Saving money on your grocery bill with coupons requires more than simply cutting them out. If you’re apt to walk into a grocery store with last Sunday’s stack of coupons stuffed in an envelope, this will eventually wear you out and more than likely, you’ll find that you don’t save enough money for the time it takes to cut them out or dig through your stack looking for bargains while shopping. And the fact is that most coupons may not give you the best deals for several weeks, meaning you’ll need to hang on to them for a while. This makes for a rather bulky collection of coupons.
To aid your quest for slashing your grocery bill, here are some things you should do to organize yourself and prepare for a more cost and time effective way of grocery shopping with coupons.
1. Cut out all coupons. The most common source of coupons are the inserts in the Sunday paper (Parade often has one or two coupons as well). Every Sunday, maybe while you’re watching an evening show, cut out the coupons, making sure to cut out all of them, not just for the brands you use. Many coupon gurus may disagree with me there, but there have been many times when I have gotten products I could use for free. Let’s say there is a buy one get one free coupon for a brand of shampoo you’ve never used before, and this shampoo typically costs $4. The store eventually has this shampoo on sale, buy one get one free. Now two bottles cost $4. When the cashier writes in the cash value for the free item, they will write in the original cost, in other words, they will give me $4 off. Two bottles of free shampoo just for trying out a brand I’ve never used before.
2. Use a coupon caddy. To keep your coupons organized, buy a mini organizer caddy, some are made specifically for coupons. You can find these at Target or Walmart for up to $10, but I actually bought mine from Dollar Tree and it has lasted 2 years. Place an envelope in that front pocket but leave it empty, and then categorize the rest of your coupons in the other slots according to group. I have a slot for drinks/snacks, boxed/canned goods, cereal/breakfast, paper products, frozen food, a separate one for yogurt/refrigerated dough (because there’s always a lot of these coupons), pet supplies, cleaning supplies, and personal care. Some coupon gurus actually keep their coupons in those huge binders like the ones you keep trading cards in. This would be too bulky and inconvenient for me, but maybe you’d prefer to organize your coupons in that manner. Regardless of which method you choose, you have to stay organized.
3. Shopping lists. When the grocery store weekly flyer comes out, create a grocery list using the items that are on sale and that you have a coupon for. This process is not difficult, but it takes time, and with 2 businesses and 4 kids, I don’t have that much time. If you don’t have the time to do this yourself, I recommend the Grocery Game, because for a few bucks a month, they list out all the best buys and tell you if you have a matching coupon to use for it. (In addition, stores don’t advertise their clearance or close-out priced items, and these items are often the ones that are the best deals, but Grocery Game will catch all the deals for you). While creating your list, place each of the coupons you plan to use in that front empty slot of your coupon caddy, so that when you’re at the store, you know where they are.
4. If you find a good deal, buy more. A tip I often hear is to buy only what you need for the week. I don’t agree with this, especially for personal care products or products that have a long shelf life – products you will definitely use eventually, but don’t need immediately. The reason for this is because sales for items are cyclical, so you may able to get Colgate toothpaste for 50 cents today, but it’ll be another month or two before the same deal comes around again. So, in two weeks, if you’re out of toothpaste, you’ll have to pay full price.
5. Generic is not always the best value. Another tip that is often given is to buy generic products. I disagree, because if you follow the cycle of sales, the majority of the time the sale price of brand name products will be considerably less than even generic products. So purchasing generic does not necessarily mean the best savings. I have nothing against generics, they’re just usually not the best deals. But sometimes, even generics go on sale and I don’t hesitate to buy them when they’re a great deal.
6. Focus on your list at the store. Armed with a list, you’ll find that even though you spend more time preparing to shop, you spend less time at the actual store. In the end, the two balance out so that you’re really spending the same amount of time with grocery chores, just more time at home and less at the store. With your list, you won’t be tempted to buy products on a whim because you know you’ve already selected the best deals and you tend to be more focused on getting the products on your list that you don’t notice too many of the displays.
7. Keep coupons organized while you shop. While at the store, as you pick up each item on your list, place its coupon in the envelope. By the time you get to the register, all the coupons you have products for are in the envelope, and the ones you decided not to purchase will already be separated. Once you’ve loaded your groceries into your car and are preparing to take them home, look at your receipt at the total savings. You’ll be impressed. You will have purchased more groceries and spent much less than usual. I typically leave the store with around $200 worth of groceries that only cost about $80.
8. Maintenance: Your caddy will get bulky with expired coupons if you don’t clear them out regularly. Once or twice a month, go through your coupons and throw out the expired ones.