Couponing 101

Posted by  | Monday, July 27, 2009  at 2:37 PM  
This weeks topic is "couponing" or the art of saving money by using coupons! We had been getting coupon questions for a while now - and now that Leah is into coupons too, we decided to make a week out of coupon tips. Later this week, she'll share some more tips - including how to play the "drugstore game" using coupons at places like CVS, Walgreens, etc.

I started using coupons in August of 2007. You can visit our family blog for some of my past deals to get an idea of what I'm regularly able to save. It would be really nice if I used labels on our blog, but I don't so you can find those deal posts here, here, here, and here. Here are some steps to saving at least 30% off your grocery bill:

1. Collect those coupons! Begin saving the coupon inserts from the Sunday paper each week. There are usually about two inserts in each paper, but look carefully. They are provided by Redplum, Smartsource and sometimes P&G Brandsaver. I would recommend saving coupons for several weeks BEFORE attempting to “use” them with the grocery game (or something similar).

We do not get the Sunday paper delivered anymore because we get plenty of coupons from our family. When I do need to get a paper, I buy it at the dollar store where it is only a $1!

2. Organize your coupons! I have tried several ways – it really depends on how you plan to use your coupons. Here are several options:
· Clip all coupons and file in a divided envelope (like a check file). This method is VERY time consuming, especially considering you will not use even half of your coupons.
· Clip all coupons and file in a 3-ring binder with see through baseball card pages. This method is even MORE time consuming and simply not necessary if you're using a list from either the grocery game or coupon mom.
· Clip all coupons and file in multiple dividers in a box of some kind. Again, very time consuming.
· Save all inserts intact and file by name (ie. RP for Redplum) and date. You would only clip the coupons you need each week!

I have tried all above options and currently use a hybrid of the last two options. My husband often helps me clip coupons before grocery trips and we both agree that this is the easiest way to do it! I keep my inserts filed in a 16 (I think) section portfolio binder. The sections are labeled by date and insert. When you get a list of deals for the week (either the grocery game or coupon mom) it will tell you where you find the coupon for that particular item.

The picture below is an example of a box with envelopes for each category where you would clip and file ALL coupons. I have previously used this box in that way, but now it is just the box I take to the store with me. I use the envelopes to file cut (but unused) coupons, coupons that came in the mail, etc. I also keep a calculator, pen, highlighter and scissors in my box!

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3. Compare coupons to store sales! This is truly the key to saving lots of money. You can do this step several ways. The idea is to pair up a sale with a coupon to maximize your savings.
· Subscribe to a service like The Grocery Game. (My method!)
· Obtain the sale fliers for you preferred store from the paper or the store website.
· Use a free service like The Coupon Mom.

4. Make a grocery list! Clip or find the coupons you’ll need and head to the store! Be sure to get to know coupon policies at your preferred grocery store. For example, I shop at Harris Teeter and they only double 20 coupons per purchase. If I need to buy more items than that (this is rare) then I’ll make two trips that week.

5. Head to the store! Bring your list and ALL of your clipped coupons. It is very often that I find clearanced items for which I have a coupon. I have gotten nearly free things at Target and Harris Teeter just by having my coupons with me.

Some helpful websites:

The Grocery Game – service provides lists specific to your store, matching coupons to sales.
The Coupon Mom – free service providing similar lists and coupon info
Savvy Dollar – NC specific message boards and deal info
Hot Coupon World
Everyday Saver – source for online coupons.
A Full Cup - this site includes an extensive coupon database of all coupons and where to find them.
Money Saving Mom – great money saving blog with some great couponing 101 posts.
Deal Seeking Mom - another great blog for couponing and other deals.
The Coupon Clippers – service where you can "buy" (really a small handling fee + shipping) coupons for those really good deals.


What if I don’t want to clip coupons?
Use a service like the coupon clippers. I often use this service to get extra copies of really good coupons! If you are using the GG, you can also save your coupon inserts and only clip needed coupons each week versus clipping all coupons every week!

How do you eat healthy and still use coupons?
This is probably the #1 reason people do not use coupons. Don't be sucked in by a coupon! I know when I first started using them I was tricked into buying a few things just because I had coupons! You don’t have to buy all the junk that you get coupons for! I only buy food that is healthy and that we can eat. The majority of the coupons I use are for non-food items. I save the most on things like shampoo, soap, razors, toilet paper, deodorant, etc. These savings allow me to buy plenty fresh produce, milk, eggs, meat and most of that organic or straight from the farm!

