Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Advanced Couponing

Photo Credit: StockMonkeys.com
Welcome to Advanced Couponing at The Real Deal! If you're new to couponing, you probably want to start with Couponing 101. In this article, I'm going to talk about in depth money saving strategies to stretch your grocery budget even further.


Sourcing Coupons

First, it's important to know that the key to long term money savings is to buy multiple items with your coupons. For that, you need multiple coupons. Sourcing coupons is important. You want the most bang for your buck. Here is how I source my own coupons:


  • Local Newspaper Subscription - I have five subscriptions to my local paper. Well, local is a bit of a misnomer. I live rurally, so my newspaper subscription is to the city nearest me. I only get the Sunday paper. And before you yell at me for wasting paper, I do recycle! Right away, this gives me five coupons for each item I may use.
  • Online Coupons - I visit Coupons.com every Monday to print coupons. My savings is huge compared to the cost of printer ink. I can print two of each coupon from there.
  • Coupon Clipping Services - Buying coupons is illegal. You can, however, pay someone to clip them for you. There are several coupon clipping services online, and there are a multitude of clippers on ebay. If I need more than five coupons for a particular item, I go to the coupon clipping service.

Which Coupons to Use

Deciding which coupons to use depends on several factors.
  • Can you use the item? Don't pay cash for items you won't use. If you can get an item for free, and it's something you won't use, then consider donating it to a food bank.
  • Does your store double coupons? If so, a $.50/1 coupon is much better than $1.00/2, because you'll end up with $1.00/1 with the coupon doubled. If your store only doubles certain coupons (so many per transaction, etc) then choose carefully which will give you the most bang for your buck!
  • Will the item be on sale again for a lower price, before your coupon expires? With the way food prices have been fluctuating lately, that can be hard to determine. Better to buy at a decent price than miss the opportunity to stock up because the item didn't go on sale for a lower price.


Planning Your Shopping Trip

Photo Credit: zerojay
Planning your shopping trip is essential. Between meal planning, printing, clipping, and filing coupons, and making my list (including coupon match ups), I spend about ten hours a week planning my trip. This may seem like a lot, but I break it into smaller chunks throughout the week. I clip and file coupons Sunday evening while watching the TV. I print coupons on Mondays, and then clip and file those Monday evening. Tuesday I go through my pantry to see if I'm running low on anything, and add that to the list. On Wednesday the sales ads come out, and I start my meal plan for the next week with any sale items. On Wednesday or Thursday, I head out to the freezer to see what meats I have available to plan for the meals that weren't covered by the sales. On Friday or Saturday, I finish up the list-any money left in the budget after I've bought the essentials goes to stock ups on sale items. I pull any coupons I'm using and put them into envelopes with the store name on them.

Matching coupons to sales is the key to saving lots of money with couponing. When you buy an item on sale, you're already getting it for cheaper. When you're pairing that sale with a coupon, you're maximizing your savings. It's really nice to pay a lower price on an item, especially when those are healthy foods for my family.


The Shopping Trip

The day I actually go shopping is busy. On Extreme Couponing, I've seen people who spend eight or ten hours in the store. I don't want to do this. I want to minimize the amount of time I'm in the store.

First, I make sure I'm wearing comfortable clothes. Shoes that I can walk long distances in, pants that aren't too tight, and a top I won't get too hot or too cold in. I eat a good breakfast, and put dinner in the crockpot. I try not to take the kids, but usually, they are tagging along. My kids are old enough now that even the youngest can help by picking items off of shelves.

I've organized my list by section, so that I can shop more effectively. In one store, first on my list are medicines and body care items like body wash and Q-tips. Then diapers/pull ups. Then pet stuff and paper goods. Next is dairy, then soda for Mr. S., and snacks. This way there's less likelihood that I will forget about an item and have to walk back from one end of the store to another. At the other store I shop at, meats come first, followed by dairy, canned goods and cereal. On a normal shopping day, I spend about an hour in each store, not counting checkout. This is a vast improvement over ten hours! On a perfect day, we're out the door by 8 and back home by noon (we have a long drive to the store). We rarely have those kinds of perfect days, but usually the deed is done, including drive time, in less than four hours.

The End of the Day

Once I'm home from shopping and the groceries are brought in, what I really want to do is sit down and eat some chocolate. I'm tired, and occasionally cranky. Okay, I'm probably more often than occasionally cranky. But we won't ask Mr. S. that question. This is a big part of why dinner was put in the crockpot. Hopefully, there's not much to do when I get home-except put those groceries away. Which has to be done. This is important, especially if, like me, you have kids and/or pets who will help themselves. It also helps to reduce food waste. Take this from the woman who once thought she left a bag with a chicken in it at the store-and found it a week later when I was investigating the funky smell in the van. It had slipped under the back seat and got overlooked when we were carrying the groceries into the house. We always double check those "problem areas" now. I can also tell you that it suck when the groceries are on the kitchen floor and a pre-teen who hasn't yet grown into his feet trips and crushes a few boxes of rice or the three dozen eggs you haven't put away yet. If you're tired, organizing can wait, but find a spot for it temporarily!

Evaluation

This is an important part of couponing. Ideally, you're buying enough items to get you through until the next time they are on sale. You need to look at your food usage, especially of your stockpiled items, and determine if you bought too much or too little. You also need to see if any of that food was wasted. If it expired before you could use it up or preserve it, then you have food waste. Either improve your rotation system, or buy less next time. Is the item on sale again and you still have tons? Then you can buy less the next time and spend the remaining money on something else. Did you buy a lot of something and your family hates it? Donate it to a food pantry and never buy it again!

I hope that you have found these tips useful!

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