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Master of Coupons..Not Quite Yet

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It seems like I'm constantly being bombarded with coupons. Aren't you? Reading about how much money people can save using coupons, getting ads in the mail with coupons and there's even that Extreme Couponing show.

 

Truth be told, I'm not a big coupon user.

I'm a big believer in the phrase, "It's not a good deal if it causes you to buy something you weren't going to anyway." If while I was shopping, something I was going to buy anyway was on sale, great!  But I've always felt that looking at ads and using coupons would make me buy things that I wasn't planning to buy and I'd end up with an overall higher bill.

One of the grocery stores I shop at will put a sign on things that are on sale with a coupon - if one of the items I am purchasing is on sale, I'll go grab an ad and use the coupon. But not all grocery stores do this.

With this recent focus on using coupons, I suddenly feel like I may be missing out on something and leaving money on the table. I've decided I'm going to try couponing, and I want you to follow along with my adventure. Maybe you can even help me!

Here's what I'm going to do:

I usually need to visit two different grocery stores during a weekly shopping trip simply because some products are not available at my "main" location. So, before making my grocery list, I'm going to gather ads from these two stores. I will look for things on sale that I need to purchase anyway.  

I won't let a sale cause me to buy something I don't need right now, but I will let a coupon or a sale help me decide the meals we have, and the snacks we have on hand. In my next couponing update, I'll let you know how it went, and how many coupons I was able to use.

Do you use coupons? How does it work for you? Do you have any advice for me that can help me be a more effective coupon user? 

Related Links:

4 Tips to NON Extreme Couponing!

Are You a Coupon User?

When Coupons Cost You Money...

 

Travis Pizel, My Journey Out of Debt and A Straight Talk on Debt Customer Blogger for CareOne Services, inc. Travis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt and A Straight Talk on Debt blogs. He is also a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family. You can also read more from Travis on the Enemy of Debt blog, where he is a featured blogger. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

Follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles

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  • Like you, I don't usually use coupons.  If I happen to see one that I know I will need the product before it's expiration date then I will save it, and hope I remember I have it.  

    I will look forward to seeing how it goes for you, then maybe I will give it a try.  :-)

  • I recently read a couponer's blog where she said she learned how to do couponing by watching videos on U-Tube.  You might see what the "experts" advise and check out a few of these videos.  

    I, too, don't usually use coupons.  I'm like mdavis, I have trouble keeping track of the coupons after I cut them out.  The extreme couponers have huge binders where they keep their coupons so that might help.  Anyway, good luck and I can't wait to hear the final outcome.  Be sure to keep track of your time involved as well.  Seems to me that the extreme couponers spend hours and hours getting the coupons, cutting them out and organizing them.

  • mdavis1964, I'm guessing it's going to take me awhile to really get into the swing of things and find all the "tricks to the trade."  I'm hoping to get some tips to help move me along the path.  I'm guessing it will also require to get into some different habits (like checking all my coupons before I go shopping) and develop a new level of organizational skills.

    Oh boy....now I've scared myself a little.  But I'm up to the challenge!

  • You Tube videos?  I'm going to look for them RIGHT NOW, tiquie - thanks for the pointer....I need all the help  I can get.  Keeping track of the time spent is a great idea too......the handful of times I've watched the extreme couponing show I've often thought "They spend so much time doing this, they could have just as well got a job and earned the money!"

  • I use coupons regularly.  I only cut out coupons for the staples for my household, however, I keep the circulars filed away by date for unexpected items that may be needed.  I use the CouponMom website (free signup) to compare the two major grocery chains in my area.  This site matches the sales for the week with the coupons availabe in your area.  

    Items that I can get for Free or close to free I will purchase at that time and just keep them on hand so I never have to pay full price and I never run out (deodorant, soap, dishwashing liquid, razors, etc.)

    My Publix grocery store allows you to use their store coupons along with a newspaper coupon so it's an even greater savings. I also signed my Kroger Plus card up online and now I get coupons directly from Kroger once a month for their products which is great as well because the store brand is often already cheaper than namebrand and you can save even more.  You can also download coupons to your Kroger Plus Card and when you purchase those items the savings comes off automatically.

    You do have to watch the time spent.  I usually spend about an hour or so on Sunday evening while I am watching the GAMES.

    Just a few tips.  I will be watching your post as well and sharing suggestions along the way.

  • Great suggestions, Zandra - I'll have to check out CouponMom (hey....is there a CouponDad???) and see if it can help me too!

  • Good luck. You can do it.

    A great site for coupon tips, advice, and videos is coupondivas.com - Kitty is the greatest and does a ton of comparison shopping for you and has a great daily newsletter. She does all the research for you...even telling you where and how to match up your coupons for free stuff. As for me, I shop primarily for groceries at one store. If you go to the store's website you can usually download their store layout that tells you what is in each aisle. I then use a small coupon caddy/accordion file to put the coupons in the aisle where the items are. That way I can stop at the end of each aisle and review what I plan to purchase in that aisle and what I have coupons for. I then place all the coupons I am using for that trip in the last pocket of the file until I get to the register. I keep the caddy in the car (so I don't forget it) except for on Sundays when I clean out any expired coupons, and add the new ones from this week's paper or printed items from coupons.com, couponmom.com, allyou.com, Target.com, and CVS.com, etc

    If you don't already use Allyou.com it also has fantastic articles, free samples, and coupons. For stores like CVS and Target you can print their store coupons and use manufacturer coupons. Don't go crazy or buy things you won't use, but health and beauty items like shampoo and razors don't expire. In a house with four girls I wouldn't be able to keep up on health and beauty items if I didn't coupon.

