By Julie Landry Laviolette
Melissa Cid estimates she gets about $500 in freebies every month including items at the grocery store, restaurant meals and product samples.
Cid, a mom from Miami Lakes who launched a website called Saving Mom's Money in July, said her passion for finding a good deal began when she was pregnant with her son, Manny, who is now about 1 1/2 years old. But it wasn't until after Manny was born, when Cid left her full-time job as a graphic designer to stay home with him, that finances made it a necessity.
"My husband, Manny, and I were trying to live on one income and trying to pay our bills with one paycheck," Cid said.
Her grocery bill averaged $150 a week, a huge strain on the family's budget. Cid started couponing feverishly, scouting out deals on the Internet and hoarding coupons from the Sunday newspaper. She contacted manufacturers directly through their Web sites, emailing them that she liked their products and would like to get coupons.
"I got a lot of high-value coupons that way," Cid said. "Companies are dying to get their products into your hands."
Cid said her monthly savings has grown to include about $300 in groceries, $100 on restaurant meals and $100 in free products. She decided to start the money-saving blog to share her tips and help other moms struggling to live on one income.
"I basically want to prevent moms from becoming a victim of the recession," she said.
The stay-at-home mom spends about an hour a day perusing the Internet for deals and coupons that she can post to her site, which she updates daily. She has joined mommy blogging networks, and sometimes links to blogs of others touting good deals.
Recent deals have included a $15 online coupon at the Kodak Gallery and a Glade Candle buy-one-get-one free offer.
Cid says she finds out many deals from manufacturers themselves. She said she signs up for newsletters from companies that sell products such as Glade and Cheerios, and they will email coupons and offers directly to her. Sometimes readers will clue her in on bargains, and sometimes she uses search engines such as Google to find offers.
Cid's site also provides a summary of weekly deals, including buy-one-get-one free offers, at Publix and CVS Pharmacy. But Cid goes one step further. She matches up sale items with printable coupons or coupons from Sunday newspaper circulars, which she references by date.
"To get the best deal, you need to combine a coupon with a sale price," Cid said. "You find the sale item first, then you find the coupon to match it. If you use the right strategy you can definitely save money."
What many people don't realize is that you can use both a manufacturer's coupon and a store-issued coupon on the same item, she said. And with a store such as Publix, which accepts competitor's coupons, sometimes you can throw in a coupon from another retailer and use three coupons on a single item.
"I've found with Publix, it depends on the manager, so you should call ahead and find out their policy," Cid advises. "But sometimes you can get items for free doing that."
Another favorite trick of hers is to take advantage of a buy-one-get-one free offer, and use a coupon for each item.
"I've learned about these things through doing research on the Internet and reading message boards," Cid said.
Her blog site also has a section for freebies, which includes everything from product samples to trial offers, and a section for baby and kids that groups offers on items such as baby food and diapers.
The blog attracts about 7,500 hits a month. Cid said she is trying to get a program off of the ground to send expired coupons to overseas U.S. military posts, where they can be used by military families on base.
Until then, she will keep clipping and searching for bargains to share.
"It's time consuming for me, but that's why I'm doing it, to save time for everybody else, Cid said.