Groceries are a necessity. Indeed, no one is really interested in trimming their grocery budget. Yet I often walked out of the grocery store after spending over a hundred dollars (again) and my heart sank. Yes, I need to feed myself and my husband, but what can I do about making this a much more manageable expense?
I had always compared prices on products and frequently bought generics. I even clipped coupons and carried them around in an envelope in my purse, but they usually expired far more often than I used them. After watching the TLC show Extreme Couponing I realized that I was doing it wrong. Granted, the people on the show are not couponing like that every day, but they discussed how to effectively use coupons to drastically slash your grocery budget. So I jumped on the coupon bandwagon, started my coupon binder, trolled the internet for blogs about couponing, and got a great how-to book, Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey: Save Big Money & Make the Grocery Aisle your Catwalk!, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn how to coupon.
There is a lot to learn about couponing and I will do more follow up posts on it later, but for now here are the 10 basic principles of couponing.
1. Pair coupons with sales and read the store circular. When you use a coupon on an item which is already on sale, then you get the best bang for your buck. Sometimes the non-sale price of an item even with a coupon is still more expensive than the generic version. But when it’s already on sale then you have yourself a better deal than before. Also, read the store’s advertising circular. Learn what is on sale that week, when the sale ends, and what coupons you have for sale items so you can plan your shopping trip before you walk into the store. If you stockpile (see #3) then you can wait for a sale to come around to use your coupons because you won’t run out when the items are full price.
2. Stack coupons. Manufacturer coupons are the kind that we are most familiar with and are distributed by the product manufacturer to save money on a product wherever coupons are accepted. But there are also store coupons which are distributed by the store for products the store sells. Usually, you can use both a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon at the same time if they are for the same product. This is known as stacking and results in great savings.
3. Stockpile. Sales go in cycles (often every three months) so when you get a great deal on a non-perishable item you frequently use, buy enough to last you up to three months, if you can. That way you don’t have to buy that product again for a while and you got it at such a rock bottom price that sometimes buying a few of the product costs less that the full price of one! So go ahead, stockpile! Not in a crazy “when the zombies attack” kind of way though. Be reasonable about what space you have and what your families needs are. It may make your grocery trips a bit heavy at first as you build your stockpile but then you will see your costs drop as you realize that there is no need to buy more toothpaste, cereal, or crackers for many months. Then you only have to buy perishable goods and re-supply the stockpiled items when they get low.
4. Does your grocery store double coupons? If so then you are in luck! Many grocery stores double coupons up to $.99 which means that a $.50 coupon is worth $1 and a $.75 coupon is worth $1.50. This is important to take into account when calculating the final price of an item.
5. Join your store’s loyalty club. If your grocery or drugstore has a frequent shopper/loyalty club, get that card and get it for all the stores you shop at. This is your ticket to great prices and extra perks (like CVS’s Extra Care Bucks program).
6. Stop being brand loyal. If you are committed to saving money and buying what is on sale, you may not always end up with your favorite kind of toothpaste. But being willing to buy a different brand that still meets your needs and is deeply discounted through sales and coupons can save you beaucoup cash.
7. Be THAT Lady (or Man): Take your coupon binder into the store with you. Seriously! It’s not anywhere near as embarassing as paying $50 more for your groceries now is it? Besides, most people that ask me about my binder are intrigued and compliment me on my home economics skills. Don’t be ashamed of using coupons at the checkout either. These are worth just the same as cash and they are another means of paying your bill. Nothing more, nothing less.
8. Be informed of your store’s coupon policy. An informed couponer is a good couponer. Many large chain stores post their coupon policies on their website and you can always speak to a manager for help. Learn their rules and play by them and everyone will get along better. If the store only allows four like coupons to avoid shelf clearing, abide by it. There is enough shampoo to go around so please don’t make a bad name for couponers everywhere. If a cashier refuses your coupon, ask to speak to a manager. Politely reminding the store of their coupon policy (and show them the copy of it you keep in your coupon binder) can help you finish your transaction and inform the store employees. Being nice is key. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
9. Follow coupon matchup sites and blogs. These sites are such a time saver and tell you all the best deals for the week at national chain stores such as Target, Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid, as well as many grocery chains. Your grocery store may not be listed but its affiliate stores may run similar promotions. It is still important to read the circulars but these sites can help point out deals you may not see so easily. Some of my favorite are Krazy Coupon Lady, Coupon Mom, and Living Rich With Coupons. I will post other blogs I follow and sites I love on my blogroll (*coming soon*)
10. Shop the clearance rack. Often grocery stores have a clearance rack or shelf just like clothing stores. These shelves often contain items which they have surplus stock of or are items which are being discontinued. Be sure to check expiration dates but often you will find items which are still far from expiring (Note: this does not apply to discount meats or dairy items. If you buy these cook them immediately or freeze for later). Match a clearance price with a coupon and voila!, a great deal.
Related Posts: Making Do With What You’ve Got: Part I: Making A Budget, Making Do With What You’ve Got: Part II: Balance Your Checkbook!, and Making Do With What You’ve Got: Part III: Lower Your Bills.