Saturday, April 25

Coup-oning
















I admit it. I'm a convert.


On Wednesday, I brought home


  • 6 Betty Crocker cookie mixes


  • 1 Betty Crocker blueberry muffin mix


  • 4 boxes of instant mashed potatoes (the good kind)


  • 2 boxes of Fiber One bars


  • 1 package of Reynold's foil


  • 16 10-oz boxes of cereal

for a grand total of $31.85. (Technically $28.86, since Mom sent off for a $2.99 rebate on the foil.)


Thanks to a good sale at Albertson's (on select merchandise, save $4 on every $10 you spend) and some carefully clipped/saved coupons, I was able to get a ton of bang for my buck. For example, the cereal was on sale 4/$10. But, by spending $10, you save $4. So it was really 4/$6. Then I had a $2-off-5 coupon, a $1.50-off-3 coupon, and two $1-off-3 coupons. In all, the 16 boxes were $18.50, or $1.16 each.



Granted, I'm still learning my way. But I think that's not bad for an amateur. Especially since I used to scoff at coupons. Okay, well not scoff at them, per se. More like, I had given up on the idea of my being able to consistently use them.



I always had every intention of using them. Then I would find myself at the store, coupons still at home, under a magnet on the fridge. Mocking me. I'd swear that next time I would remember. Most coupons would be long past their expiration date by the time I finally cleared them off the fridge. It seemed hopeless.



So, while many of you frugal folks out there are probably old hands as the couponing biz, I'm offering up this post to any of you who think coupons and you will simply never work out. Don't give up just yet!





Get organized


This is the essential step. It's what finally turned things around for me. My mom made me a coupon organizer for Christmas. She just grabbed a bag (with a zipper, that's vital!) and some tabbed index cards. She typed out some label names, printed them, cut them up and glued them onto the tabs. Voila!


You can use just about any kind of bag that closes. Be creative! Go to the thrift store and look around, or just dig through your closet.


I wish I had saved the link, but I read a great post by a PF blogger who had made herself a coupon binder:

  • In front, a plastic, card-organizer sheet to keep all of her store loyalty cards.

  • A calculator in the front pocket, to better compare per-unit prices

  • Her price book for quick reference

  • Of course, her coupons. I can't remember how she stored these in a binder. I want to say clear pencil pouches? One for each grocery section? It was probably something better and more orderly than that. But you get the general idea.

  • I would add one other item to this list: conversions. Other than 16 oz = 1 lb, I can never remember how many of X are in Y. So I would write up a list and stick that in the binder. It will make price comparisons a lot faster.



Other folks use boxes, binders -- one even uses a briefcase. Get some ideas here, at Hot Coupon World. Though I am willing to bet that if you did a search for "organizer" on A Full Cup or Coupon Mom, they would have good suggestions as well!


If you are dreading the hassle of creating your own system, eBay has some good deals on organizers (ie, under $7). Just be careful. Some lunatics are, for reasons entirely beyond me, trying to charge $30 for coupon organizers. I think the rationalization is that they come with tons of coupons in them. But I hardly see the point in paying for coupons that other folks thought were worthwhile. Especially with those three couponing sites so accessible.





Pay attention to prices


You probably already have a vague idea as to what constitutes a sale. There are certainly a lot of promotions wherein the savings are almost insulting. I have seen "sales" taking a whopping 20 cents off. And these are the items that no one considers a necessity.


Sure, you can combine that with coupons for better savings. But it makes more sense (cents?) to save those for the better sale prices, to really get a deal.


To do that, you need to get a feel for the cycle of sales. Every grocery store has one. Most are every 3-4 weeks. It's one of the major reasons frugal folks stockpile during sales: It gets us through until the best prices come around again.



I like Coupon Mom's ebook for a good explanation of how to create a price book. There are actually three different ebooks, so check out each one!




        Plan it out



        I hope that it goes without saying that you should be planning your meals/grocery shopping based on weekly sales. If it doesn't, well, then I just said it. Works out, either way.


        Each Tuesday, when the food ads come out, I sit down and circle the items of interest. Based on how many each store has, I decide which I'll actually visit during the week. Because of my energy situation, I also prioritize them. Usually, there are at least a couple items at each of the three stores. But I rarely get to more than two. Some weeks, I only get to one.


        Then I pull out a small notebook and list the item, the sale price (so I can find the right one/request a rain check if it's out) and any other notes I need. For Wednesday's little success, I had grouped each set of items into the $10 amounts, figured out the end price, then noted which coupons I'd use, so that I could determine the price I'd actually pay. It can be helpful to do this for complicated sales. Grocery stores are awfully good at making prices sound more impressive than they actually are. So I usually check the math (and usually, at the store, I check the usual price, to find how much I'm "saving.")


        Once I know what items we're buying that week, I get online. My first stop is Coupons.com (via MyPoints, since each redeemed coupon gets you 10 points). I print out the ones relevant to our purchases. It's actually worth noting that you can print out a coupon twice at any given IP address.


        If I still haven't found as many coupons as I'd like, I do web searches. Usually, there are a few dead ends, such as expired coupons. But I have had success, too. I've found $1-off coupons for Bertolli Oven Bake Meals. I found out that, by signing up at Betty Crocker, you can print out even more copies of coupons. (Which is how I came to have 6 50-cent-off coupons for cookie mixes.)


