Welcome & About Me        FAQ & Tips        Stores        Get Coupons        Contact

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

Why coupons?

I really don't know what started it. If I wanted to go allll the way back I guess can remember watching my grandmother and mom clip their way through the Sunday paper. Our family was always about saving where you could even if it was to spend it elsewhere. Recently, I'd tried all the ways I could think of to cut our grocery bills, the same as I’d tried to cut mine on my own, and kept feeling like I was missing something. I was going shopping with a set list, buying mostly generic and still coming home with bills way higher than I estimated. There had to be a better way.

One of the things I was already addicted to were restaurant & meal coupons; I'd carry tons of those for whenever we wanted to eat out and had no problem collecting them where I could find them and whipping them out when the check came. Why not do the same for groceries? Then one day I was searching around for tips on frugality and ran across a few sites that explained the concept of "Extreme Couponing". These ladies were saving 50% or MORE on their groceries... I wanted to learn to do that, too.

Why hadn't you ever tried this before on your own?

I had, actually. But I NOW know I was doing it all wrong.

First, I "cherry-picked" my coupons. I only cut out the very specific items I KNEW I would buy SOON, which made for very few coupons.

Second, I didn’t stockpile in the slightest, nor did I see the point. Part of it was a space issue; I lived in a tiny apartment, then moved into my husband’s after we got married (actually downsizing further if possible). But if I had a half bottle of pasta sauce in my fridge I wouldn’t replace it until it was empty and then I “had to” replace it ASAP with whatever was cheapest at the time.

Third, I wasn't bothering to MATCH coupons to the items on a really good sale. Oh, I'd take my entire little envelope to the store that week, but with no rhyme or reason; just magically expecting my pile of coupons to produce a cartful of cheap groceries like THAT. Of course, when I got there I'd compare brand-name item prices (with coupon) to the generic item prices and the generic would always be cheaper and that's what I'd continue to buy. What. Was. The. Point... I decided coupons were a scam to entice you to buy the more expensive item. Or they were for those who just couldn't “lower” themselves enough to buy generic.

It was a trap; I wasn't falling for it.

Fourth, the envelope method wasn’t working. I could never find coupons I “knew” I had, and I kept ending up with piles of expired ones. This added to my frustration, and I gave the whole thing up.

Isn’t all this time-consuming?

At first, YES, b/c I was utterly obsessed with learning as much as I could!

I still check my favorite blogs once a day or so to scan for new coupons/deals I wasn’t aware of, and I set aside a chunk of time each week to clip and file my binder. If I have a LOT of inserts or multiples it may take longer, and in those cases I’ll make my list of deals for the week and just cut those I plan to use right away. Through trial and error I’ve found the methods that work best for me and MY schedule.

Couponing this way is NOT for everyone, IMHO (although I believe ANYone can incorporate some part of it into their weekly routine to save a little extra money). If you have multiple jobs, kids, and other commitments your time is and should be your most valuable commodity; I would tell you to go enjoy a drink, a bath, a book, or a nap! I don’t have kids, but I do have 2 jobs, one of which includes a decent time-commitment at home (teaching). I have a household, pets, and a husband with whom I enjoy about a half dozen other active hobbies/pursuits.

But I also follow the blogs of moms with multiple kids who have found ways to make this work for them. Often it started out of necessity but then it became kind of… fun. And when THAT happens, the savings plus satisfaction make it all worth it.

One big tip is to get in on the blog scene and find the sites that do the legwork for you in matching sales circulars and coupons. All you have to do is cut/paste the lists, delete what you don’t want, pull the coupons from your stash, and hit the store with your own customized list of deals. I would be utterly LOST without sites like Southern Savers, Deal Seeking Mom, Coupon Mommie, and the many many others (bloggers AND the followers who share the deals they found) that take the time to list, match and verify deals.

This “Extreme” thing sounds like deal-chasing just for the sake of the hunt; aren’t you spending unnecessary money anyway?

For the most part, actually? … NO.

The joy of the hunt IS part of it for me, though. There is a weird high that comes with watching a register total drop 50% or more just from matching sales and coupons. I’ve already made a couple of cashier’s mouths drop as I handed over my store card and coupons saying, “And now for the magic part!” When I get reallllly good at this, it can be even better; lots of coupon queens are getting $100-$200 in groceries for well under $25! That’s near 90% in savings! (My best so far is usually about 75% and for small “runs” of very specific items that are free or super cheap; i.e. $30 in groceries for $7.)

And I AM buying foods/brands I never really bothered with before in quantities that I never did before… but I’m doing it because I’m getting them for FREE or waaay cheaper than generic. AND I’m still coming in under my overall target grocery budget.

