Friday, August 13, 2010

Are You in the Coupon Camp?

I am.  Not everyone "coupons."  But I do.  Why, you may ask?

1.  Last week I saved $18 using coupons during my weekly trip to the grocery store.
2.  This week, I saved $38 using coupons and taking advantage of "Buy One, Get One Free" specials in the meat department during my weekly trip to the grocery store.  $38!!!

If you have held the opinion in the past that couponing isn't worth it, I think those two facts will prove that it is!

You may be saying, "Well, if you buy enough, sure you can eventually save that much."  My weekly budget (for our family of four) for the grocery store is $170, and that amount includes toiletries, cleaning supplies, and other household goods--basically, everything we need is taken care of in this one trip.  We live in a small town (less than 8,000 people), and other than the grocery store, we have no shopping options, like Wal Mart or Walgreens--only a small Alco that normally cannot compete with the prices at the grocery store.  My $170 budget is a little higher than some other budgets I've seen for similarly-sized families who attempt to live frugally, and we can get by on less, but I allow a small cushion in there to give me the ability to stockpile, or buy extras, of items that are on a really good sale.  This saves me money in the long run because I am purchasing them at their lowest price. 

If we lived in a much larger city where there was more competition and stores available, I have no doubt that I could trim that budgeted amount even more.  Also if we lived in a much larger city, the coupon selection in the Sunday papers would be better as well.  I know this for a fact after a recent trip I took to Houston.  On the way home, during my layover in Dallas, I purchased a Dallas Morning News to take home to my hubby, who loves reading it.  Since it was a Sunday, I got the benefit of having the coupon flyers in that paper.  As I was clipping the coupons from those flyers as well as the flyers in our local paper, I noticed that there were much better coupons available in the Dallas paper.

So, how do I coupon?  For starters, I save the coupon inserts from the Sunday newspaper and clip those coupons that are for items that we will use.  This is key--you can't just clip all coupons and buy any item, thinking you are getting a bargain, if it's not something your family uses anyway.  I also get coupons online from Red Plum, Smart Source, and  After clipping the coupons I need, I file them by product name in a file box that has AtoZ dividers in it. 

I started this system a few years ago and have found it to be more efficient and effective than using the coupon files that are divided by category.  Different systems work for different people, and the AtoZ dividers work best for me.

Now, I don't just go to the store, buying up all the products that I have coupons for.  I save the coupons until that item is on sale.  By combining a sale price with a coupon, you are getting the most bang for your buck.  I do try to keep an eye on my file box, though, because there are times that the items don't go on sale before the coupon expires, and if the coupon is good enough, it is worth it to go ahead and purchase the item and use the coupon, rather than losing that good coupon discount.

One thing I have learned over the years of trying to trim our spending is that just because an item is in the weekly sale flyer does not mean it is a good sale!  I now keep a small notebook that is again divided into AtoZ categories where I can keep track of the best prices for the items we purchase. 

This may sound very time consuming, but really it is not.  The day the sale flyer comes out in the paper (Wednesdays for us), I grab my notebook and pen and take ten minutes max, and jot down the prices for the items in the flyer that we purchase.  This way I can see which items are really on a good sale and which ones are not.  It's amazing when you start tracking prices how many items are not really on sale that much, even though they are in the sale flyer.  I also note in my notebook the dates that the items are on their best sale price.  Then I can track how often they are at that price, which helps me even further with planning.  You'll also notice that I also do price per ounce on some of the items, which is often necessary to determine what the best buy truly is.

After receiving the weekly sale flyer and noting which items are on sale at the best prices, I then make my menu for the coming week, based on those products.  It is at this time that I pull out all the coupons I can use to combine with the sale prices and put them in the front of my file box.  (Yes, I always take my coupon file box with me to the grocery store.  I also keep my grocery list clipped to a clipboard to make it easier to deal with in the store.  Just call me the "grocery store nerd.")

I am amazed at the comments I get from the checkout personnel at the grocery store when I hand them all my coupons.  Many of them tell me how they love couponers, but how few of them there really are.  The girl who checked me out last week told me she checks out maybe ONE person PER WEEK that uses coupons!!  Really??  I could not believe that few people use coupons!!!  On many instances the checkout person is a young lady, and I really hope I am an example to her of the benefits of using coupons, because I know way too many of those young ladies are single moms living on a very limited budget.

I've heard many people say they don't have time to do coupons.  I usually clip coupons on Sundays after I've read the paper.  It's usually when I'm watching golf or some other sport with Mark, and I can be productive while watching TV.  I can clip and file them in less than 30 minutes (I know I could be more efficient if I weren't watching TV at the same time!  :o)  Then it takes ten minutes or less to jot down the sale prices in my notebook, and then less than that amount to pull out the coupons I need to use for that trip to the store.  So in way less than an hour I can accomplish this.  And to be able to save $18 or $38 each week?  It's way worth it to me.  Do you know what that $18 could buy?  When you stop to think about it, it's a lot!

I will also say this:  I buy very few convenience and pre-packaged foods.  We eat out very little, so I cook for us almost every day.  I buy lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  My experience has been overall that the more healthy you try to eat, the more expensive the foods are.  Thus the need for couponing and tracking sale prices.  I've always thought it was such an injustice that the most unhealthy foods in the grocery store are the cheapest.  That is just too bad, especially in this day and age when the economy stinks, people are having to watch their budgets like never before, and obesity is a growing epidemic.  They want to spend as little as possible, but yet those are the foods that the worst for them.

For me, couponing is a fun challenge, almost a game.  I get this crazy excitement inside on Wednesday mornings when I get the paper and pull out the sale flyer for the week.  I know, I'm weird.  But the challenge of seeing how much I can save each week and how many groceries I can come home with and still stay within out budget is fun to me! 

Go ahead, try it!  And be sure and let me know how you do!


Vicki Barnes said...

I am wondering exactly how you would go about keeping track of the prices? I have been interested in this but have not the slightest clue how to go about doing it. Thank you!

Karen said...

Vicki--I keep a small notebook with alphabetical dividers in it. I put plain jane paper behind each divider, and then at the top of each page, I write the product I want to track (i.e. canned green beans or toilet paper or whatever). Then I use that page to track the cost of that item. That way I know when a sale is really a sale and when I could expect that price again.

Does that answer your question?