Asked the kids to get ready to go to Target and this is what I got: Jelly Bean pants-less and shoe-less while Son #3 has on two hats, a scarf, two pairs of gloves, snow bibs, two coats and boots. Note that neither is seasonally appropriate. Pretty sure this does not say good things about my parenting skills.
First they came for our disposable diapers. Next it was our shampoo, toothpaste and laundry detergent. But have you heard of the newest craze in cost-cutting healthy living? Reusable toilet paper. Yep, instead of splurging on Charmin now the super thrifty eco-conscious health bloggers are putting little baskets of cut up flannel next to their toilets with the instruction to wipe, rinse and repeat. Don’t get me wrong, this actually makes a lot of sense – toilet paper does seem kind of wasteful. And flannel strips are way more tushie-tender than, say, the corn cobs or Sears catalog pages of yesteryear. One blogger reported that the old-fashioned paper rolls set her back $136 a year but her new-old-fashioned cloth wipes only cost $42 a year (in laundering, I’m assuming). Yet while I did use cloth diapers for a while (until I got tired of the leaking) and have made my own shampoo and detergent (until I got lazy and went back to store-bought), I just can’t get past the ick factor of homemade TP. Not even to save $92. Call me a Luddite.
But even though I haven’t yet embraced all the tenets of cheap healthy living, that doesn’t mean I don’t look for ways to save money! Have you seen the price of coconut oil lately?? I’ve already shared some of my tips for buying healthy food on a budget but basically I go for store brands, shop at warehouses and discount stores, cook a lot at home and buy bulk online. The one thing I don’t do? Coupon. Here’s why: My basement is full of deodorant.
No, I’m not trying to overshare some insane body odor problem (although I do sweat like a dude). It gets worse: I have a basement full of deodorant that I can’t even wear because it gives me weird bumps and I have an aversion to smelling like flowers*. And someday soon my boys are going to wise up to the fact that it’s actually not cool to smell like a freshly powdered baby’s bottom or have glittery pits, which means then nobody will be able to use it and I’ll be left with a monument to… dun dun dun… my one attempt at couponing.
True story: I took a two-day couponing class once. I was lured in by a friend who is a pro-couponer with her tales of free stuff and adrenaline-charged confrontations with other ladies battling over the last pair of blunt-tipped children’s scissors at the drug store. Oh, and free stuff. Did I mention the free stuff? So I spent two days on a hard plastic chair listening to a woman talk about her strategies for turning little pieces of newsprint into household gold. She was a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin, I tell you.
My first hint that this maybe wasn’t for me was when she showed us her binder system that utilized more 3-rings than a circus. I “organize” my daily mail by dumping it on my counter and letting it pile up until Saturday. By the time she got to the part where she spends 30 hours a week couponing I was melting like a puddle off my chair and mentally calculating how many extra hours I could work to earn enough money so I wouldn’t have to coupon. But! I spent two whole days learning from the best and I was determined to give it a go.
So one fine morning I loaded up my four young children – who should have been named Alfalfa, Calvin (&Hobbes), Dennis the Menace and Angelica for their general demeanor in polite society – and set off for the first of six stores on my list. The drugstore didn’t know what hit ‘em. After discovering that my kids would use my distraction calculating and reading coupons to open up lipsticks and use them like markers, I knew I had to make this end fast. I had a bunch of “store bucks” so I grabbed the closest thing I could find: deodorant. Armfuls of it. I mean, you always need sweet-smelling pits right?? Wrong.
While I know that other people love couponing – and I love that they love it! – it just wasn’t for me. I’m too disorganized, too busy and way too math-challenged to deal with 100 little pieces of paper of fine print. But my main complaint is that it always seemed like the coupons were for processed foods, feminine hygiene products (since I bought the Diva cup I never need them!), candy and other stuff I don’t ever buy. (Lie: I buy candy. But I am usually pretending that I’m not buying it so using a coupon would ruin my little game of self-delusion.)
