Anybody who knows me well is aware that I am a coupon fiend. I think it started when Drew was born, because I didn’t like spending all that money on baby food and diapers, and now it is totally out of control. Unlike many coupon junkies, I don’t track my spending in a spreadsheet (because that takes time and would only serve to confirm what I already know), or keep my coupons in alphabetical order (that is just plain silly—the store doesn’t stock its shelves alphabetically).
Recently, Aimee was “bragging” about my savings and promised to share my tips with her friends, so since today is a snow day, I have some time to share… If you make it to the end, I’ll be impressed.
1. Buy the Entertainment book. We hardly ever go out, but just the grocery chain coupons and dry cleaning coupons pay for the book itself, and then I post to craigslist.org and “trade” coupons I won’t use for the ones I will. This year I traded with two different people and ended up with an extra $40 in Shop Rite coupons for the cost of a pair of stamps.
2. Subscribe to the Sunday newspaper. We receive three different Sunday papers each week for a total cost of $4.35 a week. Most weeks I clip over $100 in coupons, and on average, use 30-40% of them. Additionally, you’ll be aware of sales in all your local stores like Target and Best Buy with their weekly ads. This article from the Wall Street Journal, totally supports using coupons as a way to save during these difficult economic times.
3. Let friends know you clip coupons. Perhaps you can trade the coupons you don’t clip for the ones they don’t clip. I have several friends who share coupons with me because I don’t use the pet coupons and they don’t use the diaper coupons.
4. Use web-based blogs to be aware of matchups and links to printable coupons for things you wouldn’t necessarily be looking to buy. Yeah, they basically let you print money right off the internet. Yesterday, in about three minutes I printed two Dannon coupons, a Coffemate liquid coupon and a Cinnamon Toast Crunch coupon to save $4.00 twenty minutes later at Shop Rite. Each of the twelve yogurts I bought cost $0.22, the liquid creamer cost $0.24, and the huge box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch which included a pull-back racer that is sure to create some drama at the breakfast table for only $2.00. I like www.forthemommas.com, www.livingrichwithcoupons.com, and learned a lot when our little ones were young on www.babycheapskate.com. Additionally, I visit www.dealnews.com at least 6 times a day. Their team reports coupon codes and sales on any item from electronics to toys around the clock. I find it to be handy especially around the holidays or when planning for a tv or computer purchase.
5. Be organized. I have a plastic check organizer that I use to store my coupons. I organize it by store aisle, so when I go in the juice aisle and see that Juicy Juice is on sale, the coupons I might use are easy to find, because they are right next to the Capri Sun, Gatorade, canned fruit, and raisin coupons.
6. Clip every coupon you might ever use, but don’t let coupons determine your shopping list. Yes, this means you might clip coupons you won’t use because most expiration dates are around 8 weeks. But most popular items go on sale at some point during those 8 weeks, which is the time you want to use your coupon. This is a “matchup” and it is the reason most of the (brand name) cereal in our pantry cost between $0.50-$1.00. In addition to the printable coupons I mentioned earlier, I bought four packages of Go-Gurt(which is not a normal purchase for us, because it is usually $3.29 for 8 tubes) on sale for $1.49. With each package I used a $0.35 coupon (each doubled to $0.70) making my cost only $0.79 per package. That is more than a 75% savings. The expiration date isn’t for 4 weeks and you can freeze them. If I had used the coupons when I clipped them, I would have saved the same $0.70, but I would have still spent $2.59.
7. Have a large pantry and extra freezer available when there is a super deal. We currently have 36 boxes of cereal in our pantry. Ok-I recognize that is a little bit insane, but with 5 of us eating cereal every day, we do go through a ton. Yesterday, post cereals were on a super 4 day sale (limit 4 boxes) for $1 per box. I used two $1 off 2 coupons making my cost $0.50 per box for Alpha Bits and Honeycombs. Last week, I bought 4 boxes of Froot Loops and 1 box of Corn pops for a $0.05 profit! Each box was on sale for $1.99, had a “$1.00 off this box” peel sticker coupon on it, and there was a “buy 5, get a $5.00 off your next shopping order coupon” promotion.
