Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Couponing Tips: 3 Steps to Saving Money

For those of you thinking about starting couponing as a way to save money, congratulations! You've taken the first of many steps to achieving just this, but it's going to take much more than serious couponing to make a difference.

Say what?

I thought all I had to do was clip coupons, print coupons, hunt for deals and SAVE BIG? Well, this is true, but you will have to change the very way you think about money and shopping, particularly grocery shopping, if you ever hope to lower your spending to the point of saving money or paying down debt.

Over the past 6 months, I've been able to keep a detailed account of all our household expenditures, and the amount of money we, as a family, spent on grocery and drugstore shopping a month was, frankly, obscene. Tracking 3 months of spending without the benefit of couponing or changes in our spending habits showed we spent an average of $1300 a month on grocery and household items. I was absolutely mortified with that amount. I had no idea it was that high!

I contemplated several options to bring our household spending down, but nothing made a considerable dent. Until I tried couponing. Serious (or sometimes referred to as extreme) couponing. I know many people who are die-hard couponers and can maintain that level of commitment indefinitely. I am not one of those people. I just know I am not. So what was I to do to achieve the same results? Here's what I did, and you can do it too.

1. Plan your meals around the weekly grocery store sale ads

This is not as difficult as it sounds. Sure there is a certain amount of time needed to sit down and plan out a week's worth of meals ahead of time, but the time you invest will turn into monetary savings. Here is an example: If Publix has Barilla Pasta on sale B1G1 FREE, then my meal plan will incorporate pasta dishes in various forms. If chicken drumsticks and thighs are BOGO at Winn Dixie, then, guess what, we're having chicken next week.

The meal planning is an important aspect of saving money. If you don't shop around the sales, you'll never maximize your potential savings. Oh, you'll save with coupons, but not as much as couponing and shopping sales jointly. It's that simple. If you can change the way you shop, you will certainly see results. BIG RESULTS!

2. Stockpile

No, I am not referring to hoarding. Stockpiling is the strategic accumulation of necessary items. If you happen to have a deep freezer or large upright freezer section in your refrigerator, you can stockpile meat and frozen food items. This will translate into HUGE savings on your grocery bill. Here is a perfect example of what I'm referring to: Let's say pork chops and ground beef are on sale BOGO at Winn Dixie. Grab several packages of each, store them in your freezer, and you'll end up with enough meat for several months and you saved 50% while doing so.

Other great items to stockpile are drugstore items. Most of these items have a very long shelf life, and can easily be stored for a year or two without worry of expiration. These are some of the drugstore items I stockpile:

dental floss
body wash
shaving cream
sanitary pads
toilet paper
paper towels
baby rash cream
baby wipes
diapers (2-3 month supply only as children grow out of their current sizes)
laundry products
household cleaning products

As you can see, these are all items that can be bought in bulk and stored for a long time without risk of spoiling. They also happen to be some of the most expensive items we bring into our homes, right? By combining sales with coupons and loyalty or reward programs (as many drug store chains have), you can stock up on most of the items on my list for less than $2 each (most will cost you less than $1 or will end up being FREE!).

Start by compiling a list of household items you can stockpile in your own home. Then search the weekly drugstore sale ads for deals, clip your coupons, and begin your stockpile. It took me just over 2 months to get us to the point where we had enough of the items on my list to last us at least one year (in some cases two). Now I only shop the drug store sales when I can get these items for pennies on the dollar or free, and only to replenish what we've already used.

I have one large shelving unit where we store all our stockpile items, and limiting my available space provides the necessary boundary I need to keep me from stockpiling too much. Decide where and how you will store all your items, and you'll minimize the risk of going into "hoarding" territory.

3. Coupon with confidence

As important as the first two steps I mentioned are to your money-saving success, they won't really matter unless you coupon armed with knowledge - and CONFIDENCE!

Scour the web and find the couponing and money-saving sites you love the most. Visit them daily (even if it's just for a few minutes to "catch up" on the day's deals). The best and least time-consuming way to go about doing this is by signing up for their daily email updates.

Familiarize yourself with coupon lingo. This is important if you plan on frequenting online couponing forums (a great source of up-to-the minute deal finds). You need to know what a "blinkie" or a "peelie" is if you want to nab a great coupon for a deal.

Find a grocery store (and drug store) near you that is COUPON FRIENDLY. I have three Publix stores near me and all three have different coupon policies. One only accepts manufacturer coupons from newspaper inserts and competitor coupons from a select few nearby grocery stores, the other accepts online manufacturer coupons as well as the usual ones from inserts but doesn't take ANY competitor coupons, and the last (and my favorite) accepts internet printables, newspaper insert coupons and competitor grocery store coupons. Once you've found "your" store and are satisfied with their coupon policy, get to know your store managers, customer service desk staff and cashiers. Especially the cashiers, folks. You will begin to discern which ones are coupon-friendly and which ones are not. You'll find out which day of the week and time of day are ideal for your shopping trip. When all these things come together, that is when you will get the most bang for your buck.

These are not the only steps to saving big money, but they are a necessary start in the right direction :-)


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