How to Save Money on Groceries with Coupons: Buying your necessities and NOT stockpiling
The economy is a mess, the job market has fallen and the term “tight budget” has a whole new meaning to most. Times are hard, and everybody wants to save a buck anywhere they can, and most look to coupons to achieve this goal. I can remember helping my mother clip coupons and thinking to myself “when I grow up, I won’t ever have to clip coupons again.” Granted, I was young and didn’t quite understand the concept of saving money, but I can assure you I do now.
I, like many others, watched TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” and was in complete amazement. These people could rack up a bill of over $400 and pay less than $10.00. As I continued to watch I saw that the method they were using was stockpiling, and realized this wasn’t going to work for me because frankly, I wasn’t going to go to the store and buy twenty bags of potato chips just because I could. I was (and still am) shopping for a family of two adults, one dog, and several friends throughout the week and I was spending more than I thought was necessary. Frustrated because I needed to save money and was not willing to do the things the people on the show were doing, I did what any young lady would do; I called my mother. She gave me the guidance and structure I needed and I was off. The last 8 weeks I have been utilizing coupons, buying only what I need, never stockpiling and saving at least 50% every single time. Everything I have learned I can achieve in one simple transaction without splitting the order up according to products. The examples that I give are actual events that have happened to me, so they are as relevant as possible. Here are some tips and tricks that I have learned:
When I started I had one pocket folder that I shoved all of the coupons that I had clipped into, without any rhyme or reason, just out of sight. When I tried to go through the coupons, there wasn’t any order; it was clunky and it was not worth my time to drag them all out every time I wanted to search. Honestly, when this next part was introduced to me, I thought I was never going to attempt to use it, but in the end, it is the reason I am still using coupons.
All you need is a binder (I use a cloth binder with a zipper to close it completely), and baseball card collector sheets. I have small cardstock tabs that are labeled with categories that fit my needs such as “pets, laundry, frozen, produce” etc. I set these up and sort my coupons by laying them on the cardstock labels. I then have folder tabs within my notebook separated in the same categories with the baseball card collector. I then put the coupons in the baseball card slots so that all of the information I need is visible. At first I thought this was going to take more time than it was worth, but I found that it really only takes me about 30 minutes to clip, sort and archive the coupons, and that is at the same time as drinking my coffee and watching the morning news.Note: I do not buy multiple papers with multiple inserts, I work only with one set of inserts a week, therefore I am not mass-producing clipped coupons. Depending on your family size, and your needs, you may need to use extra inserts and put in more time sorting. You can choose to bring this binder with you if you feel like you may need to look for other savings and coupons, but I choose to leave it at home.
Know the rules of the stores you shop:
I only shop at one store when it comes to coupons, mostly because this is the same store my mother shops at, but also because it is the only store locally that doubles coupons. I shop at Price Chopper; their store policies I have found are mostly the same around the country, although districts do their sale flyers separately. I have mostly learned by making mistakes, such as how many coupons they can double in one transaction, whether you must buy two items to get a buy one get one deal, and limits on products. I have found that in Price Chopper in southern Vermont, you can double up to 4 coupons on the same item. This just recently changed within the last few weeks, they used to only double up to 2 coupons on the same item. You must buy two items to get the buy one get one deal, unlike some stores where you can just get one at half the price. There are some deals that you must buy a total amount of products to get a deal, for example, you must buy 4 cases of soda to be able to use the store coupon. Their flyers will normally feature special “store coupons” such as a coupon to triple any manufacturer coupon, a coupon for specific items in the flyer (buy 5 ears of corn for .99¢ with flyer coupon) or even a coupon that can be used alongside of a manufacturer coupon.
Price chopper requires that you have an “advantage card” to be able to use flyer coupons as well as to double any coupons. You must have this card to receive any buy one get one sales as well as any other store sales that they feature. This card is free and is a simple sign up process, and as you use your advantage card you also earn points towards your next tank of gas. Every $50 worth of groceries that you buy earns you .10¢ off from your next tank of gas up to $2.00 off. They feature special brands in their flyers that will earn you up to .30¢ off with an amount spent less than the normal $150.00 required. You must have them swipe your advantage card before they scan any coupons to ensure that the coupons get doubled, and be sure to hand all coupons to the cashier after they have scanned all of your items. If the cashier scans the coupons before the item is rung in, the coupon will zero out and will not be added after the product is scanned.
