Couponing can seem really complicated. But the truth is that couponing doesn’t have to be either complicated or time consuming. In fact, I never go to shopping anymore without saving at least 30% off my bill, and I don’t buy a weekly newspaper or have tons of coupon inserts cluttering up my already cluttered desk. Instead, I use a few sites, an app or two, and I always (well almost always) stick to my list. Read on to learn more.
Going Down the Couponing Path
One of the things that I hear from my friends and family is that couponing is hard work, or that they don’t want to be that person holding up the line at their store while they try to use 100 coupons. I can understand their pain. I was that person once upon a time. When I was younger and a new Mom, I decided to give couponing a try. Never one to slowly try something out, I jumped in with both feet. I started buying multiple copies of the Sunday paper, saving every coupon insert religiously in binders. I stopped by grocery stores simply to pick up their ads so that I could go home and create my plan.
My plan was always complicated. I would pore over the ads, trying to find the best combination of deals and coupons. I would refer to websites where people gave tips on the best deals. And my effort did often pay off. I would make weekly shopping trips to Publix, Winn Dixie, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target (yes all of them) to buy maybe a couple items at one place, a cartload at another. My final bills were consistently 50% off and greater. I rejoiced when I would get items for free or even make a few cents. However, there were two problems with this. First, I was not buying what we necessarily needed. At the end of that year, we had more bottles of barbecue sauce than we could use before they expired, tubes of toothpaste that lasted us at least 8 years, more cleaning products than I knew what to do with, and many other items that just sat on my shelves. However, the second problem I had was that I was a work-from-home new Mom who probably spent two days a week on coupons: one for organizing and creating my lists and one for shopping.
Now I know that couponing has become much easier today. If I wanted to do the same thing as I used to, I probably could cut down on my organizing day, but the time to make the trips still would be the same. What I decided was that this was just not worth it. I was feeling like I was neglecting the other parts of my life: my work, my kids, my husband, and myself. Therefore, I took some time off. In fact, I took 10 years off.
An Easier Way to Coupon
But last year, I decided to give it another try. I decided to find an easier way. What I discovered is that couponing doesn’t have to take that much time to save 30% off of every grocery bill. I now spend about two hours organizing my list, printing a couple of coupons, and looking through my apps. Rarely do I ever buy a newspaper. I have cut down the stores I visit to only two or three depending on the deals I find. Following are the steps I take each week.
Step One: Take Stock of the Week and Month Ahead
Before I begin making my lists, I think about what I have coming up the week ahead. I figure out how many meals I will need to make at home, making sure to think about any special events or dinner parties I might be hosting. I also think about any key items I know that we absolutely need (Toilet paper, check!). All of this gets jotted down on a scrap piece of paper, creating sections for each day of the week and an area where I note these essentials. I note any items I already have in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer that I want to cook during the week.
Finally, I think ahead for the rest of the month. Is there a birthday on the horizon? I do this because I know that we always need ice cream, plates, napkins, etc. for these types of events. If I find a deal on something that will be happening in the next month, I will go ahead and add it to my list. However, I don’t go crazy and buy for the year. I just don’t have the space or desire to clutter up my home in this way.
Step Two: Start Couponing at the Southern Savers Site
I have used a number of coupon sites over the past year, but Southern Savers is just so easy. It’s well organized, updated daily, and the best starting place I know of for my list. By creating an account, I’m able to create and print off lists for each store telling me the deals that I want to use for my shopping trips. I use the drop downs for Grocery Stores, National Stores, and Drug Stores to find the stores I want to visit. For example, I live right around the corner from a Publix store. I am able to look at the top deals this week at Publix. The site tells me where I can find the coupons for each deal. Because I don’t want to fool with newspapers, I ignore all deals that are not printable, mobile, or available in a coupon book found in the store lobby. But what I have found is more and more coupons are becoming available as either printables or on mobile apps.
On the site, I simply check the deals I want, print any coupons that have printable links, and then print out my final list. I make sure to note any items I’m going to be buying on my weekly overview page I created in step one.
Step Three: Visit the Target Cartwheel App
Southern Savers has a page for Target which does a good job of looking at weekly deals. However, I like to go into my Target Cartwheel App to make sure that there isn’t something I’m missing there. In fact, I have gotten in the habit when I’m in Target of scanning whatever I’m planning to purchase to ensure that there’s not a discount I’ve missed or an alternative that will end up being cheaper.
Step Four: Plan My Shopping Trip
I take a minute to think about what I’m buying at each site. I try to only buy frozen items at one place so I can go there last. However, I typically take a cooler or insulated bag in the car so I can leave cold items in the car while I run into a store. I try to do my longest shop last, since that’s where I will most probably be buying the frozen items, meat, etc. However, I also think about my drive and how to minimize my time away from home. For me, my typical route is: Aldi’s (no coupons but I find great deals on veggies and other items where there were no coupons for the week), Target, Winn-Dixie or Publix. I try not to go to both large grocery stores each week, only picking the one that has the best deals. I’ve found that Winn-Dixie’s Plenti Points are awesome and really add up, so I often go there. However, Publix has great BOGOs. It all depends on what’s on my list.
Step Five: Stick to My List
As much as possible I try and stick to my list. This is much easier when I shop by myself. When my husband or kids are along, it always seems that we add “just one thing.” However, I guess I’m just as guilty as they are. (I have a weakness clearance end caps at Target.) But as much as possible, I try to stick to my list.
Step Six: Track How Much I’ve Saved
There are a couple of ways you can do this. One is to save your receipts. The amount saved is on the bottom of each one. I find this adds clutter to my life. I have a friend who takes a picture of each of her receipts. However, I’m a little more old-fashioned as I just note it down in a small notebook. For example, 8/7 – Spent $100, Saved $50, 33% savings. This allows me to go back and celebrate all that I have accomplished. It also keeps my motivation up to continue to save.
Other Ways to Save
There are many ways you can save money on purchases. I have friends who swear by the Ibotta app which is basically a rebate site. Combined with couponing, they save a lot of money. Other apps like this exist too. I just haven’t had the time to really get involved with these. However, I do have a goal to figure them out soon and save even more. My only requirement is that I don’t take any more time than necessary taken away from being with my precious family.
I have used couponing to help pay down my debt. In addition, it helps me feel like I don’t have to give up on products I love as I try to save money. Here’s to easy couponing and living an abundant life.
Photo Credit: Yoel Ben-Avraham/Flickr