Finding your own way

In yesterday’s post there was some discussion in comments about what I call ultra-couponing — you know, folks who are so good at working the coupon system that stores just about come out owing them money.  I had my yearly twinge of angst, wondering if I ought to once again try to get serious about combining coupons with sales.  Maybe I could drag my grocery budget even lower.

Thing is, I’ve tried it sincerely and repeatedly over the years, and have never been able to find my happy place when couponing.   Too many of the items are processed food that we don’t eat.  Coupons expire.  Sizes and brands in stores are elusive.  Sure, I use the occasional coupon.   But ‘serious’ couponing makes me crazy.

That doesn’t mean I’m a spendthrift.  I’m doing all sorts of stuff that saves money and that I also find personally enjoyable.  I make my own biscuits and salad dressing.  I love to shop at yard sales and thrift stores.  I sew. I can.  I put great homemade meals on the table all week long.

I’m doing enough.  I don’t have to get all angst-y about lifestyle choices that don’t suit me.

I was talking with friends recently about mothering  A wise friend shared the pull she felt as a new homeschooling mom, trying to find the ‘best’ way to do things.  She’d see something that was working for a friend and want to try it.  Except when she tried to emulate a friend’s plan, it wasn’t right for the unique constellation of people in her own precious family.  That didn’t mean she was a failure at it– just that the plan didn’t fit her family.

As she grew in maturity, she came to see that it wasn’t her job as a mom to copy someone else’s plan.  It was her job to meet her own unique family’s needs, by God’s grace and to the best of her ability.

And guess what?  As moms we are part of the family too.  Our needs matter too.  It’s OK to try something, realize it is not doable for us, and lay it aside in favor of something that doesn’t cause us so much stress.  Yes, that sometimes means rejecting ideas that on first glance seem really great.  But no mom can do everything and if a plan is as comfy on you as a hair shirt, it’s OK to move on to something that gives you more peace as a mom.

I’ve got respect for moms who make plans work that don’t suit me.  And I’m always willing to consider something new that might be a good fit for us. But once I’ve tried something that turns out to be a fail for us?  I’m going to let it go without a smidge of worry.  Because my life isn’t like anyone else’s, and it’s OK good and right to choose a family logistics plan that is as unique as the people in it.  In fact, it may just be a major part of finding peace in life as a mother.


  1. Mary! I think this is one of my favorite posts of your ever. Let me explain a little further…

    I found you through clicking, and clicking and clicking-mostly from other ‘big family’ blogs, thinking “Wow, if they can do it with 6 or 7 or 10 kids, I bet I could learn something from them.” While, yes, I have learned a many things (and made some great friends in the process,) not every technique that works for you, with 10 kids, would work for me, with 3.

    This is really smart. Thanks.

  2. Susan B-A says:

    Very wise, Mary. There’s a trend in education to move away from the language of “Best Practice” toward “Effective Practice”. I think this move speaks to parenting as well. The notion that there even is a “best” is ridiculous. What’s best for one child might not even be best for the same child tomorrow. As moms, we need to stay focused on effective. What works for the child standing in front of me, right now? What works for ME, right now? Effective is good enough. In fact, it might even be best.

  3. I have the same problem with couponing- so much processed foods and products that have so many chemical ingredients!! BTW, I bought your book, and we are loving the recipes!!

  4. Love this post!

  5. Great post Mary! I do sometimes ultra coupon. It can be very stressful and it can also give you a really great feeling of ‘wow did I save some money’! When I first started couponing a few years ago I felt I had to get (or try to) every deal out there. Talk about stress! While I was paying pennies for items, I was just too stressed trying to get all of these great deals. I finally gave myself permission to stop and only get deals I really wanted. Now I still do them but only for household items. We do not use many processed items so most of those coupons I don’t bother with. I also gave myself permission to skip the entire month of Dec and most of Jan. There will always be a deal to find. Always. I think as moms we need to find what works for us and not worry about what someone else is doing whether it be couponing, schooling or household chores.

  6. Great post! (My mom and sister are couponing fiends–I can’t stand it, unless I have a great coupon that I can use for something I need right away–I hate holding on to coupons).

    But, the reason why I thought that this was a good post is because it stresses the point that what works for one person may not work for another. And what works for awhile might not work forever. By trying new things and finding what works for us as moms and as people, we show a great example for our children of problem solving and flexibility, of understanding that everyone is different and so are their needs, and that we should not judge ourselves against someone else who it looks like has it all together.

