A few days before Halloween, Laurie called me at work and told me she had just finished Christmas shopping for the kids. “Target had a Barbie car on clearance. Toys r Us was having a sale and let me use a coupon.” She paused a moment to catch her breath. “And Kohls was having a one-day-only sale Black Friday sale.”
As a single income family of five (seven if you add the dogs), Laurie and I have to follow a strict budget. A few years ago, we had some financial struggles and had to make some harsh decisions. We cut up our credit cards and have been cash only ever since. I got a second job and Laurie looked for ways to save. Since then, our roles have been simple: I earn the money and she spends it.
Laurie started by clipping coupons from the Sunday newspaper, but her skills at stretching a dollar have grown dramatically. She bought a subscription for a Sunday paper, clipped every week, and learned which groceries stores accepted double and triple coupons and which had the best sales. Sometimes, her shopping trips took hours because she visited several stores. “This store has the best produce but this one has better prices on toiletries,” she told me when she came home and handed me a fistful of receipts. “Look how much I saved.” I saw at the first store she spent $100 and saved $60, and at the second store she spent $80 and saved $40.
“How did you do this?” I asked her as I unpacked three bottles of shampoo, two boxes of garbage bags, and too many cans of vegetables and soups to count. She explained how she got most of these for free or for less than fifty cents, but I didn’t understand a word of it. “It’s not like these things ever go bad,” she said. I agreed, and found a few extra dollars in the budget for ways to increase our pantry storage.
Then she started building relationships with the employees working the cash register. She befriended a young cashier at a local pizza buffet, who always accepted double coupons, which allowed the five of us to eat for $10. Laurie learned to look for the teenagers. “Older employees will read the coupon and call over a manager to approve it. Then the people in line behind me glare at me. But teenagers don’t usually question coupons.” She reads the small print and double checks the receipts when she comes home to make sure they rang her up correctly. She’s learned how to diplomatically defend her coupons to the salespeople and managers, whom I’ve witnessed double take the receipts they hand to her.
She also became a master at planning the children’s wardrobe. Coupons would come in the mail or the newspaper, and she sets them aside and regularly checks websites for ads and sales. Then, when her favorite stores advertise a sale, she comes to me for a little extra cash. I used to freak out when she told me she needed a hundred dollars, but experience has taught me what she can do with what is actually a pretty small amount. In April, she’ll take the money and buy the children’s entire winter wardrobe for the following year. Then in October she buys shorts, tank tops, and swim suits, and spends all winter telling me how she can’t wait to dress the kids in their new summer outfits. She buys clothes that are one or two sizes too big, explains that they’ll grow into them, and shows me the red tags proving she bought a shirt for $2 and jeans for $3.
She’s also learned to shop off-season. The day after a holiday, I set aside a few bucks for her to buy decorations, costumes, wrapping paper, etc. She buys Valentines cards in March, and Thanksgiving décor in December, and spends all spring telling me how she can’t wait to use her new gravy boat.
We learned from numerous financial advisors the importance of planning in advance for special events we know are coming up, like vacations, back-to-school clothes and school supplies, and Christmas. We started planning this holiday season last January when we reviewed last year’s budget and made adjustments. We allotted $400 for the three kids (five if you add the dogs), which I gave Laurie in cash a few days before Halloween. In one afternoon, she spent most of the money and called me to tell me how excited she was about the deals she found.
“I may need a little extra money because I bought more than I meant to, and I still have a few things I need to get.” I told her I could move a little money around in a few days, and she said, “That’s okay. I'll wait until I get some coupons in the mail. Then I’ll check the websites and let you know what I need.”
I told her I was proud of her for doing such a good job. Then I told her I had to get back to work. I hung up the phone and sat down at my desk, excited that since she had done her job it was now time to do mine.
Epilogue: Laurie wanted me to call this story "Doorbuster," but it seems wrong for a husband to write an article about his wife with this title. It seems to refer to size of her butt rather than her shopping savvy. What do you think?