As we talked about in the last post, extreme couponing is WAY too extreme for me. There are 2 primary reasons:
- I don’t have that kind of time
- I don’t need that much stuff
On the other hand, neglecting coupons as a whole isn’t the answer either. In Eating Well For Only $2 A Day I show you how to save a silly amount of money without coupons. I wrote it that way because I wanted to prove a point. Many people give up on saving money on groceries because they feel as though cutting coupons is the only avenue to big savings. Wrong. We proved that you can spend only $2 a day without resorting to coupons, planting a garden, or canning all summer.
But there’s also no reason to discount any of those tried-and-true frugal methods. Why stop there? Why not save even more?
Coupons don’t have to be scary or time consuming. Below are 5 rules that my wife and I use to make extreme couponing a little less extreme and a little more efficient.
5 Rules of Efficient Coupon Use
1. Don’t spend $1 to save $0.50
Coupons are a form of marketing. They are not distributed based on the generosity of Kellogg’s or Chips Ahoy. You can find coupons for just about anything if you look long enough, but the majority of coupons display name-brand products that already have a much larger margin and can afford to give discounts to lure you in.
In my neck of the woods, I can find a box of store-brand Cheerios for around $2.00 at Wal-Mart. The real Cheerios cost over $3.00 for the same size. Would a coupon for $0.50 off Cheerios really be all that helpful on its own? No. If you feel that you need Cheerios this week and can’t find a sale that lowers the original price or a store that will double the coupon for you, just buy the store-brand option. Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you need to use it. The point is to save money, not use as many coupons as possible.
2. Always match a coupon with a sale
The only time that I don’t mind if we use a coupon without a sale is when we were already going to buy that item anyway. If we need an item this week, there aren’t any sales, and there aren’t any cheaper options we might as well use a coupon and get whatever savings we can.
However, that’s the exception, not the rule. Coupons are most valuable when they are paired with a sale price. Let’s use the Cheerios example again. Our original coupon ($0.50 off) is nothing to get excited about. However, if Cheerios are already on sale for 2/$4 (a pretty common cereal sale), you can now get that same box for only $1.50, undercut the store-brand option, and legitimately save some money.
The Cheerios example was simplistic on purpose, but pairing the right sales and the right coupons can save you a lot more than $0.50 or $1.00. How do you think all of those extreme couponing disciples get the majority of their items for pennies? They find the best deals and take advantage.
So, how do we get some of the benefits of extreme couponing in only 1 hour? The next 2 rules help to answer that question.
3. Let someone else do the hard work for you
There are plenty of coupon sites that research the best deals and organize them for you. Your job is to simply scan the website and find the deals that speak to you. We use two every week - The Krazy Coupon Lady and Money Saving Mom. Each organizes the best deals by store, tells you where to find the coupons that correspond to the sales, and figures out what the final price should be. In other words, the research is done. Now you just need to find the deals that make the most sense for you and your family.
The Krazy Coupon Lady is a little more detailed so we tend to use her for the national stores that she showcases like Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, etc. The benefit to Money Saving Mom is the number of stores that are covered. You can find more regional stores like Meijer or Trader Joe’s. Plus, there are plenty of other interesting articles and tips throughout the website.
Here’s a brief tutorial of how to use The Krazy Coupon Lady.
Next, we look at how to use the Money Saving Mom website to find even more deals.
4. Don’t cut out every coupon (but don’t throw them away either)
Instead of going through the newspaper inserts and cutting out everything in sight, cut out only the coupons that you’ll most likely use no matter what. You should be able to skim through the inserts pretty quickly this way.
If it is a family mandate to bring home Yoplait yogurt each and every week then, by all means, cut out any Yoplait coupons you come across. Save them and organize them accordingly, so you can find them later. Cut out any coupons for your particular deodorant, a new ice cream you’ve been wanting to try for months, or anything that screams GREAT DEAL in a loud and unmistakable voice. As for the rest of the coupons…put the scissors down. Leave them in the inserts. I’ll explain in a minute.
Hardcore couponers store coupons in a binder (like a baseball card binder) so they have them handy when a good sale presents itself. They also buy several papers (some go as far as to buy 20 or more) so that they have as many coupons as possible. That’s how stockpiles are born. This is a great strategy if you’re willing to devote some serious time, but I’m not.
