The short explanation of why I coupon: because I like to keep as much of my money as I can!
The longer explanation of why I coupon: between store sales that aren’t really sales, grocery shrink-rays, and the challenges of feeding a teenage boy with a seemingly endless appetite, I need to make every penny in my grocery budget go as far as possible. I’m guessing you feel the same way about your money and budget, too.
Why I Coupon
Smart shoppers know they should never pay retail, but not everyone applies that directive to groceries. That makes no sense to me! When people tell me they don’t coupon I always wonder why not?
If you had the chance to buy a car at 20-40% less than it’s sticker price, wouldn’t you? Of course you would, and you’d consider the time spent researching vehicles, test driving cars, looking up MSRP’s and negotiating with salespeople as a necessary part of saving that kind of cash.
The same goes for saving money on groceries, which is why I coupon. Thankfully, it takes a LOT less time!
Money saved is money earned
The perception: Coupons don’t add up to much.
The truth: My average weekly coupon savings runs 33-48%. Let’s say I’m buying $120 in groceries but, thanks to coupons, pay only $81-63. I’m walking out the door with $39-57 more dollars than someone else buying the exact same groceries without coupons.
That’s money which stays in my bank account so I can put it toward other things like utility bills, our vacation fund, or even my savings account. That other guy? He has less money in his account to pay that utility bill once it arrives.
It doesn’t take long to clip coupons
The perception: It’s too much of a hassle.
The truth: It takes 10 minutes or less to clip coupons. I usually clip them while catching up on TV shows Sunday afternoon. Most weeks there are two inserts, sometimes three. I only clip coupons for products we use (or that I want to try) so I’m often done before the first commercial break.
Now, remember what I said about spending $39-57 less than the next guy on a $120 grocery bill? That’s not a bad return on 10 minutes. If that were an hourly wage it would be $390-570 per hour. I don’t know anyone so well off they’d think earning that kind of money is a hassle.
Coupons make bulk-buying affordable
The perception: People who use coupons are stockpiling loonies.
The truth: While there are some great deals at membership stores, there are plenty of things that aren’t great deals at Costco or Sam’s. Frankly, when I compare their prices to those I’ve tracked in my grocery price book, I haven’t been all that impressed.
Let’s do some math and you’ll see what I mean. Say Sam’s has a 55 oz. box of Honey Nut Cheerios priced at $7.99. That’s $0.15 per ounce. My grocery store sells 12.5 oz. boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios for $1.89 and I have a $1 off 3 boxes coupon. If I buy 3 boxes at $5.67 and use that coupon I pay $4.67 for 37.59 ounces of cereal… or $0.13 per ounce.
If I’ve got four of those $1 coupons (which I do, because they put one out just about every week), I can buy 12 boxes of cereal on sale and use coupons. I’m saving even more and I’m stocked up on cereal until the next time it goes on sale. Bonus: rather than having one 55 oz. box of cereal getting stale in my cupboard because my son can’t remember to close the bag, I’ve got one box going stale and 11 more still fresh in the pantry.
So, now that you know why I coupon — and why you should, too — here’s how I do it sanely.
How I Coupon
I am not the type to cruise town Sunday morning at the crack of dawn buying dozens of Sunday papers so I can get multiple high-value coupons. I don’t spend hours filing them away in baseball card plastic holders kept in some massive binder, then cross-indexing them in a spreadsheet so I know what I’ve got and what’s about to expire. I suppose I could do those things and maybe save even more money, but then I wouldn’t have time to write my blog and books.
When I coupon, I keep it simple and pretty old-fashioned.
1. Clip and Organize Coupons
Like I said, I clip coupons while watching TV and set them on a side table until I’m done. Then I grab my coupon organizer (I use this one) and file them. If I find some particularly high-value coupons I’ll log onto Coupons.com and print them, though I’m careful to set my printer to grayscale and draft mode so I don’t wipe out my savings by spending it all on ink!
2. Check the Sales Flyers
Matching coupons to what’s on sale is the key to reaping big savings, so the next step is thumbing through the grocery sales flyers. When I find something we use regularly, or something that looks like an excellent deal, I’ll see if I have any coupons that match.
3. Check the Store’s App
My grocery store, Dillon’s (part of the Kroger brand), has a fantastic app that lets me browse their digital coupons and load them to my loyalty card. Even if I know I’ve got a paper coupon I still load the digital ones: the register will apply whichever is the highest value, and the clerk will hand back any paper coupons outmatched by digital ones.
Sometimes, though, if both paper and digital coupons apply to sales items I’ll use both and buy in bulk. One coupon might save me more than the other but they are both saving me money. Meanwhile my loyalty card is racking up points (based on pre-coupon prices) that will save me at the gas pump when I fill up my tank!
4. Make my Grocery List
If something we use is on sale and I have a coupon for it then it definitely goes on my list. If only one of those things is true I usually skip it. That’s one of the reasons I stock up (not stockpile!) — so I can wait until sale and coupon cycles coincide. Yes, there are often other things on my list that I don’t have coupons for, but I usually check one more time before heading to the store just to be sure!
I write my list on the back of an envelope, usually one pulled from junk mail, to make the next step a breeze. Yes, there are plenty of phone apps I could use for my list but, after leaving my phone on a grocery store shelf once and not realizing it until I got home, I’ve decided to stick with the envelope method.
5. Pull my Coupons in Advance
No one likes it when a coupon clipper stands in the middle of the aisle, thumbing through a wad of coupons and browsing the “per unit price” on each shelved item. To keep from being that woman I go over my grocery list and make a note of any coupons I might use, then pull those and stick them in the envelope I wrote my grocery list on.
Since I’ve already checked the flyers and noted what’s on sale, I can easily see if there’s a different product that might be cheaper than using a coupon. If that happens, I just yank the coupon out of the stack before handing them to the clerk at the register. And it’s all done without blocking the aisle.
6. Then I Save MORE When I Get Home
I can’t remember who first told me about iBotta but, wow, do I love that app! Basically it’s a rebate program for both brand-name and “any brand” groceries. After every shopping trip I boot up the app and use the search bar to see if my purchases qualify for a rebate.
If so, all I have to do is point my phone’s camera at the bar code to verify my purchase then use it to scan my receipt when I’m done. Last month I made $45 using it — and that’s on top of the money I’d already saved using coupons!
So now that I’ve explained why I coupon (and how), tell me: do you coupon? What method do you use?