Thursday, February 04, 2010

learning to coupon

A couple of weeks ago, I began researching how to coupon. I'm still in the midst of this, but so far, I've learned a lot, and am happy to report that I've already saved some money as well.  I have other friends who are trying to learn about this, so I thought I would share what I've found so far.

So far, my best website I've found in explaining all of this and listing all the deals is: If you go to the tutorial section, there are 3 short videos you can watch, and they are VERY helpful in breaking down the system. The tutorial section also has things such as a post on the "lingo" she uses, so you'll be able to begin being able to decipher what all those words/codes mean. The website also has a number of major grocery stores listed and all of the deals that are currently available at them. The website actually goes through the weekly circulars telling which deals are available, and pairs them with coupons that you can get either through your newspaper, online, or loaded onto your grocery card. I've learned so much already. While I'm nowhere near one of those ladies who buys $400 worth of groceries for $80, I did save quite a bit of money this week. I saved about 45% at the drug store, and almost 40% at the grocery store, which I do not think is bad for my first two attempts. And I think that the more I can stock up on the front end, the more I'll save down the road, not to mention learning how to maximize things like coupons better. 

Here are some tips that I have found very helpful. I do highly recommend going to the Southern Savers website if you are really interested in all of this, because she explains things better, more accurately, and more thoroughly than I ever could.  I am NO expert, so I hope I am not coming across like I think I know it all. That is the last thing I want to sound like!! I am still learning all of this, but I sometimes find that I learn the most from friends. That said, I am just sharing what I've learned as a friend to you, for what it's worth. Here's what I've gathered so far:

1. Stores like Wal-Mart do not necessarily have the lowest prices, contrary to what everyone might think (though I have friends who buy certain products there because they do feel they can get the best prices on certain things). I thought this for years and have been trucking out to wally world because I thought I was using our money most wisely there. Basically, while stores like this do have "bottom line" prices, they do not run weekly specials like other stores. That said, if you watch sales and use coupons on items that are ALREADY on sale, then you probably can save much more money at a regular grocery store than Wal-Mart. Here's an example: This week I bought packets of Kraft natural cheese for about $1(they were on sale and I had coupons), and would normally pay closer to $3 for this. In fact, I would not normally even buy Kraft, because I always thought the store brand was the best deal, which brings me to my next point.

2. Store brands are not necessarily the best deal! If you watch for sales and brand name items and use coupons on top of them, you will save a lot more money than you would had you bought the store brand. You just have to watch for sales in the circulars, and try to buy a little extra of those things to stock up.

3. How does this work? Apparently, every store goes in cycles with how they price things. In the south, these cycles last approximately 6 weeks, and about every 9 weeks in the north. The circulars come out once a week. So if you save these circulars for a few weeks and notice how things change, you can learn your store of choice and start to see how that cycle goes.  In doing this, you can stock up on things that are on sale and wait to buy other things that are not essential until they go on sale. An example might be the Kraft cheese. I normally buy bags of cheese weekly, but yesterday I bought 6 bags because they had a special and I used coupons on top of that. So while I spent a little more money than I might normally spend on cheese because I bought 6 bags, I still saved a lot of money and will not have to buy cheese again for several weeks (you can also freeze bags of cheese). Obviously there will be things that you have to have weekly, like milk, and you won't get coupons for these things. But, if you can use coupons on most packaged goods, then you will save money. And apparently even things like milk can fluctuate in prices somewhat. So if you have the room and you notice the week when milk is at its lowest price (because most items fluctuate weekly according to what I've read), then you could potentially buy two weeks' worth and still save a little bit (granted you can use it up before the expiration date if it is something perishable). And there is no need to stock up obsessively over any item, because since stores run off cycles, that same item is bound to go on sale again soon.

4. Coupons. I never had any luck with coupons because A) I didn't need that item that particular week that I clipped it, B) the store brand still seemed cheaper, and C) I would lose them or forget to use them. But what I've learned is that you should keep your coupons in a file folder according to date, and save them for when the item is on sale at the store. Some people even suggest not cutting them until you need them, to save time. If you use a site like Southern Savers, you will not have to research this yourself. She goes through and pairs specials up with coupons for you, so you can just make your list.  If you do this, like I've already said, then you will save more. Also, many stores double coupons up to $.60 or less automatically, and some do this every day. Check with your store about their policy.
It is also a good idea to get more than one set of coupons from the Sunday paper. A good suggestion is to buy one copy and ask for additional ones from friends or relatives who don't use them.

5. Stacking coupons. You can use a combination of a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon or coupon loaded onto your grocery card (some stores have this option online...go to southern savers for more on this), all on the same item. And if you have two manufacturer's coupons that are each good for, say, $1 off 4 items, then you can buy 8 items and use both coupons because you've used one per set. So if you have two manufacturer's coupons and 2 store coupons, and the item is already on sale, you've saved a lot of money. Frozen veggies are a great thing to do this with, especially when they are 10 for $10, as are many other items that you might really use weekly. And I will also add that frozen veggies are wonderful and are sometimes more nutritious than the items in the produce section that are not grown locally and have been transported from across the country, stored in warehouses, and then have been sitting out already picked for a while before you get to them. Frozen veggies are often picked at their peak and retain a good amount of nutrition. The same goes for fruit (though frozen fruit can still be pricey and you usually don't see it going for deals such as 10 for $10).