I don’t want to trade 30 hours per week to save 80% off my grocery bill when I can trade 1 or 2 hours per week for 40% – 50% off my grocery bill. My time is valuable.
So, what are we going to do with those newspaper inserts I referenced earlier? We’re going to keep the full inserts in tact and organize them by date in a file cabinet or another convenient spot. Remember, sites like the Krazy Coupon Lady tell you exactly where the coupon that you need is found. So, why cut it out unless you KNOW you need it?
I’ll give you an example. A 10 oz. container of Vlasic Pickle Relish costs $0.98 at Wal-Mart. Money Saving Mom tells you that you can get it for only $0.23 if you use a $0.75 coupon located in the April 1st Smart Source Insert. Go to the April 1st inserts, find the Smart Source one, cut out the coupon and you’ve got yourself a deal.
Many of the best deals are found with online coupons. In this case, a link is provided next to the deal to bring you right to the coupon. No newspaper necessary. Just click and print. Sometimes with the online coupons you may have to “like” the facebook page of a company like Ragu or jump through a small hoop or two, but most of the time it’s just click and print.
5. Don’t forget about price matching
For someone like myself who has to rely on Wal-Mart due to my rural location, price matching allows me to still partake in the deals of any stores within a reasonable distance. So, just because I can’t drive to Kroger doesn’t mean that I can’t catch most of the same deals by price matching at Wal-Mart.
The One-Hour Coupon Rule
The beauty of coupons is that they will take you as far as you want to go. You can use 1 coupon or 100. You can research and organize for 1 minute or 40 hours. You can save $0.25 or $250. It’s up to you.
Why one-hour? Because our goal is not to catch every single “good deal” that week. Our goal is to spend as little as possible on tasty and reasonably healthy food. If we miss a deal or two, it’s ok. So, one-hour is our limit. (It might take you a little more than this for the first few weeks. That’s natural.)
However, if you think that 2 hours allows you more savings and you have the time to do it, who am I to stop you? But, remember, you could spend days searching for coupons. At some point you have to let the deals go and stick to more practical savings.
Chocolate Coupon Cake
Part of the reason Trisha and I can spend so little time couponing and searching the ads is because we already have a good base knowledge of how to eat cheaply. That’s what my book is about. No coupons – no sales – $2 a day. So, if we can do that, then adding some appropriate coupons and sales into the mix is extra.
Sales and coupons are the frosting on the cake. The cake (the foundation) is enough to fill you up and get the job done, but to take it to the next level and really enjoy every bite, a rich chocolate frosting is a must. But, you don’t need much. Too much frosting is overwhelming and sickening. A little goes a long way.
Put the right cake and the right frosting together and you’ve got…deliciousity.
And who doesn’t love deliciousity?
Here’s what we do
1. Skim the coupon inserts to make sure there’s nothing that jumps out at us. (10 minutes)
We’re only cutting out the coupons that slap us in the face. That doesn’t happen very often. File the inserts away in an orderly manner for later use.
2. Take a look at the store ads that are most important to you. (30 minutes)
We have 6 weekly ads that we always check and 2 or 3 more that we’ll check if we have time. This is the point when you’re checking for any sales that you might be able to match a coupon with. Keep in mind coupons that you already have or ones that you remember seeing in this week’s inserts.
Write down any deals that you might want to consider getting this week (with or without coupons). Just because you write it down doesn’t mean you have to buy it, but it allows you to make a plan once you’re all done.
3. Let the coupon websites help you catch the very best deals. (20 minutes)
This is the most important step when it comes to using coupons effectively. It’s where we find out that we can get free pasta or $0.10 tuna fish. Grab the best deals and leave the ones you don’t need. Don’t fall in love with every deal.
Check the tutorials for detailed information on how we do this.
Your Next Step
Then, search for the particular stores in your area whose grocery ads you would like to follow each week and bookmark them in some way on your computer, so you can quickly go down the list, skim the ads, and save some time.
Finally, give it a shot. See what deals you can find next week and plan your menu accordingly. Once you get used to the process, you’ll begin to enjoy nabbing those fantastic deals and leaving the rest.
You don’t have to spend 40 hours per week cutting coupons to feel a little “extreme” now and then.