8. Take advantage of promotions and rebates, and the rules associated with them. Anytime there is a store promotion for buying multiples to save additional money off another shopping order, I just figure the net cost to determine if it is worth it. I purchase diapers pretty much exclusively at Shop Rite for several reasons, but primarily for the baby buck program which gives you $10 back after each $100 in baby purchases. Although their regular prices are not competitive with superstores like Walmart or Sams Club, their sale prices are, and the additional 10% in baby bucks make it a no brainer. Plus a lot of supermarkets double coupons up to $1.00 when most superstores do not. To make this deal even sweeter, the Baby Bucks are figured based on regular prices, not sale prices. A few weeks ago Pampers big boxes were on “sale” for $20 per box. With seventy size 5 diapers for $20, that costs nearly .29 per diaper, which isn’t great, but not bad either. Consider that Proctor and Gamble had two promotions I qualified for because I also bought some bounty paper towels, I would receive a coupon for $10 off a future shopping order and a $10 Visa gift card by mail. Taking the paper towels out of the equation since they were a good deal on their own at less than $0.50 per roll, my net cost for the two big boxes was actually only about $11.80! I spent $40, saved $20 on the promotions, $4.00 by using two $2 off coupons, and since the regular price on the big boxes is $25.99, I earned 52% of my baby buck redemption, which equates to $5.20. That’s a lot of numbers, but the end story is 140 diapers for $11.80, less than 9 cents a diaper. Lets see Walmart compete with that!
9. Know your prices, and utilize unit price as your method of comparison. I learned a long time ago that although that huge box of diapers at Target seems like a great deal, the unit price isn’t always competitive with the smaller packages when paired with coupons. Yesterday, I compared the Pull-Ups unit prices at Shop Rite (yes, I brought my calculator with me). I had to do my own calculations because the unit price on the shelf will not include the “price plus discount” or take in to account my coupons. Three different sized packages were on sale. The 50 ct box was $19.99, the 44 ct. was $16, and the 26 ct. was $9.99. Funny, everyone always thinks buying the bigger package is the better deal, but the unit prices tell a different story, especially if you have enough coupons to buy multiple small packages.
50 ct = 40 cents each 44ct =36.4 cents ea. 26 ct = 38.4 cents ea.
After applying $2.00 off coupons, however…
50 ct = 36 cents each 44ct =31.8 cents ea. 26 ct = 30.7 cents ea.
10. Don’t feel obligated to a particular brand or store. There are only a few brands that we buy exclusively. Melitta Coffee (mmmm…) and Strohman Whole Wheat Bread (Aimee’s request-and I love her very much, even though the regular price is $3.49 a loaf!) are the only brand name items we’ll buy when not on sale, but usually I stock up enough so that doesn’t become necessary. Bread freezes easily and defrosts on the counter in a hour or so, so when it is on sale, I’ll buy whatever will fit in the freezer.
11. Stock up on your regular weekly meals. We keep things pretty simple. We eat chicken nuggets with french fries and pasta with Perdue turkey meatballs once every week. When those things are on sale, I stock up. After sales and coupons, each of those dinners costs less than $3-4 for the entire family, which obviously can keep our grocery bills down.
12. Let the weekly ad dictate your menu. After considering our pantry and regular meals, Aimee and I plan our meals around what is on sale. I have a shopping list that is basically a categorized table for each aisle of the store so when I make the list everything is written in the appropriate aisle, and I never need to double back. This may seem almost as crazy as my coupon organization, but it only took a few minutes to make, and I’ve been using it each week for years without having to double back to an aisle because I forgot something. Some people say I have too much time on my hands, but maybe I have so much time because I saved so much time in the store by not doubling back!
13. Buy only items on sale. Yesterday, the only things I bought that were not on sale were bananas and milk. Again, the large pantry and freezer are needed for this to work effectively. Each week, there are always some meats on sale, there are always some canned goods on sale, and always some type of yogurt on sale. I let the ad determine our meals brand selection and let the coupons help us conserve our resources.
14. Play fair. Don’t use expired coupons or try to slip a coupon in that isn’t for the exact product listed. Be nice to the cashier and keep your buy-one-get-one coupons on the top of your pile so they can keep an eye out for those items as they ring up your order. He or she will likely need to take note of the price so they can write it on the coupon. By alerting them, it will speed up the order and the gesture in most cases is appreciated.
15. Take your kids shopping with you. Get them used to hearing the phrase, “It’s not on the list”, early and often and they won’t hassle you for the cereal with the cool prize. I’ll never forget the time Drew wanted Danimals Crush Cups and saw they had the yellow sale tag and said, “Dad, Crush Cups are on sale, do we have a coupon?” The first word Drew ever read was the big 3 foot letters that spelled out B-R-E-A-D in the front corner of the store. Hopefully, he’ll learn from his Dad, just like I learned from mine that coupons are a great way to extend your budget. My Dad did it way cooler than me; he only brought the coupons he needed in a small inconspicuous envelope, whereas I carry my 8.5” x 11” shopping list and bright yellow coupon caddy every time I set foot in the market.
Yesterday, my total shopping order was just over $100.00. If I hadn’t used a single coupon and just paid full price for everything, the total would have been over $250. I know that everyone saves a bit each time they shop by buying things on sale, but I really think this extra effort saves our family significantly and I hope this post shows how relatively easy it is to do.
Me with the ShopRite mascot, Scrunchy.