    Organization is key. You don't have to spend a lot of time, just pay attention. I average better than $75 savings in coupons every time I shop on a $300-350 order. I can't wait to see how you do.

  • Wow, Jenhoman, thank you so much for all the great information!  I'm going to be checking out all the links you provided above and prepare to take my couponing to the next level......thanks again!

  • WOW.. That is a lot of great advice. Maybe I will look at coupons again. We only have two grocery stores here (I live in a small town) and one of them I cannot stand. It is poorly stocked and disorganized and very small so obviously I am loyal to the other store. I have a loyalty card and it lets me click on the coupons on-line and I get those when I swipe my card. I also keep an eye out for manufacture's coupons attached to what I buy. They are often on the box or in the box and since I buy that brand it works for me. I probably save about $5 a week so not much. For me the real help is with the periodic % off your shopping bill or $20 off if over $100 for the loyalty card. My store does not have expiration dates on these if they are on the loyalty card so we just saved big on our big holiday shopping trip.

    The kids and I did a summer project once where we spent 6 weeks shopping at one store and 6 at another (we lived in a much bigger town then). They each had a copy of the list and marked down the price of the item, the unit price, if there was a sale, coupon ect. They ALSO wrote down if there was a cheaper brand or a store brand. Then we looked to see if there was a coupon for those later.  Then we put all that info into a spreadsheet to compare. We were surprised to find that there was not much difference. I really expected the "High End" store to cost more. It was kind of my point. When we looked at why we found that the store gave more coupons for the brands we used. If we had switched to store brands and used those coupons we would have done better. We did make some buying changes but it was a great project and the kids learned a TON. They sure respected the grocery budget a lot more after that. I still find that if they are shopping they compare prices and unit prices. Oh - I split the list up so they were both working different items at the same time. Otherwise I think we would have been in the store for a long time. After the first trip they knew what they were doing and where to look and it did not take any more time. They really loved doing it which was surprising because I thought they would hate it.

  • That was a GREAT idea for a project for your kids!  Not only did THEY learn a lot about grocery budgeting, but as a family you all learned more about the stores you shopped at and how to get the most for your money.  How old were your kids when you did the project?  I just love the fact that you got your kids so involved in the process.....I remember giving my mom a really hard time about buying store brand potato chips when I was younger - I didn't have any idea how much things added up to, or what it meant to try to keep the family's grocery costs within budget - I suspect that will be something they will carry with them forever.

  • Kimmer, I like to get the kids involved, too. I have four girls from 7 to 20, so they are obviously at different points in their lives learning about spending and grocery shopping, but I think they each learn something about grocery shopping each time we go. I recently pointed out the unit per ounce cost that almost all retailers put on their shelf labels. Sometimes it makes more sense to buy big than small and vice versa. But, if you are going to use coupons it tends to be better to buy smaller than larger because you get a bigger savings on a single item. Like salad dressing...I will generally buy the smaller bottle for $1.25 with a $.75 coupon vice using the same coupon on a $3.00 bottle. Remember, just because a coupon has a picture of one product on it, or a specific size doesn't mean you can't use it on another item or size of the same brand (just check the fine print).

    Generics can be a great cost saver, but only if your family will eat the items. I tend to remove the items from their generic packaging (i.e., cereal and snack cakes) so that the opinionated teenagers don't get snarky, but after I reveal what they have been eating, they get over it. There are still some things (but not many) that our family is determined to buy name brand. I am not really that brand loyal on too many things.

    Another great thing to remember about coupons is that the week they come out isn't necessarily the week that the item is priced best. There is definitely a cycle in products. My kids are sometimes embarrassed by me accosting vendors in stores, but I drink more than I should of Diet Coke and I will ALWAYS ask the vendor if he has some of those stickers that they stick on the packages. They will usually hand a stack over if they have them.

    Shopping is happier when you save big. Organization and a plan is the key. Using a spreadsheet sounds like you have a great plan. One last thing to think of that keeps you out of the big box stores is that Amazon.com has a subscribe and save program for grocery and health and beauty items that you use regularly. If you subscribe they offer you up to a 20% savings and I am a Amazon Prime member, so I get free shipping on pretty much everything. For my daughter in collegein California I love to send her items regularly for much cheaper than she can buy them at the store. (This is great for Pop Tarts, snack foods, razors, feminine hygeine goods, etc). Not a prime member? A free six month membership is available through Studentuniverse.com (a great website for college kids). It is also a great place to find low cost airfare if you have a .edu email account.

  • The kids were 7 & 11 when we did the project. (They are 11 and 15 now) They were driving me crazy with wanting to get things at the store. We have had a rule for a very long time that we only grocery shop one day a week. If you did not get what you want on the list you don't get it until the next week. The running to the store to pick up..... was blowing the budget. It was clear to me that they did not appreciate the work I put into either our budget or our grocery list. They were getting out of school for the summer and I just decided it was a good time for them to learn how fast things add up. Like you, I remember giving my mom a hard time about cost cutting. After all those name brand items are just a "little" more. I did not want it to seem like a punishment or a lecture. I wanted it to be interesting and fun. They loved it. I know they learned a lot and they still use those skills. My son has never asked for fruit snacks again. He was SHOCKED at how much each of those pouches cost.

  • Jenhoman, I had to chuckle a little bit with your mentioning of removing generic products from the packaging.  Check out this previous blog post of mine regarding doing just that to my wife:

    community.careonecredit.com/.../would-you-like-to-save-1-29.aspx

  • I remember giving my mom a hard time too as a youngster, kimmer5000.  As an adult who now understands how much cheaper no-brand items can be, during a visit to my parents I looked my mom in the eyes and apologized.  :)

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