    Thank you!

  7. Mary, isn’t it freeing to get to the place in your life when you have the confidence to know that something isn’t right for your family? I’ve gotten better at sorting through all of the “good” to find the “best” of what works for us at this season of life. What works for one family, may be a disaster for mine.

    I used to can, dry fruit, and bake my own bread — then we added four adopted children to our family, three of whom have special needs, and those things that used to be “best” for us, had to be set aside. Families change over the years and the way we live our lives has to flex and adjust as well. It can be painful at times, but it is good to be free to let things go.

    I may not bake bread these days, or can applesauce (I do feel a teensy twinge of guilt over that), but I spend my days loving my family and meeting their needs to the very best of my ability — all by the grace of God.


  8. couponing here in Canada is not at all the same as in the USA. I don’t know any stores that “double” or Triple ever. It was quite the thrill when we lived in the US and they did this but we came back to Canada and really, if they would just lower the price all across the board? and a “low price” be a low price? I’m sure more people could eat and afford more “real” food.

  9. Thank you Mary. I so needed to read this today. I have had this idea of how I want my homeschooling day to go… and after 9 years, you might think I figured it out. But no, each year seems to present new challenges. The same approach never works for us two years in a row. Over the last few weeks I have been seriously looking for something that WILL meet our needs, and I think I found it. BUT, it’s so far from what my ideal is. Not even close. But with the new plan, the kids will get their work done, I won’t be constantly wondering which child I have neglected to have read that day, and I won’t have to hover and be constantly on them. I totally misjudged how adding a toddler to our family would impact our homeschooling (oops). So, with the new plan I go. I just really needed to read this today – as I have been struggling back and forth for at least a month.

  10. Brilliant post. Found you through Headless Mom. I’m a homeschooling mom and I often feel “left out” among my circle of friends because they all seem to do things a certain way and I do things differently. I’m learning to get over that feeling and embrace the fact that “my way” is the best way for MY family.

  11. Great post! I agree coupons are not for everyone. I coupon quite a bit and not only love the things I pick up for free but also all the stuff I’m able to donate as well. My sons school had a food drive around Thanksgiving time and we were able to donate over 800 food items… it was awesome to be able to give to people less fortunate.

    We are all so different and what works for some does not work for others… I totally agree… and maybe that’s the best part… that together we bring so many different talents/skills/hopes/dreams to the table…

    I love your blog Mary!
    And that you’re a mother to sooo many
    and that you garden
    and sew
    and have such a great outlook on life ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Mary,

    I think the reason coupons don’t work for your family is because you largely don’t do the processed/boxed foods, etc. like you say and tend to cook from scratch. A lot of families would do tons of convenience foods, with or without coupons, and it really does save them money. For us, it really didn’t work too well either. I did the whole major couponing for a few months and felt AWESOME every time I “saved” 50-70% off my bill. What ended up happening, though, was that I had a pantry full of processed foods bought in fairly large quantities that lost their appeal really quickly (even though they were things we liked) and they didn’t save us money in the long run. It took MONTHS for us to use all the food we had acquired (very begrudgingly in a lot of cases) and it was a constant struggle that required me making a complete inventory several times to plan what we needed to use before it expired. I’ve since decided to only shop for the week, and to keep staple ingredients for true from-scratch items on hand. I still look for sales of the few boxed/bagged/toiletry itemsthat we definitely use (like ketchup, baked beans, laundry detergent) and stock up when optimal, but I don’t feel as stressed about the “food clutter” in my pantry or as pressed to eat what I don’t want anymore (that was on sale!) for months at a time. I remember that you posted a list of staples that you kept on hand for your newly married daughter. I can’t find it when I search. Could you please repost it or email it to me? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!!!

  13. I agree, I’d like to ultra-coupon, but we don’t eat a lot of that stuff (I’m gluten free) and so I just stick to over the counter meds and bathroom and cleaner coupons. We also dont do double and triple coupons here, so I never get the same results as some other women did. and that’s ok, like you said what works for one, won’t work for the other. What my bf with 2 boys can do, my family of 5 kids can’t, that’s just what makes families unique.

    Great post!

  14. This is along the line of what a co-worker and I were discussing this morning. We were discussing the different decisions moms (parents) make with newborns. We came to the conclusion that any choice that makes the mom uncomfortable is the wrong decision for that mom.