Let’s start with the obvious: if an item ends up being a moneymaker (the coupons create an overage beyond the sale price – that’s right, you get PAID to put it in your cart), FREE, or just pennies once the coupons are factored in there’s almost no reason not to grab it. Even if it’s something you won’t use, you may know someone who could. Then there’s the charitable possibility; many shelters or churches can use the deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, and pantry items that end up being totally free after sales/coupons.

Then there’s the debate of buying brand names versus generic. Most of the time if you need any given item right that second you will probably do better buying generic brand, though sometimes you get lucky with an unadvertised sale (hence having your coupon binder or other stash). This was the case for me when I used to shop with coupons… without stockpiling them and waiting for sales. Brand name items ARE overpriced… that’s WHY they offer coupons for their products. I’m learning that the trick is to wait for a sale that coincides with that coupon, making it even cheaper.

Finally, there’s the issue of stockpiling. Most items go on sale in 6-8 week cycles. The other trick is to try to make your supplies last until the next cycle so that, in theory, you never have to pay close to full price for anything. Ever.

Of course, this is only feasible with frozen and dry goods, and you’ll need to know how long something will usually last in your house. There’s also the issue of space. At the moment I’ll confess that my cabinets are STUFFED. I only just sweet-talked my husband into giving up a small amount of space in the garage (a.k.a. “Man Zone”) to a set of plastic shelves into for stuff I buy that I don’t have room for in my cabinets. Forget about the freezer. I’m really not sure how I’m opening the door and not being buried in bags and boxes.

The nice thing is that this gives me several WEEKS off of buying a long list of items; I only have to concern myself with fresh groceries and other odds/ends. And, if something happens -- a cat eats a dryer sheet (vet = $$$); a car needs new tires; etc. -- I can also NOT buy groceries and we'd be more than fine. The first couple months or so of doing this, you will probably spend your usual grocery budget, but you’ll get so much more for it.

Things I Don’t Do:

* I don’t chase every single deal out there to make my total savings look better NOR do I buy things to “use up” coupons. Some weeks we need more fresh meat or produce; there are rarely coupons for that. Some coupons never really match to great enough sales for me. You let ‘em go (and if that makes you feel guilty, there are places you can send expired coupons for a good cause). If I manage to stock up on certain things I won’t chase those sales for weeks. As of writing this I’ve maxed us out on BBQ sauce thanks to some FREE or under 10-cent deals; I won’t buy more for a few months (unless country ribs also go on major sale!). Which brings me to…

* I don’t stockpile like we’re headed for Y3K just because something is a good deal; I DO stock up for our household’s needs/preferences (and for the space I have). I COULD get my hands on 10 coupons for Cheerios if it’s only $1.00. But do I want to be eating the same cereal for months on end, even alternating every week? No. A household with 3+ kiddos however might want to take advantage of that deal; they’ll go through it much faster.Take the BBQ sauce, for example. Last week it was on sale FREE with coupon. Weeks later, it’s again on sale. Could I find another 10 coupons and go buy 10 bottles? Yes. Am I going to? No. Six is more than enough to last us most of grilling season. And I’m not devoting a whole shelf of my makeshift “pantry” to BBQ sauce! Even with items that stay good for a year, you have to buy in quantities that work for you.

* I don’t go to shopping without my list and coupon binder if I can help it. Even if I’m just snagging 10 small items. You never know when a good unadvertised deal may pop up. I have been known to pull the wrong coupons or miss some completely. And just like when I was shopping SANS coupons, I made lists so I know roughly where I should end up budget-wise.

* I don’t forbid myself from buying stuff NOT on sale. You just can’t live that way. I try to plan ahead and buy stuff ON sale WITH a good coupon match BEFORE we absolutely have to have it. But this isn’t always realistic. Things get used up quicker than anticipated or you decide to make/do something on a spur of the moment. This IS a good example of why couponing still comes in handy, though: if you have a good stash of them you’re likely to have a few that will prevent paying full price for anything.

* I don’t get picky about brands. I have my favorites, but if I just wait for THOSE to be on sale, forget it. Besides, I’ve been sticking to generics for so long; it’s not like I’m going to have a hard time transitioning to tastier name brands! You have to be willing to be flexible. I don’t know about you but frankly when stuff is $.50 to free my flexibility level goes way up!

* I’m not forcing myself to try or master ALL the stores at once. The important thing when just getting started is to learn the lingo, learn the basics, and go one store at a time. Right now my store of all stores is Kroger; I’ve tested the waters with Ingles; and I've done Walmart a few times. I've JUST started with CVS but I don’t go Wagging (Walgreens) yet because I’m just not ready and what I’m currently doing is all I can fit into my schedule. But this is OKAY.

No comments:

Post a Comment