How much does the grocery game cost?
There is a FREE (just became free) 4 week trial! After that, one store list is $10 for 8 weeks. Each additional store is only $5 per 8 weeks. I cannot speak highly enough for this service as far as saving me time and money.

I buy only store brand items on sale, isn’t that cheaper than name brands?
No! I used to be a store brand only (and still am unless I have coupons) shopper. But there are rarely coupons for store brand items - Target being the exception. Frequently the name brands are cheaper when using coupons with sales. One thing to note is that to really save the most money, you can’t be too “brand loyal.” I used to buy only Charmin toilet paper, but now I use all brands and see a huge savings!

Can you use coupons at Walmart and Target?
Sure – but I don’t think the savings are any more than my local Harris Teeter. Walmart and Target do not double coupons like most grocery stores do. The Coupon Mom website includes lists for these stores. To be quite honest, neither store has a great track record for being "coupon friendly" and I am not usually happy with the produce and meat selections at these stores either.

Why do you pay for the Grocery Game when Coupon Mom is the same thing for FREE?
I have compared these two sites several times. The Coupon Mom seems to have slightly lower savings than the Grocery Game. (Both lists tell you percent savings on each item.) I believe this is because the Grocery Game doesn’t just simply pair coupons with sales. They track trends and know when the item is likely to reach its “rock bottom” price. Every time an item is on "sale" does not necessarily mean it is the best time to buy it. I see a higher savings using the Grocery Game.

After all that info, here is a rundown of my weekly coupon routine. Keep in mind that it has taken me two years to get to this point. When you first start with coupons - it will take TIME and it can be frustrating!

1. View and print my grocery game list on Sunday afternoon. (I only pay for a Harris Teeter list and it comes out on Sunday.)
2. Use MoneySavingMom or DealSeekingMom to find out my CVS deals for the week. Print a list of those as well. (More on CVS and other drugstores later this week!)
3. Using those lists, clip the coupons. This takes about 15-20 minutes depending on the length of my list.
4. Shop at Harris Teeter and CVS anytime between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening. (The Harris Teeter sales run from Wednesday to Tuesday - SO the grocery game list is only "valid" for that week from Sunday to Tuesday.) Usually Monday is my shopping day. However, I will shop CVS on Sunday if there are some really good deals that I will miss out on if I wait.

One final is important to remember that this method of using coupons is based upon the idea of "stockpiling." Meaning - you don't simply make a meal plan, make a grocery list and use a few coupons for items on your list. You buy items you know you'll need ahead of time - when they are cheapest - and base your meal plans on what you already have or will be getting that week. Does that make sense?

In the two years since couponing, we have been able to lower our grocery budget to about $60/week. (It used to be as low as $50 - but then I added a third child to my household during weekdays and needed some more wiggle room for that!) We also have more toiletry items than I can store and we frequently donate our overflow to the Urban Ministries in Raleigh.

I love that I am able to save my family so much money while also increasing our ability to serve others - whether by donations or by making a meal for someone or by having friends over for dinner! Please ask questions for now and stay tuned for more posts later this week!


Miranda said...

Southern savers is also a great website that posted grocery store matchups like Harris Teeter and Lowes Food.

mama lauren said...

I knew you wrote this post! Great job!

Josh and Donna said...

i now live in a super small town and ingles is my only option. any thoughts on ingles and the grocery game? (and rite aid is the only pharmacy...)

Leah said...

Money Saving Mom posts the weekly deals for Rite Aid. And you can visit the Ingles forum on Hot Coupon World to see the weekly deals. Hope that helps!

Curt, Mariah, & Carli Badura said...

Only $60 a week for groceries!! Does that include toiletries, diapers, formula, etc.?


Christina said...

Yes - but I don't buy formula and rarely need diapers (use cloth mostly). I do buy pullups though, and our budget includes that and toiletries. Like Leah said, I never pay for toiletries anymore - especially toothpaste, shampoo, soap, razors, etc.

Yesterday, my weekly trip to Harris Teeter was totaled at $41 and included a pack of Pullups. (It helps that it was "super double" coupon week...double any coupon up to 1.98) I do still need a few items that I'll make a trip to Target for later this week.

Cecilia said...

Southern Savers also posts deals for Ingles and Riteaid. I've also been using Keeping the Kingdom first as well for deals beyond groceries. Great post ladies!

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