Price chopper in my area will only double coupons up to $1.00, and if the coupon says “do not double” they will not double the coupon. Unlike what you see on the television show, you cannot get money back on products by using coupons in my local Price Chopper. If you buy bandages on sale at .99¢, and you have a coupon for .50¢ which doubles to be a $1.00 off, you will not get the penny back; you will just get the product for free.
How to save money:
The trick to using coupons and saving money is to pair your coupons with the sales that are happening at your local store. The most important part to this article is the point that you will not most likely walk out of the store not paying anything; you will still have a grocery bill, but it will be much cheaper than if you were to impulse shop without coupons. I used to shop by going once a month and doing one big shopping trip out of state at a big box superstore.
The trick to saving money with coupons at your local store is to go every week, and shop for what is on sale. We now shop and make our weekly food decisions by the guidance of the store’s flyer, and they know this. They will work to incorporate the coupon items featured in inserts into their flyer sale items to ensure the best price possible. They get reimbursed for the coupons that are used, so it is in their best interest to make the process easy for the consumer. This obviously was a big change for me, and being somebody that hates shopping in general, it was hard for me to go every weekend. But as I started to see more products in my house along with more money in my pocket, I started seeing this as a positive thing, and the dread of the event lessened. I won’t lie, I have certain products that I will only purchase a certain brand, such as toothpaste, tuna fish and toilet paper, but because I know this, I can buy a little extra when it is a good deal.
Start with picking up the flyer for your local store (mine comes with the coupon inserts) and just look through the flyer. I primarily don’t even get the coupons out until I have looked through the flyer and made a list of the necessities that we need for that week. Once you have looked through, get your coupons out and start matching them to your sale flyer. This is where you will find most of your savings: if you see that laundry detergent is on sale for $3.00, and you happen to have a coupon for $3.00 off that brand, you have just successfully bought a product at no cost to you. For our family of two, plus one dog that sheds a lot, I would pick up a maximum of two to three products because I can justify buying multiple. This is the extent of stockpiling for me, which includes only a few items; paper products, cleaning products and certain beauty and hygiene products. During the summer months I will buy a few extra of products that we go through very quickly in the warm months, such as BBQ sauce, mustard, bottled water etc.
Don’t be easily swayed just because it is in the flyer:
Don’t be fooled with some of the pricing in the flyers; sometimes it is cheaper to buy one product of a different brand than it would be to buy the item on sale, even if you have a coupon. For example: The flyer states that type A, 50oz. laundry detergent is on sale for $5.99. You happen to have a coupon for $1.00 off that your store will double, but to redeem the coupon you need to buy (2) of the products. You now are looking at buying the two at $11.98, and after the coupon $9.98 for 100oz. of type A laundry detergent. There is type B laundry detergent that is not on sale, but is offered in a larger container of 150oz at $8.99. You happen to have a coupon for this product for $3.00 off which now makes 150oz at $5.99 instead of the sale plus coupon option with type A detergent of $9.98 for 100oz. If you are prepared to do a little quick math and compare pricing, you can save a lot of money without the product even being on sale.
Ways to save on meat and produce:
I personally have found that it is very rare to find coupons for any sort of produce or fresh meat; it is mostly for canned products and frozen products. The coupons I do find are normally in the sale flyer for the store itself, or for special produce items like “gourmet” tomatoes that are more expensive even on sale.
Invest in a food saver machine of some sort, something that will keep your food as fresh as possible in the freezer. We use this every single time we buy meat, and it lasts for 6 months plus. This enables us to be able to shop for meat as it is on sale, instead of what we need for that particular week. I have found that during the summer months, our local store features a lot of red meat due to the grilling season, cookouts and social gatherings. We eat a favorable amount of chicken as well, but I have found that the store will put boneless chicken breasts on sale only 3-4 times in the summer, although they do feature other cuts of chicken. When it does go on sale I am able to buy 2 family packs of about 9 chicken breasts in each for under $20.00, which will last us 7-10 dinners First it is on sale already, and then because I choose to buy it in a family pack, I get an additional savings. Because we can freeze this, we can stock up on the meat, which allows us to only buy meat when it is on sale. Our store always has great sales on larger cuts of steaks, and most recently they were running a buy one get one free sale on top round London broil. Being a latecomer that week I saw that they only had very large cuts of meat, but realized that I could cut that up myself. So I was able to get a $17.00 piece of steak free, and after cutting it up and freezing it we were able to get 6 meals out of $35.00 worth of meat that I only paid $17.00.