        I need to start making better use of the coupon sites, too. I'm working on it, slowly. If you're just starting out, I would start with Coupon Mom. Her site matches various sales up with the best coupons. You don't have to sit down and do the math. It's done for you. Some of the coupons are printable, others simply reference the day/source. In that case, you need to start saving all of your Red Plum/Smart Source coupons. Yet another good reason to get an organization system going.


        When it comes to coupons, though, there are a couple of extra tricks that you may or may not know. The easiest is to make friends with non-coupon-using newspaper subscribers. My aunt gives my mom a second set of Sunday coupons. Most people who consider coupons a nuisance are actually happy to give them out. They seem to feel better knowing that, this way, the coupons will actually see some use.


        Another trick is to visit coffeeshops, IHOPs and other leisurely Sunday places. These sites tend to have Sunday papers lying around. And, generally, the coupons are more of a mess and hassle for customers. If you ask, you can usually walk away with free coupons. (I've never heard of anyone doing this at libraries, but I suppose that's an option, as well.)



        Often, store circulars will have coupons, but these tend to have limits: 2 lb cheese $4.99, limit 3. Early in the week, most stores will have extra circulars. So go up to the service counter while you're there and ask if there are any. This way, you can buy the limit, drop the items off in the car, and go back in for more. (It's usually best to use a different teller, for discretion.)


        If you live in an apartment building like me, you can usually find plenty of extra circulars in the front lobby's trash/recycling bin. This is how Mom loads up on double coupons, when Albertson's offers them.


        I think that's about it, as far as my knowledge goes. But I'm sure there are more hints out there. What are your top couponing/sale-searching tips?

        Labels: , ,

        4 Comments:

        Blogger Donna said...

        Let me point out that the ingredients for the coupon organizer I made for you came from the lost-and-found sale at the university.
        Box of tabbed index cards: 5 cents (and there are still lots left)
        Original holder, a camera bag: 10 cents
        Replacement holder, a zippered vinyl pouch: 20 cents
        As for the cost to print out the categories: Very, very little since the paper was free and the ink deeply discounted because I cashed in ink cartridges. So let's say 5 cents, although it's probably less.
        Glue to glue them on the cards: Zero cents because the glue stick was free after rebate
        Total expenditure: 40 cents
        Watching you save money: Priceless. :-)

        April 26, 2009 at 3:34 PM

         
        Blogger Alane said...

        I love to coupon. I have a SIL I trade with occasionally and even some web friends we mail to each other. Some stores actually mail customers coupons like save $5 on your next $40. purchase but to get these go to your stores websites and sign up with your loyalty card. CVS mails them too and CVS and Walgreens both will email you occasionally special coupons but you must sign up. Great job on the stock up trip :)

        April 26, 2009 at 3:43 PM

         
        Blogger Meg said...

        I'm still not sold, that list is all processed carbs except for the foil -- and of those things would it have been cheaper to make your own assuming you had the time/energy? Now, if I couldn't afford anything but, that would be one thing. You do have to do what you have to do. However, I try to focus on whole fruits & veggies with some dairy and meat and overall *try* to avoid foods that are high on the glycemic index (processed carbs, especially). Unfortunately, finding coupons for a healthy, whole food diet is a lot harder.

        April 26, 2009 at 5:10 PM

         
        Blogger Abby said...

        Meg,

        You're right, none of that list was terribly healthy. But most people don't eat as healthily as they should. We're among them.

        That said, I don't ever have the energy to peel potatoes, cut them up and then hand mash them. And I'm not sure Tim would be up for that either.

        Even taking energy aside, homemade mashed potatoes would only be cheaper if you cook often enough that you use most or all of the potatoes before they go bad. Otherwise, a $1 side of mashed potatoes is a pretty good deal. And, given the price of blueberries these days, I am pretty certain you can't make blueberry muffins for $1.

        As for the cereal, i do agree with you. That's Tim's deal and he loves his sugary crap. I wish I could get him to eat better than wheat/corn and sugar, but he's not interested. So I won't push unless it starts severely affecting his health.


        I think it's good that you're trying to stay away from high glycemic index foods. And you're right, healthy food is harder to find coupons for.

        MSN Smart Spending recently ran a guest post about it. (http://blogs.moneycentral.msn.com/smartspending/archive/2009/01/23/eating-healthy-while-clipping-coupons-the-dos-and-don-ts.aspx)

        As you probably know, meat can be found discounted as it gets closer to its sell-by date. Then you can just take it home and freeze it. Veggies are best to simply grow on your own, unless, of course, you live in an apartment like us. (Ours doesn't get a lick of sunlight, either, so even a container garden is out of the question.)


        In all, I'm going to work on eating better. But I'm also going to be realistic. I like sugar. Don't tell Tim, but it's practically my soulmate. I will always eat more than is strictly healthy. But I should definitely work more veggies in. (Fruit isn't a problem. I love summer for the cherries and peaches, especially!)

        April 26, 2009 at 7:51 PM

         

        Post a Comment

        Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

        Links to this post:

        Create a Link

        << Home