Success Story: A money-saving, bargain-shopping mom

Karen Hoxmeier picture

Karen Hoxmeier learned the value of bargain shopping early in life, after her parents divorced when she was a teenager.

Her mom was left to raise four kids on her own, and even though she worked two jobs, necessities were scarce and luxuries scarcer.

“Anything we wanted we had to find a way to get a good deal on or we weren’t getting it,” she recalls. “That’s when I discovered clearance racks.”

Now 28, married and a stay-at-home mom of three in Marietta, Calif., Hoxmeier uses those long-ago-learned bargain shopping skills to save money for her family and to help others through her blog, MyBargainBuddy.com.

“I don’t pay full price for anything,” says Hoxmeier. And that includes everything from food and clothing to electronics.

Sometimes, buying larger-ticket items can be an exercise in patience.

“You always wait for something to go on sale,” Hoxmeier explains. “Things always go on sale.”

But she’s found that saving money on smaller items, especially food, simply takes organization and a little sensibility.

“The No. 1 thing that people make a mistake on is need versus want,” she says. “You might want champagne and caviar, but you really just need a healthy balanced diet.”

Hoxmeier always lets her area grocery stores dictate her family’s menus each week.

Before shopping, she sits down with the sale circulars for the three stores most convenient to her home.

If chicken is on sale, her family eats chicken that week; if it's ground beef, then meat loaf is on the table, Hoxmeier notes.

When she finds an especially good sale on an item that’s freezable, such as meat or even butter at the holidays, she loads up the deep freezer chest in her garage.

Her key to successfully freezing meat: separating it into meal-sized portions, freezing it immediately and always noting the date. An organized freezer will ensure food is used, not lost.

Although Hoxmeier cuts and uses coupons, she does not count herself among the current cult of “extreme couponers” -- those who use stacks of coupons in order to create a stockpile of food and other household and personal care items.

Collecting that number of coupons and researching stores to use them at takes too much time, she says.

“You’re going to have to spend eight hours a day to have -- what? -- more than you need sitting in your garage.”

While Hoxmeier does match up coupons with store sales to maximize savings, she typically limits what she buys to what she likes to keep on hand.

“I don’t like stocking up too much because it feels like clutter to me,” she adds.

Not being brand loyal makes shopping sales and using coupons easier, she advises.

Still, she rarely buys store brands since she can always get name brands cheaper, even when it comes to cereal.

And that’s where Hoxmeier kids become involved. They’re allowed to choose the cereal, as long as it doesn’t cost more than $2 a box.

“You have to be flexible,” Hoxmeier says.

She’s also passing her long-ago learned clothing shopping skills on to her two teenage daughters.

Training involves giving them a budget and letting them loose in a store. “I think giving them a budget and putting them in control makes them more responsible,” she says.

They quickly learned that they could either buy one full-price item or a few items on sale.

During a recent trip to Kohl’s Department Store, Hoxmeier gave her daughters $30 in Kohl’s Cash coupons earned through purchases on her store credit card.

Even she was amazed when they met her at the register with armloads of items from the clearance rack.

Hoxmeier’s tips for getting the best deals:

Shop off-season for clothes. Stores carry clothes a season ahead. Plan to hit the clearance racks when stores bring in the next season’s duds. “You can really scoop up bargains.”

Stay organized. You’ll overbuy if you don’t know what’s in your freezer, refrigerator and pantry.

Combine errands. Making one trip saves gas and time.

Shop only for the week. While it’s nice to have staples on hand, you don’t need a stockpile of all goods.

Shop with a plan. Hoxmeier knows the week’s menu before setting foot in the grocery store so she only buys what she needs.

Take advantage of loss leaders. Grocery stores put certain items on sale in order to get shoppers in the door. When it’s convenient, Hoxmeier pops in, grabs them and leaves.

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