Fresh produce goes actually really fast in my house, so I am ok with buying a little extra because it doesn’t get wasted and it’s good for us. I love fresh mozzarella and will only splurge if it is on sale. The way that our store normally does the sale is a buy one get one free sale, and they normally run the pizza dough the same sale right next to the cheese. For us, this would normally go bad, however, pizza crust and mozzarella both freeze really well. This is not only a great way to use your buy one get one free sale, but it a great way to have a frozen pizza homemade and ready for you. I don’t always buy the pizza dough, but any cheese, if it is packages correctly will freeze really well. I’m not saying to go and stock up because it freezes well; keep in mind that most stores will the same food consistently, just different brands.
Don’t let the marketing specialists get you:
I can’t let this part go unmentioned due to the fact that I studied marketing strategies and implementation in my undergrad years. I always say I won’t fall for that old trick, but really I fall for so them so many times and realize after, you would thinking I’m a newbie. Lets begin with product placement, as I said earlier, they put the pizza dough on sale right next to the mozzarella that is also on sale. Did I go into the store considering making pizza? No. Am I going to buy it and go home and make pizza? Yes, I am now. Product placement is a way to persuade buyers to rationalize to their buying trends. When I went into that store, I saw the cheese and the crust and I put two and two together to think of the pizza idea all on my own (or at least that is my story when I get home). Now, being a seasoned marketer/shopper I would never fall for that! Well, you put a nice buy one get one free on those products, and I’m putty in their hands.
The candy aisle… I think that is enough said right there.
Have you ever thought to yourself, why on earth would these people make these sales an odd number? For example, 5 ears of corn for .99¢, you think, why can’t they just make it six! Well, think about this: if you want to make it even for two people to have two ears of corn each, and then have two left over for the next night leftovers you will need 6 right? Well, to make that happen, you now need to buy double the sale, and get 10 ears of corn.
Keep in mind, if you choose to buy extra of something because it is on sale, for example apples, and then make it into an apple pie, remember that although you saved money on the apples, the store got you to buy the crust, spices and so on. Store marketing is tricky like that, they know exactly how to get your attention, and then coax you into buying.
Stick to your list:
I challenge myself to make a budget and stick to it, which means the way that I succeed, is to stick to the list that I make. I first learned this lesson when I went with a budget and a list, and came out spending twice as much. Had I stuck to my list, I would have actually came out $1.80 under budget, but instead I threw in a few impulse items, that doubled my bill very quickly. This lesson also taught me the value of the sales flyer and the coupons though, and I’m glad it was a lesson I learned early on, or I would have been frustrated wondering where my funds disappeared. The best way that I have found to make my list, stolen from my Grandmother and still the best idea in my mind, is to write it on a long white envelope. It is the perfect size to hold in your hand while shopping, it can easily be folded and put in your back pocket or purse, and the best part is that it can hold all of your coupons with your list. On my list I clearly write the price that the item will be, including the sale and if there is a coupon. This way when I go to the store and I need to compare the prices, I easily have the information right in front of me.
Continue to challenge yourself and brag about your savings:
When I first thought about couponing, my fiancé looked at me and said, “do you really think it is going to save us that much if we don’t stockpile like they do on TV”? At first I had my doubts, but it was about 4 weeks into the process that I came home and told him that I had spent 140.00 for 2 weeks of shopping (that included 2 poker games, a camping trip and regular weekly food) which is much more than normal, but I had saved $96.00. His mouth dropped and not only was he impressed, but he bragged to others how much we were saving.
You need to have patience, and more so you need to understand that if you want to save without stockpiling, you will need to pay for your groceries. However, if you budget, shop smart, and utilize the store savings along with your coupons, you can save an amazing amount of money.