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My Coupon Strategy for Grocery Shopping
I've started using coupons for grovery shopping about a year ago. Well, I tried and stopped several times over the last 2 decades but always found it frustrating so it happened in fits and starts. Then a little over a year ago, (long before "Extreme Couponing" hit the airwaves) it occurred to me that others must also be frustrated with the process and someone has had to have figured out a better system. I checked out the library and there were several books on the subject. I have tried to cull as much as possible from them to create a system that works well for my family. Please note, this is a work in progress.
The Fundamental Books
This is the book that got me started. The authors have a straight forward approach about how to get started and how to keep growing your stockpile. Still my favorite on the subject, I've returned to it several times to master a few techniques.
Another favorite. The author has a great approach that spells out what to do if you are getting started and what that technique will look like for an expert.
- First, keep a running grocery list throughout the week. I'm hate to go back into an aisle once I've covered it, so I created a grocery list that matches the aisles in my most common grocery store. It has the aisles as categories, the items we get most often under each and several spaces for write in items.
- We try to buy two of each item (sometimes more depending on how quickly we go through it). The rule for the house is once you open the last of the item in the house put it on the list. This ensures we never run out of items and usually gives us a it of time to search out a sale on the item.
- We (we means my husband and myself. we have a toddler son as well but he usually is playing and sometimes helping with the parts of the newspaper we are done with) plan our week and then plan our menu. Hopefully, we have done this before Sunday morning since it can take awhile to handle our commitments and the planning of swapping kid duty.
- Menu planning is key. We think about how much time we will have to cook, how many nights cooking will last us (we usually cook for 2 meals at a time) and what we already have in the pantry that can serve as the base of a menu.
- We do our shopping on Sunday. I believe in trying to shop for all your needs once a week and making do with what you have if you run out. This usually works but we have also run out for key items - milk and bread, and because we needed to change plans (i.e., a friend is coming over and I need sugar to make a dessert). The key is to find a day to shop for the week and stick to it.
- With a general sense of what we need and what we'd like to make for dinner, I then puruse the grocery store circulars to see which store will serve us best this week. This review may change our menu because of a good sale.
- Once I know which store, or if I need help to decide between 2, I will check out the blogs that brillant people have created to do some of the heavy lifting. Every store I use has a shopper who keeps a blog about the store. The shopper shows all the match ups of the coupons available with the sales at that store.
- We always shop two stores. The first is Bottom Dollar, a new discount grocery store for the Philadelphia regon. It have the basics and overwhelming the best prices around. We get the bulk of our fruits and vegetables here, as well as bread, milk, some staples and some meat. The second store will depend on the circular, but more often than not the best deals for what we buy is Shoprite.
- Once I have a list of the items, I then go to the coupons. The best method for me is cutting the coupons I think we might need/ want and putting them into a coupon organizer. We keep a list of coupons we definitely will use but want to wait for a sale. The list has expiration dates so as a date approaches I can decide if I want to just use the coupon even though there is no sale.
- Once I go through the paper coupons I have saved, I go to one or two of the coupon databases on the web. I input each of the items to see if there are coupons I missed or (and more likely) printable coupons. You can often use a paper coupon AND a printable coupon. I print out the ones that I plan to get that week.
- We take the list and the coupons to shop. I also bring a calculator, the circular, and reusable bags.
Both of the books listed have companion websites and each site has a coupon database. I love the idea that all the coupons are in the database and you put in the item you are planning to buy and it will pull up all the coupons presently existing for this item. The problem, my success rate is nill! More often than not, the database will tell me to look in particular date of a Sunday coupon book for a coupon and it will not be there. I have since found out the coupon books in your Sunday paper are not the same across the country, heck they are not likely to be consistent between 2 papers in the same city. Even though the database says it is for my area, I am guessing it either actually for a different area of for a much larger area. I have tried getting different newspapers but it is usually more annoying than helpful. But it did clue me into getting more than one kind of paper (the bigger the better).
This one really holds all the coupons you will collect.