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!
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?