Please tell me I'm not the only one who immediately thinks of Mrs Doubtfire when I read the line:
"Help is on the way"
So I was recently approached to sit down with someone and discuss "how" to coupon and change their shopping ways. It's kind of funny because to me, it's no big deal any more, it's just my way of life. I don't think that even if Josh and I were making twice as much money as we do now that I would give up couponing. For me its fun, it's a good release for my OCD and who doesn't like getting something for nothing?
Where to start is the first question...First look at your budget. I have a standard monthly budget that has at least helped us visualize how much we are spending and putting into savings. Then I do a bi-weekly budget so we can 100% accurately determine how much we have for groceries, gas, fun money, bills & savings. If you have extra money available then you know that you can stock up on staples like sale meats, bread, canned goods etc...but if you are scraping by, then you know you have those items in your pantry or freezer to fall back on.
Next, make a list of what items you usually use throughout the course of the week. Are there breakfast favorites? Do you make nachos or pasta once a week? Add all the ingreditents. Is bacon something you only use on a special occasion? Leave it off. Also include any household supplies you purchase regularly ie: toilet paper, napkins, clorox wipes. Once you have this list you can get started.
I like to have a "price list" to go by, basically a bottom line of how much I'm willing to pay per item. Then as I shop I can add to this list letting me know: "Hy Vee sells their tortillia chips for $1.25 and Russ's has theirs on sale Buy One Get One Free, but they are $4 a bag, Hy Vee is still a better deal." Now truthfully, I have a brain for numbers, so I don't generally write all of this down. But this is generally helpful when you are just getting started scouring the ads and clipping your coupons.
As far as clipping coupons goes, here is my first rule of thumb, don't clip what you will never use. We don't eat fish, so I don't clip it. I won't use Tide because it's overpriced, I don't clip it. I hate air fresheners, I don't clip it. Next, stay organized. Whether you have an envelope or a 2 inch binder, being on top of the game is the only way to do it. I have a binder and 3 folders: Ads (so I can always look back for reference), To Clip (I get so many inserts I have a hard time keeping up) and To File (coupons I've clipped that need to be put in the binder).
My binder is divided by item type ie: Cleaning, Frozen Foods, Diapers & Wipes, Dairy, Regular Foods, Snacks, Breakfast, Make Up etc... I just use Baseball Card Holders to divide them all and I can see everything at a glance. I carry my binder whenever I go shopping because you never know what you will see. What if you just run into Menards and happen to see Dawn dish soap for $0.50 less than ususal? Whip out your binder, and buy as many as you've got coupons for, that's a deal baby! So be organized and be prepared.
Now spread all your crap out and get started. I go thru one ad at a time and write down the item and price and immediately pair it with a coupon. Each store that I go to has a little envelope so I can keep everything seperated and ready to go. Jotting the price down is also helpful because if you are out and about and see that Super Saver has their strawberries for $1.69, and you were planning on buying them at Walmart for $1.99, get them at Super Saver! Even just to have that info handy as you're looking thru the ads is helpful.
Price comparision is especially important when looking thru the CVS and Walgreens ads. As I've previously mentioned these two stores offer in store cash back in the form of Extra Care Bucks (CVS) and Register Rewards (Walgreens). Not only do you have to take the actual price of the goods into account, but also how much money you will get back.
For some of us, travel is a concern when shopping. I don't shop at Walmart because I hate it and because it's too far to drive. That's why I was so disheartened to learn of the future location of Whole Foods in Lincoln...way out of my neck of the woods.
But plan your trips wisely and stopping at multiple stores is no big deal. For example I go to Super Target and Hy Vee in the same day because that's a little out of my way. I just bring a cooler and insulated shopping bags and I'm good to go.
Russ's and Sunmart on 17th Street are both fast stops close to home, so I usually go to those in the same trip. Same goes with Super Saver and CVS on 27th Street, I go to the Y, stop at those 2 stores then head home. This way if you don't have to drive all over you aren't wasting gas or time.
You may think that shopping at all these stores is a waste of time and energy, but for me it's fun. I get to chat and play games with my kids while we shop. You never know what each store will have on clearance or an unadvertised mark down and it's good exercise to stroll around with a cart full of kids and food.
Also, use your resources! While I'm honest and provide you with a glimpse at the couponing life and frugal-ish living, I'm certainly not the best place to find a deal. My favorite sites are:
http://www.hip2save.com/ - Colin does amazing job of posting not only national ads deals with the coupon pairings but also great online deals and freebies as well
http://www.moneysavingmom.com/ - Crystal does more of what is referred to as "homesteading", which is living from scratch and using coupons to supplement. But she also provides a wealth of information about frugal living, gluten free cooking, home schooling and more.
http://www.chicksdigdeals.com/ - Nikki is a Lincoln, Nebraska based blogger who goes into great detail with the local stores ads as well as any local unadvertised deals. She is the perfect supplement to the other two sites to really help you maximize your savings.
So does couponing work for everyone? Certainly not. Some people don't want to put in the time or effort. Can it be annoying and daunting to keep up? Yes, even I get tired of it. But is it worth it? Hell yeah. I have been working part time for the last 2 years and have amassed a huge stockpile, have money in savings and have not changed our lifestyle one iota. And there is no doubt in my mind it's because I coupon and penny pinch.
Please, feel free to ask questions, make comments and share advice. You never know what tip you might give or question someone else might ask that will change how you feel about shopping, couponing and living your life the frugal way.