  15. Hear, hear. I love that blogs let me peek into the inner workings of other women’s households to give me great ideas for my own, but I get frustrated with bloggers who seem to feel their way is the best/only way. What works for one family may not work as well even a few months down the road.

  16. Thanks for the wisdom. Sometimes early on in mothering the guilt of not doing it “all” can drvie us to do things that are not necessary. Again, I appreciate your wisdom, experience and balanced approach.

  17. Thanks for such a great post! As a relatively new wife and mother I’m learning that things that seem to work great for others don’t really work for us and that’s okay. And things that work well for my family may not work well for others.

    Lots of great comments on this post too!

  18. I LOVE this post. I too often think I’m not doing things right because it isn’t like my peers whom I admire so much. I don’t scrapbook, I don’t make handmade jewelry and sell it on etsy, I don’t homeschool and I don’t do super couponing (though I do keep some coupons around and occasionally get a few good deals). While I think all of these things are great they are just not me. It’s great to be reminded that I’m okay doing things my own way.

  19. I think this idea can definitely apply to families in many different ways, and it’s encouraging to know that I am not the only one who sometimes feels the angst. I got into coupons pretty crazily for a while. After a while I burned out and settled into a more occasional use of them. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I actually learned how to cook a lot more from scratch, and began to try to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. Every once in a while I feel like I should give it another shot, but judging by the amount of stuff I threw out when I cleaned out our pantry recently I realize it’s crazy to burden myself in order to buy foods that we would probably end up not eating. I feel a strange sense of freedom.

  20. I understand about the coupons – we hardly eat anything processed as well, so I never have any to use. I enjoy cooking as well, so it’s no big deal for me to spend a little extra for the “good” stuff and just make things like salsa, spaghetti sauce and things like that from scratch! Love your blog!

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I have troubled over curriculum for several years because the one I was raised learning from, and the one I wanted to use, is so unpopular. I kept trying to figure out what was wrong with it, while convincing myself that other curriculum, or non-curriculum, was “better.” I finally last fall embraced the fact that this curriculum (have been made to feel like this curriculum is “evil” if there ever were such a thing – like it’s the worst of the worst) is perfect for us. Not just because I did all my schooling through it, but it works. It makes sure that each child has some degree of education every day, and I’m not neglecting anyone, or leaving the baby to cry in the corner. I love the IDEA of many things out there – FIAR, Charlotte Mason, unit studies – but they don’t work for me. They just stress me out. I heartily applaud the message of your post, and recognize that it can be applied to couponing, schooling, and so many other areas. It sure feels nice to be ME in the middle of our school day now. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. I would love to coupon but over here in the UK supermarkets will only let you use coupons up to the value of 10% of the total.

  23. This a very encouraging post to me as a young mother. While I try to be as successful in some tasks as some other moms and roll models in my life, I feel proudest of myself when I find my own way.

    As far as couponing goes, I’ve had moderate luck but nothing extraordinary. Like most commenters here, mostly household goods. We moved to a new area last summer and quit getting some of the good coupon pamphlets in the mail. Turns out, I can’t get those particular coupons mailings here unless I subscribe to the local newspaper. Kind of frustrating. Once we get a working
    printer though, I plan on giving it another shot.

  24. “it wasnโ€™t right for the unique constellation of people in her own precious family”…what a beautiful line!
    What a special job we have as mothers to work on finding and “tweaking” the system that will most effectively minister to our families!
    Thanks for sharing these encouraging thoughts, Mary!

  25. I just do simple couponing. I use an intranet coupon site and my mom in law brings me coupons she finds in newspapers. During my lunch hour I read the sales flyers at the 2 grocery stores we have here. I pair any coupons I have with the sales and save that way. I also try to buy what is on sale in the ad (if we need it). There are a lot of processed food coupons but places like Safeway actually have coupons for produce. I mostly use those coupons and ones for toiletries.

  26. Beautiful, wise and timely post, Mary. Thank you! There’s a “money-saving” website that’s giving lots of tips on how to lower one’s grocery bill and it’s giving a lot of people a lot of guilt/worry because they can’t do the same thing. Thank you for reminding us that every family is different and not one way is right. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Please post your salad dressing recipe. I really want a healthier dressing, preferably creamy (we have our own goat milk to use), but I’ve never found a good recipe. I just don’t like oil and vinegar dressings. Yummy, organic, homegrown salads topped with store-bought goo just doesn’t seem right.

