Strategy, preparation, and networking are the keys to getting the most for your household dollar.
Amy Hannold – FamilyTimeandMoney.com
For those new to couponing, there is a time of learning and transition. Realize that you may be learning a new “language” and changing some habits. Don’t let this scare you off – you’re embarking on a new adventure which will positively impact your family life for years to come.
Identify a goal which would have an immediate, encouraging effect on your spending. For example, “I want to spend less on diapers and baby food.” In a home notebook or home organizer, create a space to track your savings – seeing those savings will inspire you!
Network with others who are coupon savvy. Find out where they get their “Good Deal Alerts”, coupons, and ideas. Partner with a friend, and challenge one another to save money. A team effort multiplies the amount of money you will save. Think of how many more eyes and ears will be out there finding the good deals – so keep in touch!
What is the overall goal? We seek to get more, for less, when it’s on sale. Grocery store sales rotate in an average 13-week cycle. When items you use often are on sale, use coupons and buy enough to have them hand at home until it will likely be on sale once again. You’ll avoid multiple (more expensive) trips to the grocery store.
Supermarket Strategies – Before You Go Shopping:
*Familiarize yourself with store promotions, price matching policies, coupon guidelines and the customer service department. What you know maximizes what you’ll get for your money. Be “politely persistent” when there is an issue. Make friends with the cashiers (pass along to them some of your coupons and tips!). Be an encourager!
*Prepare a list (and review your menu). If you already have a menu planned for the week, compare it to what you have in your kitchen (this avoids rushed, 4pm trips to the store!). If you do not have a menu planned already, plan your meals around what you have at home. Combine your home inventory with the meats and/or produce on special this week.
*Forums on websites such as hotcouponworld.com, BeCentsable.net and afullcup.com cut out a whole lot of time you would spend searching for the best deals yourself. Weekly circulars are matched with available coupons, giving you the inside track on how to save the most money this week.
These boards and blogs are maintained by shoppers (with more valuable frugal wisdom). Store promotions, available without the use of coupons, are also listed. If you’re short on time or want a quick introductory to matching coupons with sales subscriptions can be purchased from TheGroceryGame.com. The same “stacking” of sales with coupons information will be sent to you, at a minimal fee per store.
Bloggers are a great source of quick, easy-to-use money saving information. Subscribe to their blog (or check weekly) for their lists of the best deals for the stores you frequent. Money saving blogs such as MoneySavingMom.com and SurvivingTheStores.com will match retailer sales to coupons. They’ll provide the link to printable coupons or tell you where to find your coupons at home (in your dated coupon insert files).
Once you’ve reviewed your sources of information, made a list and clipped your coupons (a process that moves more quickly as you become more familiar) – you’re ready to shop! First though, we’ll review some basics:
Coupons – The Where’s and How’s: Coupon Inserts are distributed weekly (except for holiday weekends). Redplum, SmartSource, Proctor & Gamble and General Mills are the coupon inserts you’ll find. Internet printed coupons can be found throughout the internet. Manufacturer and independent coupon websites (boodle.com, coupons.com, wow-coupons.com, etc.) offer coupons you can print at home. When shopping, look for “blinkie machines”, which offer coupons from store shelves. “Catalinas”, are coupons which print at checkout, triggered by products you have purchased or by store promotions. To acquire coupons in bulk, use sites such as thecouponclippers.com or couponsandforms.com which offer to send you coupons in exchange for postage and handling fees. Products sometimes have coupons attached to them and coupons can be acquired by mail when you join retail or manufacturer mailing lists.
Coupons- How Do You Keep Them?
Coupon organization philosophies vary. The best advice is to research and compare to find the one that works for you. Coupon files come in all sizes and types, from purse size to baby-seat sitting file boxes. Many “Coupon Queens” (of all levels) are using coupon binders. Affordable coupon binders can be assembled at your local second-hand store or office supply store. A 3-Ring binder, tabbed dividers, plastic pages with pockets, and some 3-hole plastic page protectors are the common ingredients. Zipper-closure notebooks are recommended. Visit YouTube.com, search “Coupon binder” for videos of Coupon Queens and their coupon binders.
The best tip is to keep coupons for items you use frequently with you, so that you can save big on that unexpected sale. Experiment with a style or two – and always have those files with you when you leave your home.
Coupon File Note: If you’re opposed to coupon files (or are short on filing time and space) and you want to “list and go”, there is the option of writing your menu and list on an envelope (recycling!), and placing coupons in that envelope.
Most coupon users organize their coupons in the grouped categories found in stores. For best frugal efficiency, designate file space for a particular store within your coupon holder. Other file options include our favorite file tab; “check out”, where I keep coupons for the items my kids and I spot as we wait in line.
In order to utilize grocery coupon boards which match sales with coupons, you must acquire an inventory of coupon inserts. A single file drawer or portable (with a lid) file box work well. Before you file the coupon insert, clip out coupons which match this week’s sales or coupons for items you buy often. Insert dates are often hard to read (they’re printed on the spine of the insert), so use a dark marker and print the date on the front cover. File each week’s inserts, by date, into hanging files (which are labeled by date of distribution and name of insert publisher). For example:11/1 SS would translate into “November 1 SmartSource”.
Each week, as you read the grocery coupon boards, they will tell you the date and brand of coupon insert for a particular coupon. Go to the filed inserts for that date, clip the coupons and put them into your travel coupon file. If you’re not using a file, use a separate, labeled envelope per store – with your list on the outside.
As dates go by, periodically weed out inserts from your home coupon file which contain all expired coupons. This will give you space for more current inserts. (By the way, put the word out to friends that you’re clipping coupons. Between your network of friends, churches, social groups and coupon groups, you can acquire all kinds of coupons.) Subscribe to the weekend paper only, if only for the coupon inserts.
No-Clip Coupons: An emerging trend is occurring with retail companies. In larger markets, your grocery store may have the option of loading coupons onto your frequent shopper card via their website. Kroger, Proctor and Gamble, Upromise and others are companies offering this paperless option to saving money. Where there is more competition between stores, “Double Coupons” and the accepting of competitor coupons may be available. Rebate programs, store coupons and clearance aisles are other options for “stacking” savings (matching sales with coupons). Get to know the coupon options and money-saving opportunities in your area.
Coupons sent to your mobile phone are increasing in use. Cellfire.com is the place to load coupons onto your shopper reward cards and cell phones. Many companies also offer promotional discounts or coupons which are available via a text message.
Conclusion: “A Little Time Can Save You Money – and More!)
Coupon use does take some time to become a part of your shopping routine. Be flexible (an important frugal attitude) and look forward to adding up your savings. Calculating an hourly wage from the (decreasing) time you’ll spend to save money keeps you going (as does a little friendly competition!). It can be fun, it can be done and it’s awesome to know you’ll never pay full price again!
Share your skills, and your good ideas with others. If you can get products for free, using your money saving strategies (and you’re not going to use them), consider gifting them to charities. Frugal living is about sharing and caring, enough to find ways to be more efficient with our resources and to pass our enthusiasm for living well onto others.