It's amazing that it's taken me this long to try grocery store couponing.
Occasionally, I'd stumble upon episodes of "Extreme Couponing" when channel surfing. I'd watch solely because of the shock value-- to me, these women seemed a bit out of their minds. Seriously, who really needs 30 bottles of mustard (even if they are 20 cents each)!? Couponing and stock piling didn't seem much different than hoarding. Who has the room for all that stuff? And the hours these women would spend obsessing about coupons... Who has time for all that?
Not me! Like most working moms, I am always busy. I have way too much going on, too much on my mind, too much to do, and never enough time for it all. When I leave the house in the morning, I am usually frantic, forgetting something every single time: my cell phone, my lunch, that check I supposed to mail a week ago... Most days, I'm a complete mess. My husband says "just make a list." He's the king of simple solutions. This annoys the hell out of me! I don't even have time to make the list and even if I do, I'll probably forget what I was supposed to put on the list anyways. "Thanks for the suggestion, hun, but that just adds yet another thing that I have to do that I don't have time for!"
When it comes to grocery shopping, I never have a plan. I am constantly running to the store for something. I get coupons sometimes in the mail, from the supermarket, off the back of a cereal box. I usually find myself in the check out line, telling Lila for the 5th time "No, you can't have another pack of gum" shifting through my purse (another mess, reflective of my daily life) looking for that one coupon I think I have. Got it! Oh... it expired last week... Damn it!
Recently, I received an email for a free "Extreme Couponing" workshop in my city. It kind of intrigued me but I was skeptical. I registered anyways. If anything I figured I'd go for chuckles to hear about these insane grocery store hauls for dozens of paper towels and boxed mac and cheese.
It turns out that this workshop was offered with the perfect timing for me and what has been going on in my life. While I was feeling crazed and disorganized, the workshop facilitators (moms like me) had an incredible sense of control. They were the ultimate planners and, if nothing else, had at least one aspect of their lives in order-- their homes were stocked, organized, and they were saving a surprising amount of money.
I know. I know. I totally fell for the bait and hook. For the record, I did not sign up for the four subscriptions of the Sunday paper as they suggested. That, of course, was the catch. But, I did decide that I would give this couponing thing one good try and see what happens. I am totally a newbie and I don't really have this thing figured out yet. I am happy to report that I still have my sanity at the moment, but please remember this post and schedule an intervention if you see me sharing pics of my stock pile of 200 rolls of toilet paper this time next year.
So this is what I know so far...
(Disclaimer: If you are completely new to couponing, like me, these tips are for you. If you already coupon, you will read this and think "Well, duh!")
Top 10 Tips for New Couponers:
1) Be patient. When you have a coupon for something you want or need, resist the urge to use it right away. Save it until that product goes on sale, then cash it in. Seems simple enough. (Just make sure it doesn't expire). Of course, you can stock up if you have a few coupons for the same product, which is why most couponers receive multiple Sunday papers.
2) Play the matching game. Plan your shopping trip by matching available coupons to what's on sale on a given week. This sounds incredibly time consuming, which is what initially deterred me from couponing in the first place. But, lo and behold, there are sites out there that do this for you. The one that was recommended at the workshop was grocerysmarts.com. A co-worker of mine also suggested livingrichwithcoupons.com. Each week, sale products are listed and you are told where to obtain the coupons for those products. Coupon sources are generally the Sunday paper, on-line coupon sites, or manufacturer websites.
3) Organize, but don't obsess. Apparently, there is really no need to clip coupons anymore (until you actually need them). When you receive your Sunday paper (or papers, if you are going for "extreme"), pull out the inserts, skim the pages, stick 'em in a file folder and write the date on the tab. Forget about them until the time is right. Each week, when you check your go-to match up website, you will be informed of the date of which circular you need for a particular sale item.
|How to read match-up lists from grocerysmarts.com.|
5) Become familiar with your store's policies. Knowing before you go will help you to maximize your coupon savings. For example, Stop and Shop will "double coupons" everyday. Any coupon under $1.00 is doubled, so that $.75 off coupon will actually get you a $1.50 off. This, I discovered, is how couponers take home products for free. Think about if a product that is normally $2.50 is on sale this week for $1.50 and you have a coupon (which will be doubled) for $.75 off-- that means it's free! And just think if you have 4 of these coupons... Get the picture? Here's the catch, like most stores, Stop and Shop has a limit, they will only double up to 4 of the same coupons. However, up to an additional 12 coupons will still be accepted at the regular value, so you can stock up quite a bit with significant savings.
6) Shop during off hours. My mom gave me a great tip from when she used to coupon back in the day-- she would do her shopping at midnight. You definitely don't want to shop with coupons during busy store hours i.e. weekend afternoons or right after work. Choose a time of day (or night) that's calm and quiet at the store so that you can take your time and not feel guilty about potentially holding up the line with your stack of coupons.
7) Consider shopping at more than one store. While laundry detergent might be on sale at Stop and Shop, ShopRite might have a great deal on your favorite yogurt. Make your shopping lists based on which store has the best sale on your desired products. I know what you're thinking-- you don't have to go crazy driving around to multiple stores. I chose two. One night Stop and Shop, the next night ShopRite, and then I'm done with my shopping for the week.
8) Pay attention to additional perks to maximize your savings. On my last shopping trip, I discovered that I could earn $.50 off per gallon of gas with my rewards card if I buy $15 worth of a certain brand of shampoo, conditioner, or shower gel. These products were also on sale. So, I stocked up on these shower supplies and will be filling up my gas tank very soon!
9) Do not compromise your standards. Couponing might motivate you to experiment and buy an item you've never tried before. That could be a good thing, but it is okay to have a certain degree of brand loyalty. I am sensitive to most toothpastes and am usually restricted to buying the (IMO quite pricey) toothpaste Sensodine. I was teetering on crazy for a moment when, because it was a "great deal," I bought a different brand. By the end of the week I was paying for that "great deal" when the inside of my poor mouth was inflamed and sore! Never again. Along the same lines, healthy eating is extremely important to our family. For example, we do not eat products with high fructose corn syrup. Even though a food product is on sale, if it's full of artificial ingredients, I will pass. This goes back to being patient. Eventually, the product and brand that you prefer will go on sale and, if you're just a little organized, you will have the necessary coupons to go with it. And that's when you stock up and do a happy dance!
10) Even though it's "such a great deal" does NOT mean that you need it. Shopping smart means buying only the things that you need. Again, I know I don't need 20 bottles of mustard. (Maybe I'll take two if it's a really deep deal). Buying products that you wouldn't normally buy just because they are on sale is counterproductive. You will be spending money instead of saving. My personal goal with this little project of mine is to stock up on those things that I know my family needs and that we tend to run out of often-- paper products, laundry detergent, shower gels, deodorant... To pay it forward, I might leave a coupon next to an item in the store that I don't want for someone else who does. Perhaps this will inspire another shopper to discover the potential savings of couponing!
Last night, I did my first real shopping using coupons. With just a little extra time spent on the match-up sites, I wrote out my grocery list and headed to the store with my coupons. The result? The total before coupons was approximately $222.00. After coupons, it was $130.00, about a 40% savings. Some of the deals were pretty good-- Simply Orange Juice for $ .38; Honey Nut Cheerios for $ .88; Turkey Bacon for $ .17. I know that real "extreme couponers" wouldn't be impressed, but for me it was a great start! I just might get hooked.