5. Printing coupons. Many sites are available for this. Some are good, some are not. Go to a site like  Southern Savers and you'll learn more about which sites are good. Some sites try to find out too much personal information or require things like surveys, and they aren't worth it. Something else to note is that most printable coupons will let your printer print them twice. You will then need to wait until the company resets these coupons to be able to print them again down the road.

6. Loading coupons on your card. You can also find this at Southern Savers or a comparable website. There are a couple of online services for loading coupons onto your "plus" card, such as cellfire and shortcuts. All you do is enter some information, including your "plus card" information (NOT your credit card or anything personal like that), and some basic info such as your phone number and address, and then it will bring up a list of coupons you can click on that will automatically be sent to your card. So when you to go to the store and buy an item on sale and you've also got a coupon loaded onto your card that you'll scan, you've just saved even more. I did find out, however, that you probably can't use both a manufacturer's coupon and a electronic coupon loaded onto your card, because they are both manufacturer's coupons. So you might want to check on that. But still, just having coupons on the card you scan is very helpful. 

7. Manufacturer website coupons. Many manufacturers will give you at least one coupon just for giving them your email address and maybe signing up for a newsletter. And they will reset coupons sometimes so you can go back and print certain ones again in the future.

8. Rx transfers-many stores often have coupons for $25 gift cards or $25 of free groceries simply for transferring one Rx to their store. Not bad! I did this recently and in the same shopping trip bought two bags of frozen chicken on sale, so it was like I bought them for free and still had money left over. 

9) Coupons on the back of your receipts. Just yesterday I noticed the back of three grocery receipts (that I normally would tear up and throw away) all had coupons for good deals at restaurants that I frequently go to. I could have been using these all along, but I just never took the time to pay attention. I clipped those and will be using them soon!

Basically, I have always done my weekly grocery shopping based entirely on what we were out of, cooking for dinner that week, or in need of for a new recipe. And I rarely bought anything else because I always thought there was not enough room in my budget to stock up on anything else. Well, there wasn't any extra money, most likely because I was going into the store and paying a high price on things because I did not understand how to pair sales with coupons or know when items are at their lower price. By doing this from now on, I hope to be able to have a little extra money to stock up on certain items, and that will put me in a cycle of buying certain things on certain weeks, so that part of my budget is always going towards the items to "stock up" on.  I may even have a little left over for something fun that I might normally want to get but can't, though my main objective is to save money. But this type of longer range shopping makes so much more sense than how I've always done things. I just needed someone to explain it to me.

How I plan to do this:

1) I am going to try and keep all my store circulars for the next 6-8 weeks, and store them by date in folders. I will monitor the cycle of how things go on sale, so I'll be able to predict what might be going on sale soon. In each folder, I will also store coupons I've found online or from magazines, newspapers, or things that come in the mail, and wait to clip them until I am about to use them.  I'll save these and use them when they apply to a sale item.
2) Load coupons onto my store plus card weekly
3) Go to southern savers and let her do all the homework so that I can see a list of all the sale items and how coupons are paired with them. I can't imagine having to do this all myself. There is just not enough time in the day!
4) Each week when I get the store circular, I will circle all the sale items that we use. I'm not going to stock up on things that we would not normally eat or use, because that isn't really saving money from my point of view (though I do know people who do this and get things for free with coupons and save them for charity or food boxes for those in need, and that is a great idea). I will then pair coupons with these things and make my grocery list. Even though not everything on my grocery list will fall into a sale category (like milk), I will still be saving on the bulk of packaged goods.
5) Calculate weekly savings to see how I am doing.
6) Base my meals off of the circulars and items that I've gotten on sale, rather than looking through tons of recipes and trying to come up with some sort of spectacular menu (which rarely ends up being spectacular!). I plan on still trying new recipes and having a variety of recipes, but I will use this as a starting point, which will also be nice in how it will help narrow recipe options down.

Here are some other websites you might like:

I think the more I do this, the more it will make sense and the quicker it will become. Some things I want to avoid in this are:

1) Not spending too much time hunting down the "perfect" deal. This takes time away from my family, housework, and personal downtime, and can be never-ending (not to mention lead to quick burn-out).
2) Greed. I can see how people can become stuck on getting as much as they possibly can squeeze out of their dollar to the point of being obsessive. I certainly do not want to do this. 
3) Not buying too many processed foods. For a long time I reasoned that I could not use coupons because I don't like to buy many processed foods, and I thought couponing would lead to buying more processed, unhealthy foods. I can see how it becomes easy for a lot of them to creep into your diet when you use coupons, because that is what the coupons are for a lot of the time. However, since I DO buy certain processed foods, I will stock up on THOSE items when they are on sale so that I am not paying the highest price. And, a big area you can save is on beauty/cleaning/paper/plastic products, even if you do not want to purchase processed foods.

I hope this helps any of you who are interested in learning how to save more on groceries. I welcome any other suggestions or tips if you have any, so please pass them along!

1 comment:

LC² said...

Nancy, I was directed to your blog by Katie Marks' and I love it!! I will be adding you to my list. Love all the yummy recipes!! I know you are good friend with Jill. I go to 2PC and I'm in M101. I too am getting into couponing. I really admire your heart in the last points about not becoming greedy or obsessive or buying what you don't need. So important! I recently wrote a blog about how I go about couponing. Keep up the good work and southernsavers has helped me get so many great deals and stuff for free. I picked up 20 free photos from Walgreens yesterday and also got a free Redbox rental from Kroger. Sure, that's only about $5 worth of stuff, but it's fun! Hope to see you around.