I gave my free coupon organizer and tote from the class to my friend and called it a wash. No more coupons. So when Target contacted me about using their new coupon app Cartwheel, I was initially very leery. The thing that won me over is that when we lived in Minneapolis (home of the big red Target) I developed a deep devotion to it and now that we’ve moved Target reminds me of home. Sometimes I go there just to sniff their diaper display and nuzzle my cheek against the cardboard cutout of Bullseye and remember all the good times I spent in their restrooms with my kids over the past six years. Yeah, I know, I’m messed up. Besides, I still really, really like free or discounted stuff.
The test would be twofold: Would it be easy enough for me to use it without wanting to brain myself in the pet supplies aisle? And, more importantly, would it actually give me discounts on stuff I wanted to buy? Me being me, I was hurriedly installing the app on my phone as I pushed my kids around the store trying to remember my grocery list that I’d left on the kitchen counter.
The first thing I discovered was that you can see which coupons your friends are using – you know how I love seeing what other people put in their grocery carts! – but I supressed my voyeuristic urge and moved on to the next feature. It turns out you can use the barcode scanner in the app to check and see if an individual item is on sale. Perfect! Jelly Bean needed new shoes so I let her pick out a pair – she selected ballet flats coated in so much red glitter she leaves a trail like the love child of Hansel and Dorothy on the way to a rave – and scanned the barcode with my phone. All Cherokee brand shoes and clothes were 25% off! Did I want to add it to my “cart”? Yes, yes I did.
The next section I hit was grocery which was the real trial. I immediately walked to the produce section and scanned an apple. I almost never see coupons for fresh produce but Cartwheel popped up a 5% off! Sure 5% wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things but it was certainly better than no discount so I added that coupon to my cart and was delighted to discover that it counted for all fresh produce I bought that day.
Another reason I like Target is they have a large selection of natural, organic and/or dye-free options and since we’re currently trying the ADHD diet with my son, that is very important to me. I let Jelly Bean go a little nuts scanning stuff and discovered that the dye-free cereal and no-sugar-added applesauce he likes had coupons as did the fruit strips and Pirate Booty he gets when he trades in contraband goodies. We even ended up with a free 4-pack of those fruit “squeezers” that I’m too cheap to buy but my kids covet because they like anything that isn’t what they own.
All I did was click “add” to put the coupons in my cart and when we got to the register, I simply held up my phone and the cashier scanned the single QR code. And that was it! No little pieces of paper, no trying to figure out if I had the correct item (the app will tell you if what you scan isn’t on sale although with more than 700 sale items at a time, almost everything I scanned had some kind of discount), no worrying about buying crap I didn’t want and honestly very little time invested. It probably added an extra 10 minutes to my shopping trip and that was mostly because I had to install it and figure out how to use it the first time. Plus I’m a Red Card holder so I got an extra 5% off on top of all the Cartwheel savings. I saved over $20 after all the discounts and I still got the stuff I wanted. (Although since I’d forgotten my list of course I forgot half the stuff on it. Sigh.) Cartwheel is basically couponing for dummies. It was awesome.
The one thing I didn’t like was that since I’d used my Facebook login the app started posting which deals I was using and cluttered up my wall until I fixed it in the settings. Since I’m one of those people who will hide you for letting Spotify post every song you listen to it was really irritating the app went rogue on my wall. I hate clutter, even in my virtual life – what can I say? My other small issue was that I sometimes have a hard time getting a cell signal inside my Target store which meant that at one point I was waving a bag of snap peas around my head while trying to snap the barcode with my phone. But that’s really more of an issue with my cell provider (and my need to make everyone else around me feel sane by comparison).
In the future I’ll definitely use the Cartwheel app again – unlike real coupons I can’t ever forget it or accidentally leave it at home and it’s an easy way to save a few bucks on the healthy foods I look for. They also have an option to look at the deals on your phone and put the ones you want into your cart ahead of time, if you’re the prepared type… as in, not me.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve tried to save money? Would you (or do you) use resusable cloth toilet paper?? What’s your best tip for saving money on health food? Leave me a comment to be entered to win a $1,000 Target GiftCard®!
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*Seriously hate it. My highly sensitive nostrils flare like a horse hate-watching My Little Pony whenever I get a whiff of fake roses, gardenias, and the worst of them all – lavender. I also hate anything musky. In trying to explain to a friend what kind of scents I do like I told her peppermint (my fave), almonds, and coconut. Apparently I like to smell like cookies.