  28. Totally agree, Mary! I’m another who hasn’t found a happy place with couponing, and I’m much happier when I’m not heavily engaged in that (and I think we eat better too, but that’s kinda beside the point). It’s what works for me at this point in time, and I’m quite at peace with it.

  29. Great post Mary! This is definitely my favorite post to date of reading your blog. My sister and I run into this so often! I love hearing about new techniques to make everything easier, but God knows I have had to abandon quite a few that just didn’t work for myself and my family. I believe that every abandoned technique makes us that much more efficient! It’s all about trial and error!

    On a side note, I just can’t figure out couponing either!

    Thank you Mary for such wonderful words of wisdom. God Bless! ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. Katherine says:

    This was a great post, thanks so much. It seems like so many things geared towards women in general is how to be more organized, lose more weight, have perfect homes, raise our kids just so, and it can be overwhelming and produce alot of unnecessary guilt and worry. Thanks for the reminder that it is okay to not do it all as long as you are doing your best for your family. I just ordered both of your books and I cannot wait to read them. Thanks again!

  31. Ahhh! Someone who gets it! And someone who gives herself and others grace! What a gift!

    When I moved to Canada, not only did I get hit over the head with parenting advice books of a particular variety as soon as folks noticed I was pregnant, but some American friends and family were giving me headaches over my grocery bill and the fact that I don’t coupon. I felt like a broken record telling people about why I wasn’t into their particular parenting book (there’s one popular one in our area especially in churches that gives me nightmares and only the nurses and doctors around me agree with my perspective), and trying to explain the concept of quotas for meat and dairy to my American friends. And then to try to explain that we do whole foods and fresh foods that aren’t found in a box was not easy either. I finally just gave up trying to explain myself and let them advise away, giving myself grace in private to do what ends up working for my little family.

    If we mamas were all so good at giving grace to each other, well, I can’t even imagine how great the benefits would be. But learning to give grace to yourself first, as you do in your own life, is the first step I think. Thanks for this post. And now I can release myself from guilt for not saving $5 off the purchase of Frosted Flakes at Walgreens. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  32. Mary, reading this post I thought about how little I hear mothers giving other mothers advice. It seems like more and more women may have caught on to the idea that unless you are asked, be quiet.

  33. Can’t believe I almost missed this… Great post, Mary! I need to hear this over and over again!

  34. Such truth about all of mothering. Thank you!

  35. AMEN!!! Love, Love, Love this post. Thanks so much. Of course, I knew all this but just to hear another busy mom say it out loud just lifted the weight of the coupon world off my shoulders. I’ve tried, I really have, and…IT MAKES ME CRAZY!!! I honestly have felt like such a loser,(you know those unrealistic, self-imposed, expectations we moms LOVE to place on ourselves)but hey, I’m with you, I save money in all kinds of other ways. So hey, I don’t have to use coupons to be a Proverbs 31 woman. Thanks for giving me permission to cut myself a little slack!

  36. I’m over from BooMama’s blog and just wanted to thank you for this freeing post. I love what you shared about moms finding their own way. We need encouragement sometimes to do just that…to lay down all the comparing of ourselves and expectations that don’t belong and just be the mom’s God uniquely and individually created us to be.

    Thanks for this!

  37. “As moms we are part of the family too. Our needs matter too.”

    Yet that is SO easy to forget. Thanks for the reminder. ๐Ÿ™‚

  38. Thanks for this post Mary…I know, I read it a month and a half late but it was God’s timing! Just as I was sitting here beating myself up for not using some coupons that sat on my office desk till they expired. And you’re absolutely right, it’s possible to save money in other areas to allow more room in the grocery budget for real food. One thing I will do as far as coupons go, is “like” my favorite stores and brands on Facebook and/or subscribe to their newsletters. I will often email a company to tell them how much I enjoy their product, and I’ve gotten a lot of high-value coupons, samples and even free full-sized products of things we actually eat!!


  1. […] Mary at Owlhaven recently wrote a post that speaks of that freedom. You can find it here: Finding Your Own Way.   LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] was encouraged to read this post today by a very frugal mother of 10 who decided couponing wasn’t for her either. Her […]

  3. […] happened across this post from Mary at Owlhaven: Finding Your Own Way. I love what she says about trying new things and letting them go without a bit of guilt if they […]

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