Tuesday, April 16, 2013
How I learned to use coupons, and save $30-$70 a trip
This is a bit off topic for my blog, but well, this was asked by a friend, and this was the easiest way to share the info, so I figured I'd post it here. I like to use coupons, because in my opinion, not doing so is like throwing money away, and if you're smart, you can save quite a bit. I average between $30-70, and that's with some very half-ass focus and I could probably save a lot more if I tried harder.
I'm no extreme couponer, but I've been known to save a bit here and there. There's a couple of things you need:
Unless you like tracking sales papers, spreadsheets, and such, you don't want to keep up with prices. I'm lazy. ;) I use Southern Savers for my tracking needs. It's got all the local stores for us in the southeast (including Food Lion, although that's been closed here now), but there's a number of large ones out there! I like Southern Savers because it also has printable shopping lists and does all the matchups for me. With careful planning, doubling, match, you can save a huge quantity of cash.
There are several ways of getting them. Newspapers, of course; a weekly subscription is the cheapest way. Some people pay for multiple subscriptions, but honestly I don't have room for huge stockpiles, so one subscription is plenty. Make sure you're on your store's mailing list; I regularly get mailings from Kroger and Publix. I signed up for the Publix stocking spree even though I don't have one, because we're getting one eventually, and I can trade them online if I should need to. (Yes, you can trade coupons. It's fun!) There are also hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of printable coupons. With a bit of ink and a decent printer, you can save tons of cash with printables. Be careful where you get them from, though; some sites take advantage of the coupon craziness and will put out scam coupons.
I use either Southern Savers for my links, or I use my MyPoints account to print coupons. The best part about MyPoints is I also get 10 points per coupon printed and redeemed, and I can save up points (doing other things on the site, too) for gift cards. I won't spam you or anything, but if you think that's something you'd like to do, let me know and I'll refer you. That's a complete tangent, though, and not relevant. Depending on where you get your cards, the odds are it comes from Coupons.com - most sites get paid for referrals, but that's usually the source. You'll need to install a browser plugin to use the printer, because there are limits to printing. Most coupons can be printed twice, and that's it for that computer. YOu can, however, get squirrelly and print from multiple computers. The really dedicated couponers have as many as 5 or more... that's 10 prints per coupon. I'm... not that dedicated.
You can also visit online sites and get eCoupons for many stores. Kroger.com, for example, has a bunch that you just point, click, and load to your card, and it comes off automatically at the register. No clipping, no sorting, just saving. I find it hard to remember which is which sometimes, though.
CVS is a magical land of savings. With some planning, you can abuse the hell out of their ExtraCare Bucks system and stop paying for things like toothpaste, shampoo, etc. I use the ECB system to get a good chunk of my kids' Christmas gifts for free. (This will of course end as they get old and care abouts things like brand names, but hey, right now? CVS brand dump truck is enough to keep them thrilled.)
As you can imagine, juggling coupons is annoying. I don't cut them all out; there's a few ways of doing this. I like the accordion file method, where I file the inserts whole, and only clip as I need to. Some people like to do the baseball card sleeve method, where they use a three ring binder and sort them. I find this tedious and can't be bothered. LOL. I do all my planning before I leave, paperclip my coupons together, and hand them to the cashier at once. I can't stand trying to flip through a binder in the store. Plus you look like a lunatic. Everyone's different, though, so try different methods to see what works for you.
Getting the Money!
The trick to getting the best deals are to save the coupons up, and match them up to the sales and price cycles. you see, as you've no doubt noticed, prices are rarely the same at the store. There's actually a method to the madness! There are cycles, and the price of a given item will rise and fall to a max and minimum price. Your goal is to buy things (preferably with coupons) at the lowest point in the cycle whenever possible. Even without coupons, it's going to save you a bundle; after all, which is better, buying split chicken breast at $3.99 a pound, or $.99 a pound? Even without a coupon, that's going to save you some serious cash.
Don't buy things you don't need; I refuse to be wasteful, and it's not a deal if it's not something you would have normally bought anyway. Sure, you can save $2.50 on $5.00 worth of bear asses, (50% off!) but if you didn't need any bear asses, you've wasted $2.50 that you weren't going to spend.
Now, I'm lazy, and I don't give a rat's behind about sales cycles and such, so I let someone else do the hard work for me. Why reinvent the wheel? I check the Southern Savers website, get my printable list, add the things I need, print and/or clip the coupons I need, and go. They do most of the work, and you can find an even more detailed walkthrough written by an actual expert who does this sort of thing for a living.
Now, you can get super crazy with this, spend hours and hours a week, and end up on a TV show like Extreme Couponers, have a hoarder-style stockpile, and whatever. I honestly am not that dedicated nor do I care that much. I have the time, but not the willpower. ;) At most, I spend an hour or two a week poring over a website, printing, clipping and preparing. But that pays off! Today, I made a trip to Kroger, bought $230 worth of groceries, including some much-needed meats and veggies, and paid $160. That's $70, for the math impaired. $70 of free groceries, for two hours worth of work. That's $35 an hour.
I'll take that.