There are really just four simple rules to follow to be a smart shopper:
1. Use a coupon if at all possible
2. Go in prepared, have a list and have your coupons cut and ready to go
3. Match your coupon to a sale for the best possible deal, and when you find that best possible deal…stock up!
4.Don’t buy things you don’t need (this includes things that you want, have a coupon for, but know you shouldn’t really have…in my case that is fruit roll ups!)
I don’t even know what first made me start wanting to coupon to save money. I can’t recall a defining event like many can. I’ve been a stay at home mom since my son was born (although I do work part time during the school year at a Mother’s Day Out program) and we’ve been doing pretty well as a one income family. By no means swimming in cash, but we had a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs. A nice cable package, a playroom fully stocked with toys for the kids. But I knew it was possible to stretch our dollar further, and I knew it was going to require a lot of education on my part. If you are one of the lucky kids whose parents sat them down and explained how to find a good sale, and what a good price was for chicken…and you actually listened and retained that information I am very envious! I had to learn the hard way. I read all the blogs and forums I could get my hands on. I poured over store ads and probably ticked off a few cashiers along the way (be organized!). It was so worth it though. Because as I like to tell my husband so often…it’s honestly like I’ve almost doubled our income. And you can too.
Where to start?
1.Start off buying the paper. Just buy one, or if you are super ambitious buy more than one. I buy 3 every single week. Pull out the coupon inserts (and sometimes Parade has coupons so flip through that as well), and use the rest to pack things, make paper airplanes, wrap gifts (the comics are great for this!) or recycle it.
Now you have a choice, you can either cut out all the coupons and file them in some way. Or you can simply write the date on all of the inserts and file them away whole. I use the binder method. Which means I have a really large binder filled with coupons and I file them inside baseball card holders. One day I’ll take a pic and make a posting about it. You might want to start off with something smaller though like an alphabetized accordion file you can fit in your bag.
2. Find out when the stores you shop at send out their new ads. You can either wait for the ad to come in the mail, look it up online, or find a website that posts the new ads every week (sometimes they do coupon matchups as well which makes your job easy peasy!
3. First I like to look at what meat is on sale. If you see a good price for meat, don’t just buy enough to get you through the week, buy enough that will comfortably fit in your freezer and that will last you until the next great deal comes along. Freezer bags are your friends.
4. Next look at produce. Typically whatever is in season at the moment will be the best deal. Don’t be afraid to buy a lot and freeze whatever you know you won’t use before it goes bad. Some veggies and fruits change in texture a bit when frozen but when cooked or baked into something you can’t tell. Flash freezing flat on a tray is your best bet. Than pour into a bag so you don’t end up with an unrecognizable clump.
5. Next look at what kind of promotions your store has going on. Are they having a sale where you buy 10 participating products and immediately get $5 off your total bill? If so, look at the participating products (which are generally at sale prices) and match what you want to a coupon. If you combine a coupon, a sale price AND a promotion for $x off…you are looking at some BIG money saving.
6. Finally, write up your list. Gather your coupons. And go shop!
The best deal you are going to get is when the store is having a sale, that sale item is part of a bigger promotion AND you, have a coupon. When this happens, STOCK UP. Do not shelf clear. No one likes a shelf clearer. That’s just rude. Sales cycles run around 6-8 weeks. Get enough of a product so it will reasonably last you until the next sale and nothing more. You don’t really need 2 years worth of cereal. Where in the world would you store it? Even if it’s free, it does you no good if it expires or if it takes up too much space in your life. The same goes for any product. Now if you just can’t pass up that great deal, and you have enough and you don’t have to shelf clear to get an overabundance…donate. Now that you are a savvy shopper, you can pass on your good bargains to others who are in need.
There are sites online called coupon clipping services. They charge NOT for the coupon itself, but for the cost of finding and clipping and sending the coupon to you (since it is illegal to charge for coupons). If you look ahead and see that your store is having a fantastic sale on diapers coming up and you only have 3 diaper coupons, you can order coupons from these services in bulk so you can really take advantage of the sale and stock up. Be aware that really hot coupons go fast (for instance, there was a $2 off of 1 pampers wipes 72ct or larger a few months ago. Walmart had the wipes priced at $1.97. Free wipes! Those coupons were gold! I never got my hands on one). You can also print coupons from many manufacturer sites as well as many sites I have listed under “Grocery Stores” (you can also preload your shopper card with coupons!).
For the most part, the greatest deals on toiletries, diapers and household cleaners are at the drugstores. Unless it’s an amazing deal at the grocery store…wait for the drugstore to have as sale on it. In fact this is where a ton of your savings will come from. There are some things I simply won’t compromise on in my family. For instance, I only buy one kind of bread. My kids eat a lot of bread and I don’t want them eating a bread that has high fructose corn syrup in it. I rarely EVER have a coupon for this bread, but I will pay full price for this bread no matter what. Sure I could get $.99 bread if I wanted to, but my families health in this case is more important than saving a few bucks. I’ll save that money elsewhere. It might mean I’ll never have a bill that’s 90% savings, but I can deal with that. Don’t compromise your families health or comfort to save a buck. It’s not worth it. You just can’t put a dollar sign on those things.
Some people have a price book as well. They write down the best price they’ve ever paid for something and when they buy always try to buy as close to that price as possible. My price book for the most part is in my head. Maybe one day I’ll get around to writing it down, but it takes a lot of work to keep up with.
You don’t have to shop at multiple stores, but I do. I get the best deals that way and all of my stores are within a 3 mile radius of where I live. So it’s not a big deal. And sometimes, the most “expensive” grocery store is actually the cheapest. They can afford to have the really awesome sales because everything else is so high priced. It’s good to have a “sale” store and a basic needs store (mine is HEB, but they have “everyday” low prices so 9 times out of 10 kroger and randalls beat them on sales).
Get on the mailing list for all the apparel, toy, video game, etc companies you frequent. EVERYONE sends out coupons. Match that coupon to a sale or a clearance rack? Big time savings!
Most of all remember that all coupons are a form of advertising. They want to get you in there, get that one thing for a low price and pay full price for everything else. Also they want to hook you on a product at a low price to where you feel you have to have it and will pay full price for it from now on. It’s brilliant, and it is a system that clearly works. The key to being a smart shopper is to make that system work in your favor by buying when the price is low and the coupon is, high.
Here are some great places to print coupons:
savings and, coupons