Practical Couponing: Savings for the Un-Extreme

I coupon, but TLC probably wouldn't touch me with a ten foot pole. I do not have a stockpile in my garage. (I don't even have a garage--ha!) I don't coupon like it's my job. I don't dumpster dive.

I am unabashedly lazy when it comes to couponing. And that's totally okay, because I still manage to save money every week on groceries and, most importantly, I make it fit into my schedule. This is a simple how-to guide explaining my methods. They work for me and I believe they could help you out. Because, let's be honest, if you could save a tank of gas each time you shop by couponing for 1 hour a week... why wouldn't you?

The Facts:

  • I spend about an hour couponing every Sunday night.
  • On average, we save on average $20-$40* off our grocery bills.
  • We tend to cook a lot, using fresh ingredients and also like to have fruit/veggies on hand. Our grocery bill can be anywhere from $70-$120 depending what's on the menu that week.
  • You will truly get out of couponing what you put into it. There's a reason the individuals on Extreme Couponing save big - they dedicate all their time to it. For me, saving $40 is a successful trip.
  • Through this process, you'll find what works best for you/your family.

*Disclaimer: I didn't start saving upwards of $40 per shopping trip until about after the third week I started clipping. It just takes a little while to build your coupon inventory. Don't be discouraged!

You don't have to follow my method forever, but it's good to start somewhere.

1. Read The Krazy Coupon Lady's Beginners Guide and download their binder PDF.

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I know, I know, this site features/encourages extreme couponing but that being said, KCL.com is an excellent resource for anyone getting started. You don't have to have aspirations to clean out shelves at your local grocery store for this site to be helpful. I read her 10-day program all in one day and it served as a great introduction to the practice of couponing. You learn terminology, like what a Catalina is and how to "stack" your coupons.

Hole punch the PDF and put in a 3" binder. Go to Walmart and hang out with the pimply-faced boys in the trading card section and pick up a package of trading card protector sheets.

Brownie Points: Follow The Krazy Coupon Lady on Facebook. I don't always act on the deals they post, but I like knowing that they're there and up-to-date if one day I did want to get some eye shadow for $.01 at Walgreens. I mean, you never know.

2. Start collecting member cards.

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There is a lot of value in doing this. As you can see, I have them from everywhere, but I encourage you to at least get them from stores you frequent the most. Your purchases are noted and using your member card when paying out ensures that your Catalina coupons are relevant. For instance: I regularly purchase Lean Cuisines and wet dog food. Most of my Catalina coupons that I get at check-out are promotions for these kinds items. Every now and then it'll be something random, but not often.

Brownie points: Think about the products you love the most that are kind of expensive. Visit their corporate website and sign up for any newsletter they might offer with coupons. I have done this with Alexia All Natural FoodsChobani Yogurt, or even restaurants like Bruegger's Bagels and Panera. (There is also a crazy comprehensive product list with current discounts on KCL.com!)

3. Buy your first Sunday paper!

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Make sure the inserts are in there! Silly tip, I know, but some people will steal the inserts out of the newspaper. Never hurts to double-check. Clip all the coupons unless it's something you really will never use. Organize them in your binder by expiration date. Save any inserts from Target, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. and keep them in your binder to refer to during the week. It helps to have them on-hand if you need something last minute and want to see if it's on sale anywhere.

4. Make your shopping list and shop your binder.

This tip works best if you adopt the mindset that you will exclusively shop from a set grocery list. I live by my lists, but that's a story for another time. Once you have a working shopping list, then shop your binder. Pull coupons for things on your list, double check any coupon clauses, and also see if there are coupons expiring soon that you'll want to use. Adjust your shopping list as necessary. Unless there is a special brand that cannot be substituted (shampoo, for instance), be flexible and try new things. If you shop with a partner, flip through binder with them to see if there's any extra coupons they want you to use.

Place pulled coupons in an envelope and keep with your shopping list.

Brownie Points: Use an organized shopping list template to help you remember/determine the things you need, like Knock Knock's awesome All Out Of notepad. I have it in pink and love it! You can also find free templates online with a simple Google search for "shopping list template."

5. Shop, but don't drop.

You've got your list, you've got your coupons--you're ready to go! Shop away. I don't carry my binder with me to the grocery store (yet another reason why I am not extreme), simply because I think it would be a hassle. Sure, sometimes I see a product and think "Shucks! I had a coupon for that!" but I just make a mental note for next week. No big deal, and at the end of the day it was money I didn't spend and I still got everything we needed for the week.

Also, I don't like the idea of shopping all over town for the things I need. I exclusively purchase food items from grocery stores/big box stores like Super Walmart. When I need body wash or something similar, if I already have a coupon for the product, like body wash, I will check cross promotions at other stores (this is why you should save the inserts you don't hack up!) to see how much I can save. This is harder to do with food, because it's such a broad array of items. But then again, however you want to coupon and, ultimately, save money is entirely up to you!

In the store you'll be faced with different shopping options, or as I like to call them, Saving Situations. Here are some examples for you using Goldfish.

  • You could buy the Goldfish with no coupon. Result: Bad Saving Situation - you're not saving at all!*
  • Use coupon and save $.50. Result: Ehh Saving Situation - only $.50?
  • Buy generic and save id="mce_marker". When I'm faced with a situation like this, I almost always buy generic, unless I need something very specific for a recipe or question the quality of an item. Result: Fair Saving Situation - but your coupon is useless.
  • You have a $.50 off coupon for Goldfish, and your grocery store has Goldfish marked down id="mce_marker", saving you id="mce_marker".50! This doesn't always happen, but when it does, capitalize on it. Result: Bomb Diggity Saving Situation!

*No judgment. Goldfish are delicious. We all have shopping items like this that we justify splurging on!

Can we forget that I said 'bomb diggity?' Thanks.

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Similar Saving Situation/Dilemma: You have a coupon to save id="mce_marker" on 3 boxes of cereal. And of course it's always well-known brands. News flash: cereal ain't cheap! Most of these brands (if your grocer isn't running a promotion of their own) are $4 before tax. 3 boxes of cereal X $4 - id="mce_marker" = roughly id="mce_marker"1. So I save a dollar. Gee, thanks. I never use these coupons.

6. Check out!

Have your coupons ready to scan and your membership card out ready to be swiped. Bask in your savings. Remember to pick up an new Sunday paper! Once we have unpacked the groceries I sit down, flip through the inserts and start the process all over. It's all a cycle!

Token moment of honesty... some weeks are hectic and I don't get to coupon. Sometimes we have hectic weeks in a row and I don't get to coupon. Just because you don't get to coupon some weeks, this is okay! It's easy to put down and pick back up.

Other ways to save: Get in the habit of visiting a restaurant/businesses website before you leave the house to see if they have any printable coupons. Also become fans of your fave places Facebook pages because they often provide savings there.

And that's it! This is actually a really rewarding lifestyle and I'm glad I got on board, even if just in a small way. I hope you'll try it out too, because saving money really does make you feel like a badass.

-Sarah

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