupons. This makes me feel like all the time I spent clipping coupons and organizing them was a waste of time. I guess I'm just still in that "learning curve" stage.

Amanda´s last blog post..Tips for Family Vacation Planning, Part 2: Budgeting

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10 Charlene @ My Frugal Adventures April 29, 2009 at 11:39 am

Great post! I can sense readers that are frustrated with the process and I am going to link to this so they realize it just takes time! I think another easy mistake is to try to chase every deal out there at once with is time consuming and a major budget buster. One thing I have learned is that everything will come back again...

Charlene @ My Frugal Adventures´s last blog post..Safeway Deals April 29- May 5

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11 Prudence April 29, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Very encouraging post! You hit the nail on the head when you discuss getting caught up in the deal but losing sight of your budget. One thing worth mentioning though regarding coupon shoppers spending 76% more on groceries........People who use coupons often have larger families and are often going to spend more on groceries regardless. I never clipped a coupon when we had 1 or 2 children. Now that we have 4, it is a different story.

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12 Erica April 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I was so glad to read this article. I have felt like a moron and thought that coupons was just not me since I took soooo long to find the items and organize my coupons. I have gotten better at it.

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13 Miriam April 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Thanks for this post. I have started to get couponing down better and really enjoy it but noticed I wasn't saving a lot of money, I was getting more stuff but spending the same amount. Well your article showed me that I was chasing the deals all the time and on things that were not specifically relevant to my family. It really put it in perspective, thank you so much. Another one of my problems is letting coupons expire. Now I have started sending them to people who can use expired coupons rather than frantically using them even though I don't need the items.

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14 Felicia - I Complete Me April 29, 2009 at 1:32 pm

This is such a great post. I am new at using coupons and saving money via grocery shopping and I tell you I gave up before I even started. From reading this I think I may be setting my goals a bit high and need to bring them down a bit and also focus on one store. Thank you so much for this article.

Felicia - I Complete Me´s last blog post..Why Did I Get Married?

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15 Coupon Artst April 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm

In my experience, I found that once I started at one store it got a lot easier. My first store, CVS, used to take me hours- I had to plan, cut my coupons, make my list, match up my products, etc. When I started with Walgreens and Rite Aid and the others, it was much easier. I already had a coupon cutting/storage system that worked for me, and I had a system for lists, and I was better able to recognize specific products that repeatedly go on sale at all 3 stores.

Coupon Artst´s last blog post..Why is it so Much Harder to Thrive in America Today?

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16 Stacey April 29, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Your post couldn't have come at a more perfect time! Thank you so much! I once saw someone else post "You can't chase every deal or you'll go broke "saving" money!". That really struck a chord with me, because I know I'm guilty of getting wrapped up in the deals and busting the budget. Right now for me, it's about the amount of time invested. It seems like I'm obsessed with finding the deal and working it out so that I have a low out of pocket expense. While I may have accomplished staying within my budget and saving a little money, the deal isn't quite as sweet when I think about how much time I spent researching it and what I could have (or SHOULD have) been doing with that time.

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17 Cris April 29, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Bravo! That was a great post and touched on many of my concerns and issues I'm having as a newbie to couponing. The first week I tried to learn the ropes I was totally exhausted. I know it sounds funny, but I took out so much effort the first time around and I had to hold the reigns back on overspending to get all the good deals. After doing this for a month I am starting to get a feel for this and saying, "hey, it's ok to pass on that deal [if I really don't need it]."

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18 Shannon April 29, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Love your blog Sharon. Keep up the great work!

Shannon´s last blog post..Weis Markets 4/30 - 5/06

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19 Jen April 29, 2009 at 5:27 pm

What a wonderful post! I really appreciate the honest tone of this article and especially for being so in touch with what everyone feels! I think the author has really struck a chord with all of us. It's so true that you can go broke trying to chase down every deal--all in the name of "saving money". I'm only now questioning the validity of some deals---do I need this? will this really be a good gift? what is the true out of pocket expense for this deal? Often times, I get my answer well before I leave my house, which keeps more $$ in my pockets. Afterall, isn't that what we are all striving for?

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20 Teresa April 29, 2009 at 6:07 pm

The light bulb finally went off in my head about chasing the deals. I too have gone crazy trying to get every deal and using every coupon I could get my hands on. I am going to slow done and pay more attention to my budget.
Thanks for the great article.

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21 mellisa rock April 29, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Oh man have you hit a home run with me. I am very new to using coupons and am having the same problems that you are talking about. It really is an adreline rush. I have to sit down with my husband and decide what we want to be spending and stick with that! Thanks so much for this blog post. It was so helpful and insightful!!

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22 Sweet Serendipity April 29, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Super tips. Thank you for your insight and sharing your knowledge and experience!

Sweet Serendipity´s last blog post..Wordful Wednesday

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23 Terra April 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm

I am still a newbie and I am so doing that strategy. Each week I sit with my flyers, my coupons and a pad of paper. It takes TIME but it is worth it.

If while I am the store I notice an un-advertised sale that I have coupons for and could use I just make a note on my list and try to hit the store later in the week.

It helps. I can't carry all mycoupons with me - it would drive me nuts...so I do what works for me.

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24 Nichole April 30, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I am new to the couponing thing & am curious in reference to Miriam's post about letting expired coupons go [Miriam April 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm
'...Now I have started sending them to people who can use expired coupons rather than frantically using them even though I don’t need the items."] . Who is it that can use expired coupons? Aren't the coupons worthless after the expiration date?

Nichole´s last blog post..think local

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25 Corinne April 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I am just starting and I totally feel like a coupon retard! I am getting really frustrated and seeing a list of of what someone is able to purchase for next to nothing is more frustrating than encouraging right now. Thank you for letting me know that I'm normal and that I will get better at this. I so want to stretch my dollar for my family, but not at the expense of my sanity!

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26 Anne T Meyers August 3, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I love the mathematical approach to your advice. As a college professor and journalist specializing in teaching kids how to manage money, I see lessons in here!

I make my students create budgets and ledgers, and I don't even teach accounting. I'll be checking back here often. Thanks.
--Anne T Meyers, Ask Anne (giveme20.com/blog)

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27 value my car by registration June 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Normally I don't read article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thanks, quite great article.

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